Celebrating the life achievements of Professor Sylvia Rodger AM

9 Jun 2017

On 9 June, family, colleagues, students and the autistic and autism community gathered in Brisbane to celebrate the life and outstanding achievements of Autism CRC’s Research and Education Director, Professor Sylvia Rodger AM. Sylvia sadly passed away on Friday 28 April 2017, after a long battle with cancer.

Her contribution, both nationally and internationally, to the field of Occupational Therapy, and more specifically to autism practice and research, was outstanding. The world has sadly lost a passionate researcher, clinician and academic with her passing and her love for what she did was illustrated during her distinguished career.

Together with current Deputy Chair, Professor Robert van Barneveld, Sylvia conceived and founded what was to become the Autism CRC. She often reflected it was her dream come true with its high-quality, end-user focussed, collaborative research program disseminated and implemented by service providers and policy makers. At Autism CRC, Sylvia found a niche, where leadership, her educational background, research and interest in building future generations came together.

We are all the beneficiaries of Sylvia’s work and dedication to the establishment of the Autism CRC, and her skill sharing and mentoring of a new generation of talented researchers.

Sylvia’s vision for a comprehensive research program addressing the needs of those with the lived experience of autism across the lifespan is reflected in the work being undertaken today by Autism CRC across Australia and internationally - from earlier diagnosis and better targeted early intervention; to improved educational environments and programs; to greater employment, further education and health and wellbeing outcomes for autistic adults. Consistent with her focus on the end-user and inclusive practice, her vision for the Autism CRC program was informed by comprehensive, nationwide consultations with those engaged in the autism community, led by Sylvia during the development of the CRC bid.

In recent years, Sylvia’s vision has led the world in the development of inclusive practices in research and its co-production with autistic adults. This has forever changed the direction of research to a more inclusive, informed and impactful process.

Prior to Autism CRC, Sylvia was a highly respected staff member at The University of Queensland, an Autism CRC Essential Participant. She started her long-standing involvement with the University as a student in 1978, was awarded a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy in 1981, a Master of Educational Studies in 1987 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1996. She became a staff member in 1983 and over the next 34 years she excelled in her profession working in an array of different roles until in 2001, she became Head of the then Department of Occupational Therapy at the University.

Recognised for her outstanding work within Occupational Therapy she was awarded several international and national accolades. These included being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2015 Australia Day Honours for her significant service to medical education in the field of occupational therapy and to community health as a clinician working with autism in children. She also received the prestigious Freda Jacob Award through Occupational Therapy Australia in 2014.

Sylvia was inducted as a Fellow of the American Society of Occupational Therapy Academy of Research in 2013, honoured by Occupational Therapy Australia with the Sylvia Docker Award for her contribution to occupational therapy education and research in Australia in 2011 and received the Mary Rankine Wilson Award for Professional Excellence, Queensland Division Occupational Therapy Australia, in 2009.

The team at Autism CRC has been privileged to work closely with Sylvia and to contribute to her dreams to make a real difference to the world, particularly for the autistic and autism community.

Sylvia was a remarkable woman whose life will be celebrated and her career achievements set as inspiration for many who want to succeed in their chosen fields.

Vale Professor Sylvia Rodger AM.