Director’s report – Summer 2016

Welcome to the Summer edition of Another Piece!

Our first appointment at OTARC was Dr Elfriede Ihsen, a long-time colleague and developmental psychologist. Soon after she joined us, Lisbeth Wilks, our Administrative Officer, joined as well. Lisbeth has had responsibility, amongst other things, for delivering our quarterly newsletter, Another Piece, to you, our readers and supporters. Together we worked to establish the Centre and successfully launch it in mid-2008. Elfriede and Lisbeth have been the backbone of much of what we do at OTARC. Both will retire this year, and I would like to acknowledge their dedication and generous contributions to OTARC over many years.

In addition to farewelling dear colleagues, we have welcomed our new Centre Manager, Mr Doug Scobie, who began with us in October. Doug has joined us from the University of Melbourne, where he had been a Centre Manager for many years, and is already increasing our efficiency! We have also welcomed Dr Rachel Jellett, who will be our Autism CRC Biobank Research Officer, as maternity leave replacement for Melanie Muniandy. Melanie began her leave in December in expectation of the arrival of a little girl. We wish both Melanie and her partner, Jens, well on this new chapter.

Many of us have recently returned from another successful biennial meeting of the Australasian Society for Autism Research (ASfAR) in Perth. Many of our students and all of our research staff presented papers and posters at the conference, which was preceded by the Autism CRC Scholars and Participants days. Dr Josephine Barbaro was awarded the Autism CRC Research Translation award at the conference (for the second time!) for her work on early identification of autism via the ASDetect app launched earlier this year. Dr Barbaro and I presented a ‘Dreamtalk’ on ASDetect at the Dreamforce Conference organized by Salesforce.com in San Francisco in October, together with Mr Dan Bognar, Salesforce Vice President of the Asia Pacific, who made this all possible. The app already has over 12,000 downloads, and will soon have more, because it was one of the 10 finalists (from over 400 applications) for the Google Impact Challenge. La Trobe supported a campaign for ASDetect to win the popular award, and we thank all our readers for their support. Although we were not amongst the four winners, we were awarded sufficient funds by Google.org to translate ASDetect, and the first language will be Mandarin. We will work closely with our collaborators in China to achieve this.

15 December 2016 - Professor Cheryl Dissanayake with the Deputy Chancellor Andrew Eddy (left), who presided over the Latrobe University Graduation ceremony, and Invited Occasional Speaker, Michael Fieldhouse (right), Hewlett-Packard Enterprises. Michael, now an Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University.

15 December 2016 – Professor Cheryl Dissanayake with the Deputy Chancellor Andrew Eddy (left), who presided over the Latrobe University Graduation ceremony, and Invited Occasional Speaker, Michael Fieldhouse (right), Hewlett-Packard Enterprises. Michael, now an Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University.

We are all looking forward to the summer break, in firm knowledge that we have again achieved a lot this year. We have had a number of successful grants to advance our research into how best to support children with autism learn, with the most recent being an NHMRC Project Grant on how to enhance the effects of early intervention for very young children. Our work on supporting adolescents and adults with autism also continues, with our work on employment in partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise now extending to the Department of Defence. I had the pleasure of presenting to the Defence Steering Committee on the Dandelion Project, in Canberra, together with Mr Michael Fieldhouse. Michael is the brainchild of the project in which we are engaged. The Apex Trust for Autism also recently chose OTARC as a recipient of a grant to support understanding of developmental outcomes of children who attended our Early Assessment Clinic for ASD. So we have much work to do in 2017, and beyond.

I wish you all a wonderful festive season ahead, and look forward to sharing our achievements with you next year.

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake MAPS Director, OTARC

Professor Cheryl Dissanayake
PhD MAPS
Director, Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre

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