New La Trobe research centre to unravel the mysteries of autism

New La Trobe research centre to unravel the mysteries of autism

23 Jun 2008

La Trobe University, supported by a generous private donation, will this week officially launch Australia's first dedicated research centre for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The centre aims to unlock the puzzle of autism – one of the most severe and common childhood disorders which affect one in 167 Australian children.

Known as the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, and located in the School of Psychological Science on the University's main Melbourne campus at Bundoora, it will be opened on Friday, 27 June by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Services, The Hon.Bill Shorten.

Centre Director, Dr Cheryl Dissanayake says that frustrated by the lack of funding for research and recognition of this debilitating condition, Mrs Olga Tennison offered $500,000 of her own money to help establish the centre,

With matching funds from the University, the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre is focusing on both basic and applied research to advance knowledge on the nature and causes of autism.

The La Trobe centre is a joint initiative with Autism Victoria, the peak autism body in the State, which will play an important role in supporting and promoting its work.

The centre will also focus on training and continuing education for health and educational practitioners. It will foster collaboration between community services, research centres and other universities involved in autism research and build partnerships with international research groups.

Dr Dissanayake says the development is taking place at a time when the federal government has pledged a substantial budget to support early intervention centres, and improved assessment and diagnosis services for this long neglected group of children.

She says dedicated research funding for this complex group of disorders is long overdue.

‘The establishment of the centre highlights the need for funded research and a higher profile for autism. It is exasperating that not one autism study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council last year, despite the significant impact autism has on the nation's young children,' she says.

The centre comprises a suite of laboratories for observational and experimental studies of children, from identifying signs of autism in infancy to genetic studies of this complex disorder.

The centre will also study evidence-based treatment and intervention methods for supporting children and families affected by autism.

The opening ceremony will be held at 10am, Friday 27 June in Room 217 of the George Singer Building, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Melway ref D5.


Dr Cheryl Dissanayake
Director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre
School of Psychological Science
La Trobe University, Victoria 3086
Tel: (03) 9479 1162

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of prevalent and debilitating developmental disorders, which includes Autistic Disorder (AD), Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

These conditions are characterised by impairments in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction, and a restricted repertoire of activities and interests combined with repetitive and stereotypical behaviour.

According to latest estimates, ASDs affect 1:167 individuals in the general population, with a male to female ratio of 4:1.




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