Awards highlight inclusive research practices

Published
4 Nov 2021

Autism CRC is proud to announce the recipients of the 2021 Autism CRC Awards for Achievement in Autism Spectrum Research. Three projects have received recognition for their outstanding commitment to inclusive research practices and translation of autism research. They are:

  • Raising Awareness of the Needs of Autistic Australians
  • Priorities of Autistic people in Australia and their families for autism services and supports
  • Investigating Autistic Burnout (#AutBurnout).

The awards were announced at an online event following the Autism CRC Annual General Meeting on 4th November, and acknowledge initiatives that exemplify the Autism CRC’s vision, mission and values. In particular, they recognise achievements in inclusive research practice and the translation of autism research into practice, products, policy and programs that benefit the autistic and broader autism communities.

“This year we received a record number of applications. It’s encouraging to see a shift in the research landscape towards more inclusive research practices. This can only be commended. The awardees demonstrated high levels of engagement with autistic individuals and the autism community across three very diverse projects that have the capacity to realise long term benefits.” said Autism CRC Chair Robert van Barneveld.

Translation of autism research into practice 

In Raising Awareness of the Needs of Autistic Australians the Australian Autism Alliance (AAA) engaged Professor Sandra Jones, an autistic autism researcher from Australian Catholic University, to refine, conduct and analyse a survey of autistic adults and their family members. The outcomes informed AAA’s submission to the Federal Senate Select Committee on Autism. The committee was seeking to understand the experiences of, and identify the services, supports and needs of autistic people in Australia, and to explore the need for a national autism strategy. The project received the Award in the Research Translation category.

The study design and data collection instruments were reviewed and approved by a panel of representatives from the 12-key autism support and advocacy organisations that constitute the AAA, and promoted with an initial target sample size set at 100+ respondents. The response saw 3,884 completed surveys; 769 from autistic adults responding on behalf of themselves, and 3,115 from parents/carers responding on behalf of an autistic person they care for (including 257 autistic adults who are also parents/carers of autistic people and completed the survey in both contexts). The resulting dataset is the largest and most comprehensive compilation of autistic voices in Australia and internationally.

One reviewer commented “The application demonstrates that the research was extensive, with high engagement….The focus on intersectionality is needed and will benefit underrepresented groups. Collaboration with the autistic community has been evidenced and the size of the population that participated in the research will mean the research will be considered for greater financial support initiatives to benefit the autistic community and their supporters.”

Inclusive research practice

The Inclusive Research category was jointly awarded.

Priorities of Autistic people in Australia and their families for autism services and supports was led by Trevor Clark from Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice (ARCAP) with research funded by Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).

The main aim of this study was to ensure the organisational plan and the research agenda of ARCAP are directly related to the needs of autistic and autism communities in Australia. This participatory research is important to the provision of services, programs and resources to support autistic people and their families. The study asked autistic people, including adolescents, about their own perceptions of what a good life is and how to best achieve it. The research questions and design centred on the idea that autistic people and their carer/parents are best situated to inform what research and enquiry is needed in the autism practice field.

The research team included two autistic researchers that co-designed the research project and were active in recruitment, data collection and analysis of the study. An advisory group was also established that included three autistic adults, three parents of autistic children, three autism practitioners and three autism researchers to inform all stages of the research process. The research method including key documents such as participant information, survey and interview schedules were all co-produced with the autistic researchers and the advisory group.

Feedback from one reviewer stated “Implementation of this evidenced-based research will have impact organisation wide and it’s a credit to Aspect that they are prioritising the community needs and translating the findings in an accessible manner.”

The Autism CRC project Investigating Autistic Burnout (#AutBurnout), co-led and co-produced by Dr Samuel Arnold and autistic advocate and peer researcher Julianne Higgins from its inception – conducted two studies to define autistic burnout and explore its risk factors. The project was joint recipient in the Inclusive Research category.

Co-leads worked closely together throughout the entire process; from conceptualising the research, to developing the study materials and drafting the grant application, to analysing the data and interpreting and disseminating the findings.

One project reviewer said “The project focuses on an area that has been increasingly highlighted as in need of further research. It takes a co-produced approach throughout the project lifecycle, placing Autistic people and their experiences at the centre. Good to see the translation of the research into peer reviewed journal articles as well as presentations at key national and international conferences.”

Thanks to all our reviewers and entrants across the categories. We especially congratulate the teams of Professor Sandra Jones, Dr Trevor Clark, Dr Sam Arnold and Julianne Higgins for their outstanding work to enhance the lives of people on the spectrum.