Global partnership to improve children’s lives

A collaboration between Deakin and India’s leading mental health and neurosciences institute, NIMHANS, has led to the establishment of a joint centre of research excellence in developmental disorders. 

Deakin University’s long-term research relationship with India’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has taken another step forward with the inauguration in Bengaluru earlier this month of the Deakin NIMHANS Centre of Research Excellence in Developmental Disorders.

The centre is a collaboration between Deakin’s School of Psychology and NIMHANS’ Department of Clinical Psychology and will be a sister institute to the Deakin Child Study Centre (DCSC) located at Deakin’s Burwood campus.

“Deakin was the first foreign University to establish an office in India and our 24 year association with India is testament to our commitment to building partnerships that strengthen research and teaching opportunities in both countries,” said Professor Brendan Crotty, Executive Dean of Deakin’s Faculty of Health.

“Our partnership with NIMHANS is a key focus as we aim to work with Indian institutions and researchers of the highest calibre to conduct research that makes a real difference to the lives of children with disabilities and their families.”

The Director of DCSC and leader of the innovative AllPlay program, Professor Nicole Rinehart, said the new Centre’s vision was to enhance the lives of young people with developmental disorders from the early years of childhood through to adolescence, helping them to develop to their full potential.

“Globally, we have much to do to improve our understanding of why some children are at risk for developmental problems and poor mental health and we will work together to find solutions to how we provide our children with the best start to life,” Professor Rinehart said.

The Centre of Research Excellence will be built on the three pillars that underpin DCSC – child neuroscience and assessment, establishing and implementing evidence-based interventions, and community engagement – with a focus on the translation of science into practical outcomes.

Speaking at the Centre’s inauguration in Bengaluru, Deakin’s Vice Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander AO said the three pillars would help the Centre remain focused on developing child-centred interventions.

“With these interventions we hope to create inclusive environments where children of all abilities feel secure to thrive socially and emotionally and have the same access to community participation as their peers. We intend to use our experiences from DCSC in Australia and map them according to the requirements of a diverse country like India,” she said.

NIMHANS Vice Chancellor and Director, Professor B. N. Gangadhar, said the importance of providing mental support during the formative years of child development was crucial.

“This support multiplies when the child is differently abled. In these cases, the need to provide equal exposure to all external factors like education and sports has also become important,” he said.

“The Centre will gain immensely through this collaboration, as NIMHANS understands the local needs and Deakin brings in the international experience.”

One in five children will present with a developmental challenge in their lifetime, according to Professor Rinehart, while one in 100 children will have autism and approximately five per cent of children will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disorder still poorly understood in terms of etiology and environmental influences.

One of the Centre’s first two projects will examine whether technology can improve the way neurodevelopmental disorders are diagnosed by building a laboratory to assess whether simple gait and pattern recognition technology can detect autism at the earliest stage to allow timely intervention.

The other project will involve working with communities to create new pathways and promote inclusion to help children overcome challenges in the natural landscape of childhood.

To further the Centre’s ultimate aim of benefiting as many children with developmental disorders as possible, Deakin will fund two research fellows and two PhD scholars to undertake research and community engagement activities. NIMHANS will provide facilities and support its researchers to engage in collaborations with Deakin researchers. Deakin post-doctoral fellow Dr David Hallford will spend four months at NIMHANS from April this year, funded by an EMCR Fellowship from the Australia India Strategic Research Fund.

There are also plans to establish a dual Deakin-NIMHANS PhD program and to create opportunities for student and staff exchange, including clinical internships for Australian students.

Published by Deakin Research on 31 January 2018

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