It appears that Spring has sprung! And with it some warmer weather, some sunshine, and a new family of very cute ducklings on La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. At OTARC, Spring has brought us international visitors and an opportunity to meet members of the community at our Research Showcase in what we hope will become a regular event. This event, held on September 7th at La Trobe University’s Melbourne city campus, was an opportunity to showcase a sampling of our current and proposed research projects across our four program areas; Identification and Diagnosis, Supports and Practices for Daily Living, Vocational Engagement and Health and Wellbeing. We heard from our senior and junior researchers in rapid-fire 10-minute talks. Members of the audience were able to ask questions of the researchers which led to lively discussion. Even as Director, I learnt new things about the work that our researchers are doing and further appreciated the breadth and reach of OTARC’s research. It was wonderful to see so many members of the community in attendance and we will look to further refine the format for future events.
The Research Community Showcase also afforded us the opportunity to formally launch our 2022 Annual Report. 2022 was a year of ‘re-imagining’ for OTARC as we consulted with the community, the University and other researchers to develop a plan for OTARC to best honour Olga’s legacy. In this way, 2022 will always be a landmark year in OTARC’s history, marking the end of the founding era and the beginning of a new era in which the centre can flourish with the certainty provided by Olga’s generosity. Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, founding OTARC Director, finished her tenure in December 2022, moving into the first Olga Tennison Endowed Chair of Autism Research. In her final year as Director, Cheryl was honoured with an Order of Australia (AM) and elected as Fellow of the Academy of Social Science, Australia (FASSA), both in recognition of her contributions to Autism research throughout her career and particularly during the founding years of OTARC.
The 2022 Annual Report also highlights the impact of OTARC research on policy, community conversation and practice. OTARC staff made submissions to the National Guideline for Supporting the Learning, Participation and Wellbeing of Autistic Children and their Families in Australia, and recommendations made by OTARC to the Commonwealth Senate Select Committee on Autism were included in the final report from this group. Further, OTARC research papers were directly mentioned in the media 547 times in 2022, stimulating conversation and highlighting the relevance of OTARC’s work to the community. A full copy of the Annual Report can be found here.
One of our key strategic initiatives identified in our planning during 2022 was to re-establish our Victorian Early Assessment Clinic. I am pleased to be able to report that we have done that with our new clinic staff joining us in August. Preparations for the centres’ opening is well underway, and we look forward to sharing more news on this very soon.
Finally, we have been pleased this year to return to a more familiar pre-COVID pattern of welcoming international visitors to OTARC.
In the last 2 months, we have welcomed Associate Professor Karla Ausderau from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Professor Brian A. Boyd from the University of North Carolina. Karla’s visit was made possible through a small grant from the School of Psychology and Public Health to support inter-institutional collaboration. Karla’s expertise lies in feeding challenges and autism, and inclusion of individuals with intellectual disability in research. During her visit, Karla planned several grant submissions and papers with me, PhD student Asmita Mudholkar and Dr Brittany St John (our Fulbright Fellow) and gave the August OTARC seminar.
Professor Brian A. Boyd is a new member of OTARC’s Advisory Committee providing an international autism perspective to our thinking. Brian joined us for a week in early September, providing a well-attended Public Lecture and meeting with our early career researchers, clinic staff and senior researchers. You can read more about Brian’s visit in our newsletter.
It has been a busy few months but the extra activity has brought with it a sense of vibrancy and energy to the centre. We now look forward to the rest of the year to consolidate many of the changes made so far this year and perhaps enter a more predictable pattern of work – well, that’s the thinking anyway!
Wishing you all well!
Stay in touch!