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Autism Open Day focuses on strengths and opportunities

Written by Arianne Chavez

Autism Open Day was bigger and better again this year. Following the success of last year’s Open Day, more than 500 people attended the event at Curtin University’s Technology Park including Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deborah Terry, the Minister for Environment and Disability Services, the Hon. Stephen Dawson, and the Ambassador of the Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) and past Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley AO.

Curtin Autism Research Group (CARG) Director, Professor Sonya Girdler, School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology, said an estimated 230,000 Australians are currently affected by autism with 75 per cent of people diagnosed with autism being 19 years of age or younger.

“People with autism are ambitious and aspirational and possess unique strengths and abilities that can be harnessed in the work environment, often performing well in jobs requiring systematic information processing and a high degree of accuracy, precision and repetition,” Professor Girdler said.

“Employment can help improve the quality of life for people with autism, mainly through financial support, but also by encouraging personal dignity and improving their cognitive abilities. Currently, there are only a small amount of appropriate services available to support these adults, specifically in finding employment.”

Professor Girdler said that Autism Open Day offered a unique opportunity for adults and children with autism to learn more about their skills, which could be utilised by potential employers.

“Autism Open Day provides a space that encourages parents and individuals on the spectrum to join in on informative discussions about employment, meet autism researchers from Curtin and Telethon Kids Institute, see live demonstrations of the newest technologies available, and learn about engaging programs that support people living with autism,” Professor Girdler said.

At the event, people on the spectrum joined researchers, families, clinicians and interested community members for all the latest news on autism research, social skills programs, pathway planning for school leavers, peer mentoring for university students and workplace initiatives. The Vice-Chancellor delivered the official welcome, followed by Minister Dawson launching the Neurodiversity Hub, which will be run by AASQA and CARG in partnership with DXC Technology, the world’s leading end-to-end IT services company. Professor Beazley delivered a keynote presentation titled, ‘Tapping the talents of people with autism’.

There were discussions about strengths-based programs that support people with autism, and parents of autistic children and autistic individuals shared their stories and experiences with the hundreds of guests. The day included a series of short presentations by researchers and experts, with and without lived experience of autism.

During break times guest visited the exhibition area, which held stalls with information on key areas such as:

  • Pathway planning for school leavers with autism
  • Social skills training for teenagers with autism
  • Emotion recognition training computer games
  • Peer mentoring program for university students with autism
  • Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance
  • Getting around the community
  • National guideline for autism assessment and diagnosis
  • Autism Register

There was a popular playroom for autistic children, whose caregivers were attending the presentations nearby, which was filled with toys and staffed by able volunteer students from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology and volunteers from Telethon Kids Institute. Much to the delight of the children, there was also a visit from an Autism Assistance Dog from Guide Dogs WA.

A quiet area for guests who needed downtime was available, and delicious food and coffee could be purchased from food vans throughout the day.

Professor Girdler said the 2018 Autism Open Day was a fantastic success, and paid tribute to everyone involved with the event.

“Curtin staff and students put many hours of work into ensuring Autism Open Day runs smoothly, and many people volunteer their time. I am very grateful to everyone who was involved in making the event so engaging and successful,” Professor Girdler said.

“Autism Open Day offers a unique opportunity for the autism community to gather and discuss fascinating research, including proposed future research areas, wonderful initiatives and, of course, hear about the wonderful successes and achievements of people with lived experience of autism.”