Deakin Child Study Centre

The Deakin Child Study Centre (DCSC) is a multidisciplinary research centre with a focus on understanding neurodevelopment from the early years of childhood through to adolescence. Through our research and dedication to translating science into practical outcomes, our ultimate goal is to enhance the lives of young people with neurodevelopmental disorders, helping them develop to their full potential.


Our focus

Established in 2013, the Deakin Child Study Centre has rapidly grown with large-scale funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council and our many philanthropic and industry partnerships. We focus on the early years of childhood through to adolescence, a time where children learn the pivotal skills to regulate emotions, interact with peers and develop a sense of self.

This developmental period poses a broad range of challenges for children, parents, teachers, coaches and health professionals. These challenges are often multiplied if a child has a disability. Central to the development of social and emotional wellbeing is the ability to understand the challenges of children of all abilities, including children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

With a focus on developing child-centred interventions, we are dedicated to working with the community to create inclusive environments where children of all abilities feel secure to thrive socially and emotionally, and to have the same access to community participation as their peers.

Our research

Pillar 1: Child neuroscience and assessment – 'What matters'

In this pillar, we seek to better understand and characterise the developing brain and neurodevelopmental disorders using innovative approaches to assessment and measurement. We adopt different perspectives using a range of techniques, including gait analysis, non-invasive brain stimulation, neurocognitive testing, functional brain imaging, and electrophysiology.

The work of our Cognitive Neuroscience Unit has been critical in characterising motor and social dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders, and in demonstrating links between brain function and behaviour. These studies have provided treatment targets for developing new interventions, including repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Team

Pillar leader

Associate Professor Peter Enticott

Researchers

Professor Nicole Rinehart

Dr Jarrad Lum

Dr Christian Hyde

Dr Natalia Albein-Urios

Dr Melissa Kirkovski

Dr Emma Sciberras

Dr Ian Fuelscher

Dr Peter Donaldson

Dr Nicole Papadopoulos

Dr Gillian Clark

Michael Do

Soukayna Bekkali

Grace Hancock

Hannah Bereznicki

Alexandra Lavale

Charlotte Davies

Tracy Taylor

Key projects

  • Comparing the effect of non-invasive brain stimulation on different brain regions for reducing social symptoms in autism spectrum disorder (2017–2018)
    Funded by: NARSAD (Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation) – Independent Investigator Award
  • The development of the social brain in early childhood (2017–2021)
    Funded by: Australian Research Council – Future Fellowship
  • The neurobiological basis of motor impairment in developmental coordination disorder: Evidence for compromised mirror neuron activity? (2016–2017)
    Funded by: Deakin University – Faculty Research Development Grant
  • An investigation of neuroplasticity in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using brain stimulation and neuroimaging (2016–2017)
    Funded by: Deakin University – Faculty Research Development Grant

Pillar 2: Evidence-based intervention – 'What works'

In this pillar we ask the question: How can we improve outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental disorders? Our work uses novel psychological interventions that show great promise in treating the clinical symptoms in children with ASD and ADHD. Our randomised control trials have shown promising results in treating the highly prevalent sleep and anxiety disorders that parents report as a significant concern for their children.

Our research is conducted in close partnership with researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

Team

Pillar Leader

Dr Emma Sciberras

Researchers

Professor Nicole Rinehart

Professor Jane McGillivray

Associate Professor David Austin

Associate Professor Melissa O’Shea

Dr Nicole Papadopoulos

Tracy Taylor

Key projects

  • Calm Kids – Does the treatment of anxiety in children with ADHD improve outcomes?: A large-scale randomised controlled trial (2016–2019)
    Funded by: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council) – Project Grant
  • Sleeping sound with autism spectrum disorder – tailoring a brief sleep intervention for autism: A randomised controlled trial (2016–2019)
    Funded by: NHMRC (National Health & Medical Research Council) – Project Grant
  • Sleeping Sound in Adolescence: A pilot study (2016–2018)
    Funded by: Deakin University – Central Research Grant
  • Sleeping sound special needs: A feasibility pilot study (2016–2018)
    Funded by: Deakin University – Faculty of Health
  • Impact of sleep intervention in ADHD: Translational randomised trial (2014–2017)
    Funded by: NHMRC
  • Mindful choices for parents of children with ADHD (2017)
    Funded by: Deakin University – 2017 Central Research Grant Scheme

Pillar 3: School, sporting, and industry partnerships – 'What translates'

In this pillar we ask the question: How do we ensure all children, regardless of developmental challenge, have the same access to the education, dance, physical activity and community participation?

Our aim is to provide the community with training and technological innovations connecting individuals, families and professionals to work together with a common goal: ensuring every child with a developmental and/or mental health condition has the best possible opportunity to reach their full developmental potential.

Team

Pillar leaders

Professor Nicole Rinehart

Professor Jane McGillivray

Associate Professor David Austin

Researchers

Dr Carmel Sivaratnam

Dr Nicole Papadopoulos

Dr Tamara May

Tracy Taylor

Matthew Chong

Key projects

ALLPlay Program (2016–2020):

  • ALLPlay Footy (2016–2020)
    Funded by: Moose Toys, National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and Jonathan and Simone Wenig, with more recent funding from the Geelong Community Foundation
  • Evaluation of a toolkit to increase participation through increasing and improving facilitators, decreasing barriers and improving positive engagement (2016– 2018)
    Funded by: AFL Deakin Industry PhD Scholarship
  • Inclusive Sports Program: To enable children of all abilities and disabilities to participate in sport together – and ultimately enjoy the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of sport and recreation (2016–2017)
    This is inclusive of a national community survey and desktop review.
    Funded by: National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)
  • Outcomes of Participation in NAB AFL Auskick (2017–2020)
    Funded by: National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Jonathan and Simone Wenig
  • Attitudes towards disability in NAB AFL Auskick (2017–2018)
    Funded by: Moose Toys
  • ALLPlay: Stakeholder-informed community-based interventions to improve physical and mental health outcomes in children with Cerebral Palsy and their caregivers
    Funded by: Geelong Community Foundation Grant (part of ALLPlay Footy)
  • ALLPlay BETTAFooty – an evidence-based, culturally-tailored training program and toolkit to help Indigenous communities identify and enable children with developmental disabilities to participate in local NAB Auskick football via the ALLPlay Program (2017–2020)
    Funded by: Moose Toys (4 years 2017–2021), National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA; 1 year)
  • ALLPlay Dance program for children and young people with disabilities: Bringing the benefits of ALLPlay to the dance community by providing evidence-based resources to enable participation in inclusive dance programs nationally. (2017–2018)
    Funded by: National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)

Projects that create all ability friendly environments improving health and wellbeing:

  • Informing an autism-friendly children’s centre at Cabrini (2016–2017)
    Funded by: Cabrini Foundation
  • Feasibility and pilot testing of Quadrato Motor Training in Melbourne schools (2017)
    Department of Education & Training (DET)
  • Getting children moving: An evaluation of the effectiveness of the ‘Joy of Moving’ program in Australian primary school aged children (2017–2020)  
    Funded by: Ferrero Rocher Kinder + Sport

Digital operations platform

The ALLPlay programs are supported by an award-winning* digital development team that uses information and communication technologies to optimise ALLPlay research and intervention activity. The ALLPlay digital platform leverages the power of web, app, wearables, gaming, virtual reality, social media and software engineering to deliver innovative, engaging and best-practice digital solutions.

Platform leader
Associate Professor David Austin

Solutions architect
Matthew Chong

* Winner of multiple awards for www.whizkidgames.com: A suite of online games demonstrated to promote positive behaviour change in children with autism, including the 2010 Australian Web Marketing Association Award for Health Care Excellence.

Research project highlights

ALLPlay Program (2016–2020)

ALLPlay is a national project that aims to provide equal access to sport for children of all abilities, with research informed by young children living with disabilities, their families, coaches, and experts.

ALLPlay seeks to create a culture of inclusion in sport by breaking down the systematic barriers faced by children with developmental challenges or disability so that they too can enjoy the physical, mental, and social development benefits of organised sport, and have increased opportunities to get involved.

Team

Director – Professor Nicole Rinehart

National Inclusion (All Abilities) Manager – Logan Whitaker

Project Manager – Tracy Taylor

Research fellows – Dr Carmel Sivaratnam, Dr Tamara May, and Dr Nicole Papadopolous

Digital Advancement Director – Associate Professor David Austin

Online Resources Developer – Matthew Chong

Deakin AFL Scholar – Shawn Stevenson

ALLPlay Ph.D. Scholar – Katherine Howells

Research assistants – Bridget Kennedy, Jeremy Quek, Chloe Emonson, Stephanie Merkouris, and Gavin Duarte

Interns – Caroline Horvat, Hannah Blayden

ALLPlay Footy

ALLPlay Footy, the first initiative within ALLPlay, is designed to support children with developmental challenges or disability to feel comfortable, engaged, and enjoy participating on the footy field. To understand the benefits of participating in organised sport such as Auskick at a young age for children with disability, this program will examine the physical, emotional, and social improvements in 5–12 year old children with a disability using a pre-post study design, as well as a community survey.

Benefits will be investigated by comparing children involved in the Auskick program over this period with those who are not. Understanding the personal and family benefits of children with disability participating in organised sport will inform future evidence-based practice where sport such as Auskick may be prescribed from a young age to help aid the mental and physical development of these children.

The ALLPlay Footy website and free companion app provide coaches, parents and clubs access to handy tips and information on making Auskick a safe and inclusive space for children who may have a developmental delay or disability. This project is led by the DCSC at Deakin University in partnership with the AFL and the NDIA, and research collaborators at Charles Darwin University, Perth’s Telethon Institute and The University of Melbourne.

ALLPlay Footy is funded by Moose Toys ($1 million), Jonathan and Simone Wenig, and the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) as part of an Information, Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) National Readiness Grant. The Geelong Community Foundation has provided an additional $60,000 for the 2017–2019 period to support the development of cerebral palsy-specific resources for the ALLPlay website.

Inclusive Sports Program

To enable children of all abilities and disabilities to participate in sport together – and ultimately enjoy the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of sport and recreation.

Generously funded by a grant of $400,000 from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) over one year, the Inclusive Sports Program aims to enable children of all abilities to participate in sport together and ultimately enjoy the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits of sport and recreation. There are three components to this overall study: a desktop review, community survey and coaches inclusion program.

The desktop review aims to identify all sporting clubs in Australia for which there is freely available web-based material for parents that includes information about the club’s inclusion approach or the specific opportunities they provide for children with a disability. Findings will be used to develop an online directory of inclusive sporting organisations that are freely available for parents, children, coaches and clubs seeking inclusive sporting opportunities for children in Australia. The community survey aims to understand what parents, sporting coaches and children feel are the barriers and facilitators to inclusive physical activity programs for Australian children (aged 4–17 years) with a disability. Finally, the coaches inclusion program aims to provide tips and resources to coaches on how to support children of all abilities. This program will be derived from information on which practices facilitate the inclusion of diverse children.

Paradoxically, children with special needs are often excluded from sport but are the most susceptible to the problems that sport and recreation address, such as lifestyle diseases, social isolation and mental illness. The Inclusive Sports Program is designed to address this paradox.

ALLPlay BETTAFooty (2017–2020)

ALLPlay BETTAFooty is an evidence-based, culturally-tailored training program and toolkit to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities identify children with developmental disabilities and enable them to participate in local NAB Auskick football via the ALLPlay program.

NDIA has continued their support of the ALLPlay program, providing 12 months of pilot funding for ALLPlay BETTAFooty through an ILC National Readiness Grant of $493,917. Also previously having contributed to the development of the ALLPlay Footy Auskick program, Moose Toys, ALLPlay’s main philanthropic donor, have generously donated another $1 million over four years to support the ongoing development of the ALLPlay BETTAFooty program as a national initiative.

ALLPlay Dance (2017–2018)

The ALLPlay Dance program will bring the benefits of ALLPlay to the dance community by providing evidence-based resources to enable participation of children and young people with disabilities in inclusive dance programs around Australia. ALLPlay Dance is funded by NDIA, with a $627,580 ILC National Readiness Grant.

Sleeping Sound

Sleeping Sound with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Sleeping Sound with Autism Spectrum Disorder study aims to examine the efficacy of a brief behavioural sleep intervention in treating sleep problems in primary school aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Efficacy of the sleep program will be evaluated by comparing children who receive the sleep program with children who do not and its effect on a range of social, behavioural and parent wellbeing outcomes. The outcomes of the brief behavioural Sleeping Sound intervention will provide a much needed evidence-based intervention to improve sleep and broader wellbeing in children with ASD.

Sleeping Sound Special Needs

This project, titled 'Sleeping Sound Special Needs: A feasibility pilot study', is funded by a Faculty of Health Postdoctoral Research Fellowship over a two-year period from 2016–2018. This research aims to conduct a novel cross-sectional study characterising sleep problems of children (aged 6-13 years) with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who also have an Intellectual Disability (ID) and examining key correlates of sleep problems in ASD+ID, as well parents’ perspectives and preferences for sleep interventions. The study will also involve a small pilot investigation of a brief behavioural sleep intervention in children with ASD+ID. Findings from this study will result in a significant advance in the treatment of sleep problems in children with ASD+ID.​

Joy of Moving Australia

Ferrero’s international foundation (Kinder + Sport) have donated $880,000 over a four-year period from 2017–2020 to establish the Joy of Moving Australia (JoMA) research project, titled 'Getting children moving: An evaluation of the effectiveness of the "Joy of Moving" program in Australian primary school aged children'.

This partnership will allow Deakin University to conduct an evidence-based research program, which aims to be the preferred physical activity program that is available to all Australian primary school-aged children and endorsed by experts. This study will see the development and evaluation of an Australian first JoMA program to promote physical activity for all young Victorians.

The program will be evaluated for its effectiveness in improving children’s engagement in physical activity and physical fitness, as well as a holistic range of child outcomes such as motor, social, emotional and cognitive function. In addition, we will develop evidence-based resources based on our research expertise for children with developmental disorders to ensure that the resources are inclusive of children of all abilities regardless of the child’s physical, psychological or social disadvantage.

Our team

DCSC Director
Professor Nicole Rinehart
BA (Hons), MClin Psych (Deakin), PhD (Monash), MAPS, APS College of Clinical Psychologists

Professor of Psychology (Clinical), Deakin University; Director, Deakin Child Study Centre, Deakin University; Honorary Fellow, Critical Care and Neurosciences Theme, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Clinical Psychology (Paediatric) Consultant, Melbourne Children’s Clinic.

Deputy Director
Professor Jane McGillivray
B.B.Sc (Hons Psych), M.Psych (Clin), DHSci (Deakin), MAPS, APS College of Clinical Psychologists, APS College of Health Psychologists

Associate Head of School (Director of Postgraduate Professional Programs), School of Psychology, Deakin University; Deputy Director, Deakin Child Study Centre, Deakin University.

Executive
Associate Professor Peter Enticott
BAppSc, PhD

Associate Professor of Psychology (Cognitive Neuroscience), Psychologist, Deakin University; Adjunct Associate Professor, Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc), Central Clinical School, Monash University.

Associate Professor David Austin
BBus, GDipPsych, GDipAppSci, PhD (Monash)

Director, eMental Health Unit (e-MHU), School of Psychology, Deakin University

Director, Digital Advancement, School of Psychology, Deakin University

Associate Professor Melissa O'Shea
BA (Hons) (Swinburne University), PhD (Monash)

Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, School of Psychology, Deakin University

Dr Emma Sciberras
BA, Grad Dip Psych, DPsych (CClin), MAPS

Senior Lecturer, Clinical Psychologist, Deakin University; Honorary Research Fellow, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

Research Staff/Research Fellows

Postgraduate students

Name
Katherine Howells (PhD)
Shawn Stevenson
Karin Dicander (Clinical Masters)
Christina Martin (DPsych)
Nicola Read (DPsych)
Kieran Thorpe (Masters by Research)
Samuel Pearce (DPsych)
Moira Whelan (PhD)
Bianca Liew (Clinical Masters)
Simone Thomas (PhD)
Michael Barham (PhD)
Pam Barhoun (PhD)
Soukanya Bekkali (PhD)
Felicity Bigelow (PhD)
Jed Burgess (PhD)
Lara Fernandez (PhD)
Jason He (PhD)
Claire McNeel (PhD)
Dinisha Parmar (DPsych)
James Plumridge (PhD)
Nicole Sloan (DPsych)
Kate Stephens (PhD)
Anna Ware (PhD)
Kristyn Windsor (DPsych)

Adjunct members/honorary staff

Name
Emeritus Professor Bruce Tonge
Associate Professor Jennifer McGinley
Professor Katrina Williams
Professor Patricia Howlin
Dr Anna Murphy
Megha Rupa

Collaborators and partners

Major partners

Thank you to the DCSC major partners:

  • The Australian Football League (AFL)
  • Ferrero Rocher Kinder + Sport
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)
  • Moose Toys.

Additional collaborators

The DCSC is also proudly associated with:

  • Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI)
  • National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS)
  • School Sports Victoria (SSV)
  • Telethon Kids Institute.

Health care:

  • The Alfred
  • Royal Children’s Hospital
  • Monash Health.

University partnerships:

  • Charles Darwin University
  • Monash University
  • The University of California (UCLA)
  • The University of Melbourne
  • University of Strathclyde
  • The University of Western Australia.

Contact us

General enquiries
Tracy Taylor
+61 3 9244 6712
Email the Deakin Child Study Centre