Research Programs At Autism Queensland
Autism Queensland is currently involved in, or has completed, numerous research programs in the areas described below.
Optimising telehealth to future proof the delivery of autism related services
Autism Queensland is excited to be partnering with Associate Professor David Trembath and Griffith University in a project to optimise the use of tele-practice as part of the delivery of services. COVID-19 led to significant disruption to services, and this project aims to work out what worked well, what did not work so well, and the best way forward. The outcomes will include the development of a tele-practice portal for Autism Queensland staff, mapping pathways to more effective use of tele-practice as part of existing and new services, and upskilling staff in other Queensland-based organisations and the community at large.
The project which will be run over 18 months, started in January 2021, and is supported by an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship.
The use of remote technologies to extend early intervention services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in rural locations
This project aimed to evaluate the costs, feasibility and efficacy of services delivered through remote technologies to extend face-to-face services. Clients from rural areas who have received face-to-face early intervention services were provided with a follow-up service using remote technologies. Interviews with families, local service providers and therapists explored the advantages and disadvantages of providing a service remotely.
Parents, service providers and the ASD-specialist perceived remote technologies to be beneficial in:(a) upskilling of parents and local service provider;(b) reducing cost, time and travel;(c) flexible, regular, ongoing support, (d) enabling families to access support from home, and (e)enhancing connections between team members.
Education of students on the autism spectrum
The Introduction of Keyboarding to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders with Handwriting Difficulties: A Help or a Hindrance?
This study explored the utility of using keyboarding as an alternative to handwriting for students on the spectrum from mainstream classrooms who experienced handwriting difficulties. The students’ motivation was generally rated as much higher for keyboarding than for handwriting. The group mean scores for keyboarding speed, and length and quality of keyboarded compositions were greater than comparable group mean scores for handwriting, but the differences did not reach statistical significance.
The experiences of students on the spectrum of bullying at school
This study was conducted in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology. Parent and student surveys addressing face-to-face and cyber bullying were sent to families of young people on the spectrum aged 11 to 16 years. Students on the spectrum were found to be significantly more likely to be bullied face-to-face than students not on the spectrum (around 65% compared to 37.5%). Students with co-occurring anxiety disorders were more likely to report face-to-face victimization and were more troubled by both face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying, while students with co-occurring depression were more likely to report cyber victimization. Parental concerns included the impact of victimisation on school attendance, self-esteem, mental health, social participation, academic performance, and behaviour.
Parent preferences as regard types of school placement
This study aimed to explore 1) parents’ school placement preferences, 2) the extent to which students attend the school placement type preferred by their parents, 3) the impact of student characteristics on their parents’ school placement preferences, and 4) parent’s reasons for their preferred school placement. Regular mainstream school classrooms placements were the most preferred placements. However, around half of respondents preferred an option other than a regular mainstream classroom. The most notable differences between parent-preferred school placement options and current school placements were that parents preferred autism-specific classes in mainstream schools and autism-specific schools. A publication on this study is currently being prepared.
Parent reports on the need to change schools because the school was not a good fit for their child
This study explored: a) number of parents of spectrum on the spectrum/self-reporting adults who report changing schools because the school wasn’t a good fit, b) student characteristics associated with the need to change schools and c) the reasons for changing schools provided by parents and self-reporting adults? Thirty-four per cent of primary school-aged students, and 53% of secondary school-aged students and 53% of adults who had left school reported that they had changed schools. The frequency with which students on the spectrum change schools suggests that there are many schools that are struggling to successfully include students on the spectrum. A publication on this study is currently being prepared.
Sensory processing differences of people on the spectrum
Understanding the sensory experiences of young people with autism spectrum disorder: A preliminary investigation
This study employed semi-structured interviews augmented by visual cues to investigate the sensory experiences of adolescents on the spectrum. The participants shared a preference for predictable and controllable sensory input, whereas unpredictable and uncontrollable sensations were perceived as unpleasant. A difficulty filtering extraneous sensory input, high levels of movement seeking and an over-focus on salient sensory input were also described.
Development of a sensory processing clinical reasoning framework
This project has involved the development of a clinical reasoning framework to guide practitioners in selecting appropriate sensory management strategies, taking into account the evidence, social-ecological validity, cost, and where relevant, risk.
My Sensory Experiences
This study is currently ongoing. The aim is to explore the potential benefits and limitations of using My Sensory Experiences, which is a card sort tool involving the use of visual cues, to enable children and adults to explain their preferences and challenges associated with sensory differences in their own words, and to develop their own strategies to address challenges related to sensory differences in their everyday lives.
Practices and professional development needs of therapists supporting people on the spectrum
Occupational Therapy Services for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Current State of Play, Use of Evidence and Future Learning Priorities
A survey in relation to services for people on the spectrum was distributed to all registered Queensland occupational therapists. Around half the respondents indicated that they lacked confidence at least some of the time. Autism-specific experience was a significant predictor of confidence.
An innovative co-mentoring program to enhance workplace implementation following an occupational therapy course on autism
A co-mentoring program was developed with the aim of facilitating workplace implementation of learning following a three-day course for occupational therapists. The benefits of the co-mentoring program included opportunities for information and resource sharing, debriefing, problem-solving, reassurance and implementation of ideas.
The development and evaluation of goal setting tools
The Development of an ASD-Specific Family Goal Setting Tool
This goal setting tool was developed by Autism Queensland’s former Senior Occupational therapist, Judy Jones. Four themes emerged with both mothers and practitioners, suggesting the tool facilitated (a) a comprehensive approach, (b) collaboration, (c) goal prioritisation, and (d) reduction in stress of goal setting. Practitioners also described the tool as empowering families and enabling family-centred practice. Please see information on website about this tool.
The development and evaluation of a goal setting tool for adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum (research supported by the Autism CRC)
People on the spectrum often have difficulty articulating their goals, due to social and communication difficulties and social anxiety and this can impact on their capacity to actively engage in the planning processes of organisations such as the National Disability Insurance Agency, schools and disability services providers. The Adolescent/Adult Goal Setting Tool was found to be effective is assisting adolescents and adults on the spectrum to develop and prioritise their goals in a range of areas such as independent living, tertiary education and training, employment, and social and community activities.
Online Adolescent/Adult Goal Setting Tool
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, there were many requests by therapists to use the AAGST online. The R & D team is currently working on evaluation of a prototype of an online version of this tool.
Evaluation of adolescent and adult services
Evaluation of Studio G digital creative arts program for young adults on the autism spectrum (research supported by the Autism CRC)
Autism Queensland’s Studio G Program aims to support young people in their transition to post-secondary school education and/or vocational opportunities. Young people with ASD are paired with skilled mentors with industry experience in digital creative arts, with the aim of enhancing their technical skills and social engagement. Findings included positive impacts on mentees’ motivation and enjoyment, social participation, emotional wellbeing, and skill development; and an appreciation of the program flexibility and the high-quality mentor-mentee relationships.
Autism EmployABLE: Perspectives of clients, family members and employers of Autism Queensland’s autism-specific employment program
The perspectives of clients, family members and employers were explored in regard to their perceptions of the helpfulness of the program, aspects that could be improved, and the impact of employment on clients’ wellbeing. Program features that were valued by participants included the high level of understanding of autism, the individualised and person-centred approach, the support of clients to better understand themselves, and the way the program fostered client independence. Perceived outcomes of the program included achievement of good person-to-job fit, enhanced client confidence and independence, superior outcomes compared to generic disability employment services, and increased employer awareness of the benefits of hiring autistic people.
Support needs of children and adults on the spectrum
The R & D team are currently working on a reporting the findings from Autism Queensland’s state-wide Have Your Say surveys of parents of children on the spectrum including a) young children yet to start school, b) primary school-aged children, c) secondary school-aged children, d) adolescents and adults who have left school, and e) self-reporting adults on the spectrum.
The surveys covered a wide range of topics including the support needs of children or adults on the spectrum, the family’s support needs, their experience of primary and secondary education, their experiences with accessing a diagnosis, and the need for parents to give up or reduce paid employment to care for their child on the spectrum. A number of papers are being prepared on these findings.