Visitors to the Centre
Professor Petrus de Vries
Sue Struengmann Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, presented the August Research Seminar on Autism in South Africa.
Professor Patricia Howlin
Professor of Clinical Child Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, London.
Dana Fischer from the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Ulm University, Germany presented her PhD research at the September Research Seminar.
Professor Nirit Bauminger
Head of the Autism Research Laboratory and Head of the Graduate Program for Autism Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, presented her research at our October Research Seminar.
Professor Helen Tager-Flusberg
Director of the Center for Autism Research Excellence at Boston University and from the Department of Psychological and Brain Science at Boston University and the Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology and Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, presented the December Research Seminar.
We have again had grant successes. In September, prior to the election, Premier, Daniel Andrews and the Minister for Families and Early Childhood Education, Jenny Mikakos, announced funding for our team to provide specialist training for all Maternal and Child Health (MCH) nurses in Victoria to identify the early signs of autism during their routine child checks at 12, 18 and 24 months. The funding is an outcome of the commitment made by the Victorian Government to accept 101 recommendations following the Parliamentary Inquiry for Services for People with Autism in 2016. This funding ensures that Victorian babies will be monitored for early signs of autism, and this identified and referred for a diagnosis of autism during their early years, enabling earlier access to intervention. This is a wonderful outcome following a long history of work that I began in the late 1990s, prior to establishment of the Centre, on the early autism phenotype and key early signs. This work was realised with the development of Social Attention and Communication Surveillance (SACS) by a PhD student working with me, who now leads our early identification program. Dr Josephine Barbaro, a Senior Research Fellow, led the grant and will oversee the implementation of the training and evaluation. She has also trained all Tasmanian Child Health and Parenting Service (CHaPS) nurses on the SACS, with Victoria and Tasmania leading the way in this important initiative.
Related to our early years work, we have received an NH&MRC grant to investigate the school-age outcomes and parental wellbeing of children identified via the SACS approach as compared to clinical referral, and the impact of age of diagnosis on these outcomes. I am leading this study with Dr Barbaro and Professor Katrina Williams as co-investigators along with Professor Alan Shiel who is undertaking an economic analysis of early identification and diagnosis and referral pathways to a diagnosis of ASD.
Early intervention research
Our early intervention research has recently received significant media attention following publication of our paper in the journal Autism, which reported on children’s intervention outcomes following receipt of one-year of the G-ESDM (Group-Early Start Denver Model developed at the Margot Prior Autism Intervention Centre). Funded by the NDIS and DSS, the three year study randomised children into receiving the G-ESDM within either inclusive settings alongside a majority of typically developing peers or a specialized setting amongst autistic peers. In addition to highlighting the feasibility and acceptability of delivering the G-ESDM within inclusive settings, the findings revealed that the toddlers with autism showed improvements in their vocal skills, social interaction skills, imitation, verbal cognition and adaptive behaviours, irrespective of their learning environment. Dr Kristelle Hudry, who was interviewed about this study, highlighted the importance of these results, noting that ‘as a growing number of toddlers are diagnosed with autism, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide families with more choice and control about the setting within which their children can receive early intervention’.
Critical to our early intervention research, DSS recently announced that all six Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres, of which the Margot Prior Autism Intervention Centre is one, will be funded until June 2020. It is anticipated that each of these services will move into the NDIS funding model, thereafter.