I came to work with Professor Cheryl Dissanayake in April 2008 in preparation for the opening of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) in June 2008. It was an exciting time as I found my place within the wider La Trobe University community.
As a parent of an adult with Autism, it has been a privilege and an education for me to work at OTARC as the Admin Officer for the past eight years. I have met some amazing people and made many excellent friends as I have watched the centre grow from small beginnings to the international status it enjoys today.
I vividly remember first coming to work and our Director (Cheryl) showing me to my desk and instructing me to ‘find my job’. It was daunting, at first, to meet many eminent researchers and academics, not to mention the logistic of the large Bundoora campus, but I quickly gained knowledge and confidence.
Before I came to work at OTARC at La Trobe University I had worked as an artist, author, admin officer and had a couple of decades as a full time carer for my son with autism and my stepson with Down syndrome. Although I had been active in the ‘Autism Community’ serving on committees and as an advocate for my son, I had little idea of the effort and cost involved in conducting research. I was ignorant of the time it takes to make small, let alone large, advances in knowledge about the autism spectrum, and how a small new piece of information sometimes opens up another range of questions needing answers. Although it was sometimes difficult to understand the relevance of a research program, it was revealing when seen within the wider sweep of building knowledge and working towards improving the lives of children and adults on the spectrum, and their families and carers. From many small facts and statistics researchers gradually build a valuable wealth of knowledge.
I am confident this knowledge will further advance to reveal new information and strategies to help improve lives in the future. A simple cure may be elusive, as there are many factors contributing to the manifestation of Autism in individuals. My hope is not to cure my son, but to ease his path through life. He has much to offer with his unique insights and talents.
In the last eight years my hair has turned white and my mind turns to helping my family through the adoption of the NDIS, my family’s future endeavours and my other interests. I have decided to retire from OTARC at the end of 2016. It is certainly good to make this decision from a position of choice, and I look forward to a new phase of my life. I plan to do lots of exciting activities that I have been putting off until this time. But I also hope to maintain my ties with OTARC as I will still contribute to the centre as a friend, and sometimes as a volunteer.
I wish everyone at OTARC the best for the future as they move to bigger and better research projects. May the Centre’s research be successful in gaining the funding it needs to follow through on this vital and valuable work.
Thank you to the thousands of subscribers to the OTARC quarterly newsletter for your loyalty and readership.