Educational and vocational engagement
We determine and promote the best learning and vocational pathways for Autistic people at all levels of education and in volunteer and paid employment.
RESEARCH PROGRAM LEADER: Associate Professor Jennifer Spoor
Our work aims to benefit Autistic people, employers and broader society by:
- increasing the rates of Autistic people in high quality jobs
- ensuring an individual differences approach to supporting Autistic strengths at work.
IN THE MEDIA
“Maybe no one knows we need help” - Explore the Experiences of Autistic Working Mothers in Australia in this online summary presentation by PhD candidate Kate Gore based on her Masters research published in Autism in Adulthood.
Supporting neurodivergent students in higher education - Lyndel Kennedy PhD candidate, OTARC
More neurodivergent students are enrolling in higher education than ever, but many don't complete their degrees or diplomas.
Research has focused mainly on Autistic university students, often ignoring students with other neurodivergent conditions. However, many people have more than one neurodivergent condition.
Research may also assume that it is neurodivergence itself that leads to students dropping out. But other factors may also be relevant.
- What factors contribute to the academic success of neurodivergent students?
- What supports do neurodivergent students want, and what barriers stand in their way?
We co-designed a survey and interview questions with neurodivergent students to better understand the university and TAFE experiences of neurodivergent students compared with non-neurodivergent students in Australia and New Zealand.
From over 200 survey respondents, we found that:
- 93% of neurodivergent students had mental health conditions, and a third had multiple neurodivergent conditions.
- Neurodivergent students had higher rates of anxiety, depression and sensory sensitivities, and lower executive functioning and wellbeing and did not enjoy higher education as much as non-neurodivergent students.
- Less than half of neurodivergent students had disclosed to their university or TAFE; many delayed disclosing until a crisis occurred as they worried about stigma and discrimination.
- Only half of neurodivergent students had accessed support, but when they did, they found them helpful.
- Overwhelmingly, neurodivergent students wanted new supports (e.g., mentoring programs and support groups) to be led by neurodivergent facilitators.
- For academic success (passing units or subjects), neurotype was not important. Better executive functioning skills and more social support were related to better success for all students in the study.
Success for neurodivergent students can be improved with the right support and better person-to-environment fit. Lyndel will use the information from her research to make recommendations for improving higher education supports for neurodivergent students, contributing to a future where more neurodivergent students realise their full academic potential.
Lyndel is now analysing in-depth interviews with 34 neurodivergent students.
The SENSIBLE approach for Accessible Learning
As a result of a 2022 project commissioned by the Queensland Department of Education, OTARC Director Professor Alison Lane and colleagues delivered a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) of the literature about sensory processing challenges in school settings. This review assessed the evidence for various interventions, including weighted vests, alternate seating, classroom amplification systems and multisensory environments and provided recommendations for their use.
The findings from this review were incorporated into developing training and resources for teachers and learning support staff, specialist advisors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, principals and teacher's aides. The findings of focus groups with school staff indicated a need for more knowledge amongst teachers in mainstream schools about how sensory processing challenges may impact student behaviour and learning. Further, decisions regarding the strategies used by school staff to address these challenges were not always grounded in evidence .
The suite of resources includes a flow-chart-style poster to guide decision-making regarding sensory needs, two webpages explaining sensory issues, and explaining inclusive education principles, all linked to the Department resources, together with a manual setting out the overall approach.
These materials were developed using a practical framework comprising five decision-making phases, called "a SENSIBLE approach: SENSory-Informed Best practices for LEarning". This framework assists school staff in implementing strategies that facilitate inclusive access, active participation, and academic success for all students, regardless of their sensory processing challenges. It also encourages integrating evidence-informed practices and inclusive education principles when creating learning opportunities that accommodate sensory variations.
This approach is unique because it is designed for education teams within schools rather than focusing solely on classroom teachers. The SENSIBLE approach is currently being rolled out in Queensland government schools, with evaluations of its impact planned.
This is an excerpt from the OTARC response to the Western Australian's Education and Health Standing Committee's Inquiry into support for Autistic children and young people in schools. You can read the full submission here.
- Unwin, K., Wales, K., Johnson, T., & Lane, A. (2022). Supporting Students with Sensory Processing Challenges: Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA). La Trobe University, Bundoora.
- Lane, A.E. & Leonard, C. (2023). A sensible Approach SENSory-Informed Best practices for Learning Decision-Making Framework Manual. Queensland Department of Education, Brisbane.
DXC Technology -The Dandelion Program: Autism employment
The creation of the Dandelion Program by multinational Hewlett Packard (now DXC Technology) in 2015 began with the dual aims of:
- Providing meaningful employment for a small group of Autistic young people
- Tracking the success of the DXC’s alternative workplace approach in supporting Autistic employees.
The impact of this initial small-scale program has spread far beyond that small group of individuals and their families, to now encompass:
- A freely-available protocol for other companies to follow in emulating the success of the Dandelion Program
- Programs in the Department of Human Services (DHS) software testing area; in cybersecurity at the Department of Defence, and most recently, in Records Information Management, at the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
- 80 Autistic people employed at DXC via the Dandelion Program
- 220 other organisations have downloaded material from Social Impact Practice, the DXC division devoted to spreading the approach pioneered at DXC.
Specialisterne Australia, DXC Technology and the Department of Human Services
Specialisterne Australia, DXC Technology and the Department of Human Services ran The Dandelion Program to provide skilled employment for Autistic people from 2014-2017. OTARC has an ongoing research partnership with the three organisations.
In-person and train-the-trainer training now offered
The in-person training and train-the-trainer packages were developed with support from Untapped Holdings.
For information about the package, or the upcoming online training, please contact Simon Bury
MENTAL HEALTH TOOLKIT AND TRAINING - Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce
This toolkit was designed to support the mental health and wellbeing of Autistic workers. It has up-to-date, evidence-based information and strategies about mental health and wellbeing. These can be used as an in-depth information source with useful resources or a training course to create workplace competency in mental health and Autism. The toolkit provides information for different end-users: Executives and supervisors, mentors/colleagues, and Autistic workers. The toolkit was developed in partnership with DXC Technology (The Dandelion Project) and ANZ Bank.