La Trobe to lead new autism research

La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) has secured one of five national grants for new research into autism.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt today announced $473,475 in funding from the National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC), to be led by OTARC Director Cheryl Dissanayake. Professor Dissanayake said the grant will support a new project looking into the impact of early diagnosis on cognitive, language and behavioural outcomes in children who are now school aged.

“At OTARC, we are committed to improving outcomes of individuals and families living with autism from early infancy through to adulthood and onwards,” Professor Dissanayake said.

“This new funding boosts our ability to follow-up three unique cohorts of children diagnosed with autism at different ages, who have accessed different services, and the impact of this on their developmental trajectories over time.

Currently, less than 20 per cent of children are diagnosed by age three in Australia, and around three per cent by age two, with most families waiting 12 to 18 months for a diagnosis.

The project will also examine the impact of age of diagnosis on the families of the children in this study.

The world-first research, titled School-age Outcomes of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Parental Wellbeing: Investigations on the contribution of Method-of-Referral and Age-of-Diagnosis, will also assess how the method of referral for a diagnosis affected children’s outcomes, and measure the cost effectiveness of early referral, diagnosis and timely access to early intervention.

“We have no information to date on these long-term developmental outcomes on children following early diagnosis and early intervention, and very few studies have examined long-term parent outcomes” Professor Dissanayake said.

“We hope to close this gap in knowledge to better inform public policy regarding early identification, diagnosis and timely access to services for families with an autistic child.

Autism is the most common presenting condition within the NDIS. Our findings will contribute knowledge on the most effective ways to provide children with autism and their families with greater opportunities to lead healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives.”

Dr Josephine Barbaro and Professor Alan Sheill from La Trobe University are co-researchers on this project to be undertaken together with Professor Katrina Williams from the Royal Children’s Hospital.

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