Childhood and adolescence is a crucial time for development and learning. Healthy development in the early years provides the foundations for educational achievement and long-term health and wellbeing.
Our research applies advanced genetics, developmental neuroscience and psychological methods to better understand the mechanisms of cognitive and psychological development from infancy to early adulthood across both neurotypical and neurodiverse populations (in particular, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and learning disorders).
We are global leaders in translating this knowledge into the development of novel interactive technologies designed to support cognitive development and learning in early childhood, and enhance resilience and mental wellbeing. These technologies consist of online parenting programs, mobile game-based applications, and interventions delivered via robots and virtual reality.
We work closely with the community to ensure our technologies are accessible to all Australian children regardless of their culture, life history, or geographical location.
Using technology to support cognitive skill development
Paying attention, keeping track of activities, and staying focused are critical cognitive skills that are essential to every child as they start school. These skills, known as ‘executive functions’, provide the building blocks that support school readiness, and social functioning. Approximately 40,300 young Australians struggle to master executive functions placing them at-risk of poor academic outcomes, reduced peer relationships, and behavioural diffculties.
In partnership with schools and communities across Victoria, we are is co-designing, developing and piloting an accessible digital training program that strengthens key executive functions early in childhood. We aim to reduce challenges and improve outcomes in developmentally vulnerable children.
Supporting children with Autism and ADHD
The Monash Autism & ADHD Genetics and Neurodevelopment (MAGNET) project is working to better understand the complex symptoms of the two most common developmental disorders – Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – and why they overlap in some children.
Children with co-occurring ADHD-ASD symptoms have poorer outcomes socially, emotionally, behaviourally, and academically. Our research examines the DNA of children with ASD and ADHD to investigate those genes that influence behaviours like attention, memory and language. In uncovering the role of genetics in these conditions, we can better understand the issues faced by children with ASD and ADHD and ultimately help to improve diagnosis and treatment.
Preventing psychosis in young people
While psychosis is a devastating neuropsychiatric syndrome that affects around 3% of the population and costs the Australian economy billions of dollars each year, greater knowledge is needed of the basic disease mechanisms to enable the development of new treatments.
Our cutting-edge research integrates a range of non-invasive techniques and approaches to better understand the physiological changes involved in the onset of psychosis.
This work moves beyond the mere mapping of the brain by uncovering the underlying mechanisms of psychosis and developing new methods to modify the dysfunction, with the ultimate aim of reducing risk or even preventing psychosis onset in young people.