Dr Laura Roche
School of Education
Every child’s learning style is unique
Dr Laura Roche is committed to developing personalised, evidence-based interventions to help young people with neurodevelopmental disorders learn, communicate and flourish within society.
Dr Laura Roche advocates a strengths-based approach to learning for children and youth with neurodevelopmental disorders. Her work is focused on improving the way young people with disorders such as autism communicate with others and navigate their world, starting with acknowledging their existing abilities, understanding their needs, and working in close collaboration with their families to implement evidence-based interventions.
“Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often miss out on developing meaningful social relationships, expressing themselves, or even asking for something they want,” explains Laura.
“This can be stressful for families and can result in the child developing problem behaviours to have their needs met, causing even greater stress, and reducing the whole family’s quality of life.
“My research seeks to empower these children by providing them with alternative ways to achieve basic adaptive behaviour skills, subsequently increasing their quality of life, reducing their reliance upon maladaptive behaviours, and creating opportunities for them to become active members of their communities.”
Strong beginnings and global partnerships
With a background in neuroscience, Laura’s research trajectory was kick-started by her fascination with how the human brain works, and what happens when it doesn’t work quite like it should.
“Neurodevelopment is such a complex and precise process. Everything needs to happen at exactly the right time. When I first ventured into research, I wanted to understand how we learn to communicate and why communication is so important.”
After completing further studies in neuroscience and psychology, Laura took up a post as a research assistant with Professor Jeff Sigafoos from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, a pioneer in the field of communication intervention for children with autism. They have maintained a strong research partnership ever since, which has resulted in the continuation of publications within international high-impact scientific journals and plans for many more research papers to come.
“Prof Sigafoos helped to shape my understanding of early communicative behaviours, enabled me to work with a diverse range of children with complex communication needs and developmental disabilities, and gave me the opportunity to progress in my early career.”
Today, Laura’s research findings are contributing to a growing evidence-base on how to support children with learning difficulties, and highlight the benefits of working with children individually, as well as with their family, to tailor interventions that can then be replicated at home or elsewhere.
“Every child is different, and every child requires a different approach to learning. I show parents how to successfully implement effective procedures at home, creating a family-centred approach to intervention, empowering the parents to continue enhancing their child’s skills.
“I feel a sense of pride when a child exceeds the expectations placed on them. Whether this be from the parents, family members, or the child’s teachers.”
Researching rare neurodevelopmental disorders
After moving to Australia, Laura spent time working at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Children’s Health Research, where she gained invaluable insight into the lived experiences of families who have a young child with a rare neurodevelopmental disorder. Although this cohort often require specialised communication intervention—as their diagnoses result in complex learning and health issues—they can all too frequently miss out on receiving much-needed learning support.
“Some children are ‘written off’ from instructional tasks as some consider these children to be difficult to teach due to their complex disabilities. It can be hard to find effective ways to teach them meaningful skills.”
This firsthand knowledge of families’ challenges set Laura in good stead for her current role within the University of Newcastle School of Education and Arts’ Special Education Team. In collaboration with other talented researchers, Laura began to investigate new methods to enhance the communication skills of children with rare neurodevelopmental disorders living in the local Hunter region.
“My research includes supporting children with complex communication needs by identifying effective teaching strategies that can help create opportunities for these children to experience real success. It is very challenging, however, there is evidence that intervention approaches used in different populations may be useful for these children, and I’m excited to research this further.
For children of every ability, Laura is quick to point out that interventions must be individually tailored. Every child is different, and no one intervention should ever be applied generally or expected to be a quick fix.
“I am really interested in why something doesn’t work for some children, and the best ways we can quickly adapt our instruction or teaching methods to suit every individual learner.”
Supporting university students with autism
Along with investigating rare neurodevelopmental disorders, Laura has recently launched a new study aimed at better understanding the impact of autism on university students’ sleep and anxiety. The study will survey students on the autism spectrum disorder to determine how society can better support them both during their studies and after graduation.
“Research in Australia indicates that adults on the autism spectrum are not receiving enough support once they leave high school.
“Therefore, identifying how their sleep and mental health impacts upon their university experiences may inform specific support strategies, and could greatly impact upon these students’ quality of life.”
Across all her work, Laura shows steadfast dedication to education and research excellence. Her work is helping to develop better support strategies for young people, helping to provide our next generation—and their families—with practical solutions, encouragement and hope.
“Our society is only as strong as our most vulnerable members. We must support and enhance the quality of life of our children with the most severe and complex disabilities to become a stronger society. Every child has the right to learn and experience success.”
Laura Roche completed her Undergraduate studies in Neuroscience and Psychology at Otago University, and her Masters and PhD at Victoria University in Wellington, Aotearoa (New Zealand).
Previously Laura has worked as a research fellow in Austria at the Medical University of Graz where her research focused on identifying the early signs of rare genetic disorders in children. More recently, Laura has worked with the Autism Centre of Excellence at Griffith University as a research fellow, looking at the priorities of the autism community for future research, and has completed a 1 year clinical Post-Doctorate fellowship at Queensland University working with the esteemed specialised pediatrician Helen Heussler.
Laura's passion for research stems from her studies of developmental Neuro-psychology, where she found the development of communication skills in young children fascinating. She is also interested in how important early intervention in communication is for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities, and how to best support parents of children with such disabilities to access tailored intervention and information.
Laura's research focus is directed towards evidence-based practice to enhance the adaptive skills of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. In her current research, she applies behavioural principles to enhance the communication and social skills of minimally verbal learners with rare neurodevelopmental disorders. Her work in this field has resulted in several publications within peer reviewed international journals.
Laura is involved in collaborative research projects that evaluate the adaptive behaviour skills of children with Angelman syndrome, the impact of anxiety and sleep issues for Autistic University students, and methods of enhancing verbal communication skills in young people with 22q11. Deletion Syndrome. She has also been involved in research that investigates the use of behavioural interventions in children with rare neurodevelopmental disorders who experience sleep issues, and the priorities of parents of children with rare genetic disorders.
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Wellington
- Postgraduate Diploma in Education & Professional Development, University of Wellington
- Master of Educaton, University of Wellington
- Adaptive behaviour
- Angelman Syndrome
- Autism spectrum
- Behavioural intervention
- Neurodevelopmental disorders
- English (Mother)
Fields of Research
|130312||Special Education and Disability||50|
|170102||Developmental Psychology and Ageing||25|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Lecturer||University of Newcastle
School of Education
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|4/3/2019 - 13/12/2019||
Research fellow at the Autism Centre of Excellence (ACE) within the School of Education
|4/9/2017 - 4/12/2017||
Research fellow working with the Interdisciplinary Developmental Neuroscience (iDN) research team investigating the early vocal behaviours of children later diagnosed with rare neurodevelopmental disorders.
|Medical University of Graz
Institute of Physiology, Division of Phoniatrics
|1/4/2019 - 3/1/2020||
Post Doctorate Research Fellow
Research fellow at the Centre for Children's Health Research at the University of Queensland
|The University of Queensland
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Journal article (18 outputs)
Roche L, Sigafoos J, Trembath D, 'Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention for People With Angelman Syndrome: a Systematic Review', Current Developmental Disorders Reports, 7 28-34 (2020) [C1]
Roche L, Campbell L, Heussler H, 'Communication in 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome: a Brief Overview of the Profile, Intervention Approaches, and Future Considerations', Current Developmental Disorders Reports, 7 124-129 (2020) [C1]
© 2020, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Purpose of Brief Review: 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) is a micro-deletion disorder with a heterogenous complex presentation includ... [more]
© 2020, Springer Nature Switzerland AG. Purpose of Brief Review: 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) is a micro-deletion disorder with a heterogenous complex presentation including significant communication difficulties. This brief review discusses the communication profile and potential approaches to enhancing communication skills for these learners. Recent Findings: The communication profile of 22q11.2DS has been described in several studies identifying early assessment, monitoring, and on-going language interventions as best practice for those with 22q11.2DS. However, few studies have reported on empirical findings of specific interventions to enhance the communicative skills of learners with 22q11.2DS. Summary: The distinct communication profile of individuals with 22q11.2DS offers researchers and practitioners an opportunity to develop tailored interventions to support effective communication skills for learners with 22q11.2DS. This review recommends that, in addition to existing interventions, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) should be evaluated to (a) support early expressive communication for children and (b) support socio-communication strategies for older learners with 22q11.2DS.
Adams D, Roche L, Heussler H, 'Parent perceptions, beliefs, and fears around genetic treatments and cures for children with Angelman syndrome', AMERICAN JOURNAL OF MEDICAL GENETICS PART A, 182 1716-1724 (2020)
Sigafoos J, Roche L, Stevens M, Waddington H, Carnett A, van der Meer L, et al., 'Teaching two children with autism spectrum disorder to use a speech-generating device', RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN INTELLECTUAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, 5 75-86 (2018)
Roche L, Zhang D, Bartl-Pokorny KD, Pokorny FB, Schuller BW, Esposito G, et al., 'Early Vocal Development in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Rett Syndrome, and Fragile X Syndrome: Insights from Studies using Retrospective Video Analysis.', Adv Neurodev Disord, 2 49-61 (2018)
Zhang D, Roche L, Bartl-Pokorny KD, Krieber M, McLay L, Bölte S, et al., 'Response to name and its value for the early detection of developmental disorders: Insights from autism spectrum disorder, Rett syndrome, and fragile X syndrome. A perspectives paper', Research in Developmental Disabilities, 82 95-108 (2018)
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Background: Responding to one's own name (RtN) has been reported as atypical in children with developmental disorders, yet comparative studies on RtN acro... [more]
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Background: Responding to one's own name (RtN) has been reported as atypical in children with developmental disorders, yet comparative studies on RtN across syndromes are rare. Aims: We aim to (a) overview the literature on RtN in different developmental disorders during the first 24 months of life, and (b) report comparative data on RtN across syndromes. Methods and procedures: In Part 1, a literature search, focusing on RtN in children during the first 24 months of life with developmental disorders, identified 23 relevant studies. In Part 2, RtN was assessed utilizing retrospective video analysis for infants later diagnosed with ASD, RTT, or FXS, and typically developing peers. Outcomes and results: Given a variety of methodologies and instruments applied to assess RtN, 21/23 studies identified RtN as atypical in infants with a developmental disorder. We observed four different developmental trajectories of RtN in ASD, RTT, PSV, and FXS from 9 to 24 months of age. Between-group differences became more distinctive with age. Conclusions and implications: RtN may be a potential parameter of interest in a comprehensive early detection model characterising age-specific neurofunctional biomarkers associated with specific disorders, and contribute to early identification.
Green VA, Prior T, Smart E, Boelema T, Drysdale H, Harcourt S, et al., 'The use of individualized video modeling to enhance positive peer interactions in three preschool children', Education and Treatment of Children, 40 353-378 (2017)
© 2017, West Virginia University Press. All rights reserved. The study described in this article sought to enhance the social interaction skills of 3 preschool children using vide... [more]
© 2017, West Virginia University Press. All rights reserved. The study described in this article sought to enhance the social interaction skills of 3 preschool children using video modeling. All children had been assessed as having difficulties in their interactions with peers. Two were above average on internalizing problems and the third was above average on externalizing problems. The study used a delayed multiple probe across participants¿ design and was situated in a preschool setting. Videos were individualized for each participant based on age, gender, ethnicity, and individual needs. The models demonstrated appropriate play behavior with peers. Positive outcomes were achieved for 2 participants. The findings suggest that although the social interaction skills of preschool children can be enhanced in their natural environment through the use of video modeling; video modeling alone might not be sufficient for addressing the needs of children with externalizing problems.
Marschik PB, Pokorny FB, Peharz R, Zhang D, O Muircheartaigh J, Roeyers H, et al., 'A Novel Way to Measure and Predict Development: A Heuristic Approach to Facilitate the Early Detection of Neurodevelopmental Disorders', Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 17 (2017)
© 2017, The Author(s). Purpose of Review: Substantial research exists focusing on the various aspects and domains of early human development. However, there is a clear blind spot ... [more]
© 2017, The Author(s). Purpose of Review: Substantial research exists focusing on the various aspects and domains of early human development. However, there is a clear blind spot in early postnatal development when dealing with neurodevelopmental disorders, especially those that manifest themselves clinically only in late infancy or even in childhood. Recent Findings: This early developmental period may represent an important timeframe to study these disorders but has historically received far less research attention. We believe that only a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach will enable us to detect and delineate specific parameters for specific neurodevelopmental disorders at a very early age to improve early detection/diagnosis, enable prospective studies and eventually facilitate randomised trials of early intervention. Summary: In this article, we propose a dynamic framework for characterising neurofunctional biomarkers associated with specific disorders in the development of infants and children. We have named this automated detection ¿Fingerprint Model¿, suggesting one possible approach to accurately and early identify neurodevelopmental disorders.
Roche L, Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, Oreilly MF, Green VA, 'Microswitch Technology for Enabling Self-Determined Responding in Children with Profound and Multiple Disabilities: A Systematic Review', AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 31 246-258 (2015)
© 2015 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. We reviewed 18 studies reporting on the use of microswitch technology to enable self-determined respon... [more]
© 2015 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. We reviewed 18 studies reporting on the use of microswitch technology to enable self-determined responding in children with profound and multiple disabilities. Identified studies that met pre-determined inclusion criteria were summarized in terms of (a) participants, (b) experimental design, (c) microswitches and procedures used, and (d) main results. The 18 studies formed three groups based on whether the microswitch technology was primarily intended to enable the child to (a) access preferred stimuli (7 studies), (b) choose between stimuli (6 studies), or (c) recruit attention/initiate social interaction (5 studies). The results of these studies were consistently positive and support the use of microswitch technology in educational programs for children with profound and multiple disabilities as a means to impact their environment and interact with others. Implications for delivery of augmentative and alternative communication intervention to children with profound and multiple disabilities are discussed.
Roche L, Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, O'Reilly MF, van der Meer L, Achmadi D, et al., 'Comparing Tangible Symbols, Picture Exchange, and a Direct Selection Response for Enabling Two Boys with Developmental Disabilities to Access Preferred Stimuli', JOURNAL OF DEVELOPMENTAL AND PHYSICAL DISABILITIES, 26 249-261 (2014)
Waddington H, Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, O'Reilly MF, van der Meer L, Carnett A, et al., 'Three children with autism spectrum disorder learn to perform a three-step communication sequence using an iPad
© 2014 ISDN. Background: Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have limited or absent speech and might therefore benefit from learning to use a speech-generating devic... [more]
© 2014 ISDN. Background: Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have limited or absent speech and might therefore benefit from learning to use a speech-generating device (SGD). The purpose of this study was to evaluate a procedure aimed at teaching three children with ASD to use an iPad®-based SGD to make a general request for access to toys, then make a specific request for one of two toys, and then communicate a thank-you response after receiving the requested toy. Method: A multiple-baseline across participants design was used to determine whether systematic instruction involving least-to-most-prompting, time delay, error correction, and reinforcement was effective in teaching the three children to engage in this requesting and social communication sequence. Generalization and follow-up probes were conducted for two of the three participants. Results: With intervention, all three children showed improvement in performing the communication sequence. This improvement was maintained with an unfamiliar communication partner and during the follow-up sessions. Conclusion: With systematic instruction, children with ASD and severe communication impairment can learn to use an iPad-based SGD to complete multi-step communication sequences that involve requesting and social communication functions.
Roche L, Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, O'Reilly MF, Schlosser RW, Stevens M, et al., 'An evaluation of speech production in two boys with neurodevelopmental disorders who received communication intervention with a speech-generating device', International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 38 10-16 (2014)
© 2014 ISDN. Background: Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often present with little or no speech. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) aims to promote functi... [more]
© 2014 ISDN. Background: Children with neurodevelopmental disorders often present with little or no speech. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) aims to promote functional communication using non-speech modes, but it might also influence natural speech production. Method: To investigate this possibility, we provided AAC intervention to two boys with neurodevelopmental disorders and severe communication impairment. Intervention focused on teaching the boys to use a tablet computer-based speech-generating device (SGD) to request preferred stimuli. During SGD intervention, both boys began to utter relevant single words. In an effort to induce more speech, and investigate the relation between SGD availability and natural speech production, the SGD was removed during some requesting opportunities. Results: With intervention, both participants learned to use the SGD to request preferred stimuli. After learning to use the SGD, both participants began to respond more frequently with natural speech when the SGD was removed. Conclusion: The results suggest that a rehabilitation program involving initial SGD intervention, followed by subsequent withdrawal of the SGD, might increase the frequency of natural speech production in some children with neurodevelopmental disorders. This effect could be an example of response generalization.
Roche L, Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, O'Reilly MF, Green VA, Sutherland D, et al., 'Tangible symbols as an AAC option for individuals with developmental disabilities: A systematic review of intervention studies', AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 30 28-39 (2014)
We reviewed nine studies evaluating the use of tangible symbols in AAC interventions for 129 individuals with developmental disabilities. Studies were summarized in terms of parti... [more]
We reviewed nine studies evaluating the use of tangible symbols in AAC interventions for 129 individuals with developmental disabilities. Studies were summarized in terms of participants, tangible symbols used, communication functions/skills targeted for intervention, intervention procedures, evaluation designs, and main findings. Tangible symbols mainly consisted of three-dimensional whole objects or partial objects. Symbols were taught as requests for preferred objects/activities in five studies with additional communication functions (e.g., naming, choice making, protesting) also taught in three studies. One study focused on naming activities. With intervention, 54% (n = 70) of the participants, who ranged from 3 to 20 years of age, learned to use tangible symbols to communicate. However, these findings must be interpreted with caution due to pre-experimental or quasi-experimental designs in five of the nine studies. Overall, tangible symbols appear promising, but additional studies are needed to establish their relative merits as a communication mode for people with developmental disabilities. © 2014 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
van der Meer L, Achmadi D, Cooijmans M, Didden R, Lancioni GE, O Reilly MF, et al., 'An iPad-Based Intervention for Teaching Picture and Word Matching to a Student with ASD and Severe Communication Impairment', Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 27 67-78 (2014)
© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York. iPads® have been successfully used as speech-generating devices (SGD) for children with ASD and limited speech, but little resear... [more]
© 2014, Springer Science+Business Media New York. iPads® have been successfully used as speech-generating devices (SGD) for children with ASD and limited speech, but little research has investigated the use of iPads to enhance academic skills, such as picture/word matching. In the present study, a student with ASD received intervention to teach picture and word matching using an iPad-based SGD as the response mode. A multiple baseline across matching tasks design was used to evaluate the effects of a graduated guidance prompting procedure and differential reinforcement on correct matching across four matching tasks (i.e., picture to picture, word to picture, picture to word, and word to word). With intervention, the student showed increased correct matching across all four combinations, suggesting that picture and word matching with an iPad-based SGD can be successfully taught using graduated guidance and differential reinforcement. This approach might have relevance for teaching a range of academic/literacy skills to students with ASD who present with limited or no speech.
Van Der Meer L, Kagohara D, Roche L, Sutherland D, Balandin S, Green VA, et al., 'Teaching multi-step requesting and social communication to two children with autism spectrum disorders with three AAC options', AAC: Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 29 222-234 (2013)
The present study involved comparing the acquisition of multi-step requesting and social communication across three AAC options: manual signing (MS), picture exchange (PE), and sp... [more]
The present study involved comparing the acquisition of multi-step requesting and social communication across three AAC options: manual signing (MS), picture exchange (PE), and speech-generating devices (SGDs). Preference for each option was also assessed. The participants were two children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who had previously been taught to use each option to request preferred items. Intervention was implemented in an alternating-treatments design. During baseline, participants demonstrated low levels of correct communicative responding. With intervention, both participants learned the target responses (two-and three-step requesting responses, greetings, answering questions, and social etiquette responses) to varying levels of proficiency with each communication option. One participant demonstrated a preference for using the SGD and the other preferred PE. The importance of examining preferences for using one AAC option over others is discussed. © 2013 International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.
Sigafoos J, Lancioni GE, O'Reilly MF, Achmadi D, Stevens M, Roche L, et al., 'Teaching two boys with autism spectrum disorders to request the continuation of toy play using an iPad®-based speech-generating device', Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7 923-930 (2013)
We evaluated a set of instructional procedures for teaching two nonverbal boys with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to request the continuation of toy play using an iPad®-based sp... [more]
We evaluated a set of instructional procedures for teaching two nonverbal boys with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to request the continuation of toy play using an iPad®-based speech-generating device (SGD). The effects of the instructional procedures were evaluated in a multiple baseline across participants design. Instruction focused on teaching the boys to select a TOY PLAY symbol from the iPad® screen when their toy play was briefly interrupted. The instructional procedures included behavior chain interruption, time delay, graduated guidance, and differential reinforcement. Results showed that both boys learned to use the SGD to request and maintained this skill without prompting. SGD-based requesting also generalized to other objects/activities. Acquisition of SGD-based requesting was associated with decreases in reaching and aggressive behavior. Results suggest that systematic instruction with the iPad®-based SGD effectively replaced reaching and aggression with socially acceptable communication. © 2013 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
|Show 15 more journal articles|
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||1|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20201 grants / $1,260
Funding body: Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle
|Funding body||Faculty of Education and Arts, University of Newcastle|
Dr Laura Roche
|Scheme||2020 FEDUA Strategic Early Advice and Feedback Scheme|
|Type Of Funding||Internal|