Language impairment holds youth offenders back – 3MT winning PhD research

October 16 / 187

Melbourne Graduate School of Education doctoral researcher Nathaniel Swain has won this year’s University of Melbourne Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT®), after condensing his thesis into a short presentation about language and literacy interventions with young offenders who have communication disorders.

3MT® is a research communication competition developed by the University of Queensland where PhD students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis and its significance.

Following his local success Mr Swain flew to Brisbane for the Asia Pacific event last week, where he came runner up after competing against researchers from over 50 universities across the region.

Watch the presentation.

Nathaniel Swain 2016 3MT® Grand Final Presentation from Melbourne CSHE on Vimeo.

Mr Swain said participating in the competition was a fantastic opportunity for him to gain experience in clearly and concisely explaining the significance of what is very complex research.

“If I can successfully articulate the implications of my work, it could mean a world of difference for vulnerable youth,” he said.

“I need to convince policymakers and practitioners to pay attention to this research, in order for change to come about, and the Three Minute Thesis comp was a great way to develop the skills I’ll need to get the message out there.”

Mr Swain’s research found that typical young male offenders had severe communication problems, and up to 50 per cent of them have what’s called “language impairment”, meaning they can’t understand or express themselves with spoken language, as others are able to.

“I was interested in these troubled boys in youth justice,” he told audiences during the competition. 

“These young men struggle to understand the complex language of police interviews, court appearances, or psychological intervention. The problem is their language impairments are hidden disabilities – masquerading as disinterest, or defiance.

“Communication is a key piece of the puzzle of getting young offenders back on track. But language impairment is a hidden disability – rarely picked up, and seldom dealt with.

“My hope is that this research demonstrates that communication matters for these vulnerable young people, and that with the right support, we can make a difference.”

Editorial Enquiries

Got a story?

Staff are encouraged to submit stories. There are some important steps in preparing a media-ready story.  Email