It has been a busy three months since our last newsletter. Our re-imagining agenda continues at pace as we hire new staff and settle further into our new structures. Several new professional staff have been appointed to new research support roles including: Wade Burton (Grants & Finance), Asher Mills (Data Officer), Laura Dhondy (Communications) and Susan Conduit (Administration). We have also appointed two new international Early Career Fellows – Dr Daryll Archibald (University of Dundee) and Patrick Dwyer (University of California, Davis). Both are in the process of relocation to Melbourne and will commence with us in September.
OTARC continues to extend its reach globally as exemplified in the strong participation of OTARC researchers at the International Society for Autism Research 2023 Annual Meeting which was held in Stockholm, Sweden. OTARC researchers contributed 17 presentations and posters to this meeting including 4 from our research students. In addition, many meetings were held on the ‘sidelines’ of the conference with our international colleagues. Outside of this meeting, several OTARC researchers have been invited to present their work at international fora. Associate Professor Darren Hedley has recently returned from Tel Aviv, Israel where he gave a keynote talk at an international workshop considering suicide prevention and autism. I also gave the opening keynote address on the topic of sensory challenges in the classroom to the 13th International Conference on Special Education in South East Asia Region hosted by the Universitas Lambung Mangkurat in Indonesia. And Professor Nora Shields won best paper for her talk on the outcomes of the FitSkills program at the European Academy of Childhood Disability in Slovenia.
We have further strengthened our ties with the international autism research community with the appointment of Professor Brian Boyd to our advisory committee. Brian is the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina. He is an expert in the fields of community-partners participatory research, implementation of evidence-based practices particularly in the early years, and health disparities and intersectionality in autism. Brian will be our guest speaker at a public event in September, and we will be distributing details of that opportunity in the weeks ahead.
There has been much discussed in the media over the last few months about the state of disability support in Australia and the sustainability of the NDIS. Autism has featured heavily in those discussions. As part of our commitment to staying connected with community and government, we have been involved in several working groups and opportunities to provide advice to government on these issues. Recently, Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Associate Professor Josie Barbaro were invited attendees to a day of talks about the direction of early childhood care hosted by the Commonwealth Department of Social Services in Canberra. Josie has also been appointed to the National Oversight Committee of the National Autism Strategy which will provide important direction for government and the community in framing policy going forward. Similarly, Associate Professor Darren Hedley is a member of the Health Roadmap Working Group to improve the health and mental health of autistic people advising the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. I also sit on the Victorian Department of Education’s Autism Education Strategy Advisory Group which considers the best inclusive practices in the education of autistic young people.
Looking ahead to the next three months, we have much to look forward to including a mid-year staff retreat where will review our progress to date in this transition year, the roll out of our early years assessment clinic, and a week-long series of events in September where we will invite all interested community members to hear more about what we are doing and seek feedback on our current directions. More to come on that soon!
In the meantime, I hope you all have the opportunity to see out what remains of winter with regular retreats by the side of a radiating heat source with your hot beverage of choice. Enjoy!
Stay in touch!