Tag Archives: autism

Early Career Researchers

Early career researchers take the stage

The Showcasing Early Career Researchers Competition celebrates good research that is well communicated. Entrants were asked to submit a 30-second video conveying the aim of their research. Five finalists were selected from 41 entrants to attend the 2017 CRC Association Annual Conference in Canberra, to give a 5-minute presentation. An audience vote at the Collaborate Innovate conference determined the winner. 

Meet the five Showcasing Early Career Researchers finalists and see a 30 second snapshot of their work. 

WINNER 2017

JULIE BEADLE – The HEARing CRC

HEARING LOSS IN OLDER ADULTS

early career researchers

Many older adults struggle to understand speech in everyday noisy situations, even when they perform well on traditional hearing tests. For my PhD, I am investigating how age-related changes in cognitive functioning contribute to this all too common situation. I aim to develop a listening test that is reflective of communication in real life and examine how age and cognitive skills like attention and memory are related to performance on this test.

Watch Julie’s video

FINALISTS 2017 

JACQUILINE DEN HOUTING – Autism CRC

TOO ANXIOUS TO ACHIEVE

early career researchers

Around 40% of autistic people experience anxiety, and autistic people also tend to underperform academically. In the non-autistic population, a link between these two issues has been found.

In my research, I am using assessments of anxiety and academic achievement with a group of autistic students, to identify whether the same link exists within the autistic community. These findings could inform support options for autistic students, allowing for improved mental health and academic outcomes.

Watch Jacquiline’s video

DORIS GROSSE – Space Environment Research Centre

MANAGING SPACE DEBRIS

early career researchers

Several 100,000 space debris objects orbiting Earth are threatening to collide with and destroy our satellites networks. To prevent those collisions, a ground based laser can be aimed at the debris objects moving them out of the way with the help of photon pressure. The atmosphere, however, distorts the laser beam. The Adaptive Optics system that I am building compensates for those distortions so that the laser beam can be focused correctly on the object in space and hence preventing collisions.

Watch Doris’s video

TOMAS REMENYI – Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC

TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE

Early career researchers

The Climate Futures Team translates fine-scale, regional climate model output into useful, usable tools that are used by decision makers in industries across Australia. Our focus is on working closely with industry during research design, and throughout the process, to ensure the outputs of our research are directly relevant to our stakeholders and align with their decision making frameworks.

Watch Tomas’s video

MELISSA SCOTT – Autism CRC

WORKPLACES FOR ALL

Early career researchers

Despite people with autism having high levels of skills and the desire to work, they remain unemployed. Many employers are hesitant to hire people with autism due to their lack of confidence and knowledge about autism. To assist employers to better understand autism and their specific needs in the workplace, the Integrated Employment Success Tool (IEST) has been developed. The IEST is a practical “tool kit” with strategies to help employers tailor the workplace for success for people with autism.

Watch Melissa’s video

This article on the Showcasing Early Career Researchers Competition was first published by the CRC Association. Read the original article here.

autism diagnosis

Biobank speeds autism diagnosis

The Autism CRC is building Australia’s first Autism Biobank, with the aim of diagnosing autism earlier and more accurately using genetic markers. Identifying children at high risk of developing autism at 12 months of age was “a bit of a holy grail”, says Telethon Kids Institute’s head of autism research Professor Andrew Whitehouse, who will be leading the Biobank. Researchers think the period between 12–24 months of age is “a key moment” in brain development, he adds.

Autism Diagnosis
Professor Andrew Whitehouse, Head of the Developmental Disorders Research Group at the Telethon Kids Institute

As with other neurodevelopmental disorders, a diagnosis of autism is based on certain behaviours, but these only begin to manifest at a diagnosable level between the ages of two and five. Whitehouse says while there are great opportunities for therapy at these ages, researchers believe an earlier diagnosis will make the therapy programs more effective. Some 12-month-old children already exhibit behaviours associated with the risk of developing autism, for example not responding to their name, but currently doctors can’t conclusively diagnose autism at this early age.

“If we can start our therapies at 12 months, we firmly believe they’ll be more effective and we can help more kids reach their full potential,” says Whitehouse.

The biology of autism varies greatly between individuals, and it appears a combination of environmental factors and genes are involved – up to 100 genes may play a role in its development. Studying large groups of people is the only way to get a full understanding of autism and potentially identify genes of importance.

To do this, the Biobank collects DNA samples from 1200 families with a history of autism – children with autism aged 2–17 years old, who are recruited through therapy service providers, and their parents – as well as samples from control families who do not have a history of autism.

autism diagnosis
DNA samples are taken at the Telethon Kids Institute and sent to the ABB Wesley Medical Research Tissue Bank to be analysed for genetic biomarkers. Credit: Telethon Kids Institute

The samples are then shipped to the ABB Wesley Medical Research Tissue Bank in Brisbane for the Biobank’s creation. Here, they are analysed for genetic biomarkers using genome wide sequencing – determining DNA sequences at various points along the genome that are known to be important in human development. Whitehouse says they are also planning to conduct metabolomic and microbiomic analyses on urine and faeces.

“It’s the biggest research effort into autism ever conducted in Australia,” he says.

The goal is to use the results to develop a genetic test that can be conducted with 12-month-old children who are showing signs of autism. The samples will also be stored at the Biobank for future research.

The aim is to expand internationally, so that researchers can exchange data with teams around the globe who are doing similar work, thus increasing the sample size.

– Laura Boness

If your child has been diagnosed with autism and you would like to find out about participating in the Autism CRC Biobank, click here.

www.autismcrc.com.au

Smart ASD detection tool

Smart ASD detection tool

An estimated one in 50 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Research from La Trobe University’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) shows that the majority of these children are not diagnosed until they are four years old, more than two years after they can be reliably diagnosed and receive life-changing intervention.

The technique underlying ASDetect has been used over the past decade by hundreds of maternal and child health nurses in Australia, as well as early childhood professionals around the world. It has proven to be more than seven times more accurate than the next best tool in the early identification of autism.

Salesforce developed the ASDetect app on a pro bono basis as part of the company’s 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model, where the company donates 1% of its employee’s time, its products and its equity to support the not-for-profit sector. A team of Salesforce engineers, designers and developers volunteered their time to build the app on the Salesforce platform.

The app uses questions drawn from breakthrough research by La Trobe’s Dr Josephine Barbaro. It gives parents access to video footage from actual clinical assessments and clearly demonstrates the context and expected key behaviours of children at each age.

“ASDetect is an empowering tool for parents who may feel their children are developing differently than expected and are looking for answers. The new ASDetect app is an ideal way to share proven techniques with thousands of parents,” says Barbaro.

Through a series of videos and questions, ASDetect guides parents through the identification of potential “red flag” signs of ASD. These “red flags” can be raised when young children repeatedly do not:

  • make consistent eye contact;
  • share smiles;
  • show their toys to others;
  • play social games;
  • point to indicate interest;
  • respond when their name is called.
Smart ASD Detection Tool
Screenshot of ASDetect app being used by Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre.

“All typically developing infants are motivated to be social, look at other people’s faces, learn from them and copy. Children with ASD are not doing this – and we can now accurately identify this at a much younger age and take action, with the help of parents,” says Barbaro.

The app combines Barbaro’s assessment questions with videos demonstrating the ‘red flag’ behaviours critical in determining the likelihood of ASD in children as young as 12 months. Parents view two videos: one showing a child with ASD, the other showing a typically developing child. Parents then answer questions regarding their own child. The information entered by the parents is automatically sent to OTARC’s database, which also runs on the Salesforce platform, where analysis of individual results is completed. Parents are then sent information via a notification through the app, with advice as to whether they should seek professional help. As ASD can emerge over time, ASDetect includes assessments for children aged 12, 18 and 24 months.

“This is not a replacement for professional assessment; however ASDetect will provide parents with an indication as to whether they should seek a professional opinion from a doctor at a time when intervention will have the biggest impact,” says Barbaro.

Dan Bognar, Senior Vice President, Salesforce APAC says: “The ASDetect app is a great example of leveraging the power of the Salesforce platform to improve the capabilities of health providers and treatment for individuals. Being able to deploy on a global scale means that organisations like OTARC can make a significant impact on society.”

“The development of ASDetect highlights our ethos of giving back as well as our commitment to improving the local communities we operate in. It has been incredibly rewarding for everyone involved, and we look forward to seeing the results of this important initiative,” says Bognar.

Watch ASDetect in action:

This information was first shared in a press release by La Trobe University on 14 February 2016. Read the press release here