Stress assessment is child’s play

Dr Corinne Reid and Dr Mike Anderson with children Lily and Tommy.
Dr Corinne Reid and Dr Mike Anderson with children Lily and Tommy.

Parents of these children know this can add anxiety to an already stressful time, but a dedicated research centre at Murdoch University has been providing a play-based environment to assess and treat these children for more than 20 years.

Project KIDS is not what you would expect from a facility designed to study children’s neuro-developmental growth.

It is a fun, colourful centre, buzzing with academics and postgraduate students, who assess the brain activity of children under the age of 11 using computer-based brain training, indoor and outdoor play.

Clinical director Corinne Reid said the child-centred methods used allowed researchers to assess children more thoroughly and the process was less likely to cause stress for the whole family.

Children born earlier than 27 weeks gestation are referred to the centre when they reach seven years of age so their neurological development can be assessed. |Children with other conditions that may put them at risk of neuro-developmental delay are also referred to the centre.

‘For the first 10 to 12 years, we focused on the profiling and assessment of children in the normal range,’ Dr Reid said.

She said the frontal lobe was the last area of the brain to form in-utero and this could lead to a delay or deficit in cognitive function for pre-term babies.

The extent of this is investigated at the centre so that each child can be assessed and an individual plan developed to help minimise the impact of any deficit or delay.

She said when a child’s frontal lobe was not fully developed, they may struggle to organise themselves and can have poor impulse control.

Part of managing this is guiding teachers to set up a classroom system that helps a child to have success with being organised.

Dr Reid said more recent findings about the brain’s ability to rewire itself had lead to a brain training program, that so far had been completed by more than 30 children.

A newer program using virtual reality for brain training is hoped to provide even more opportunities to children at the centre.