Sandra Jones awarded for translating autism research into practice

ACU Pro Vice-Chancellor Engagement Professor Sandra Jones has won the 2021 Autism CRC Award for Translation of Autism Research for her project, Raising Awareness of the Needs of Autistic Australians.

In 2020, the Australian Autism Alliance commissioned Professor Jones to survey autistic adults and their family members to understand the experiences of, and identify the services, supports and needs of autistic people in Australia. The aim of this research was to inform Australian Autism Alliance’s submission to the Federal Senate Select Committee on Autism.

The survey covered 10 different areas of autistic experiences – including education, employment, healthcare and access to services. The resulting dataset, with 3,884 responses, is the largest and most comprehensive compilation of autistic voices in Australia and internationally.

“This research shows that autistic Australians are underrepresented in vocational and higher education, experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment, and face poor physical and mental health outcomes. As a researcher and as an autistic person I am disturbed by the findings and committed to advocating for change” Professor Jones said.

The CRC award recognises the high levels of engagement of autistic people in the research project, from the development of the questions to the dissemination of the results, as well as the focus on translation of the findings to outcomes for autistic people.

As one anonymous reviewer commented, “A very impressive participant response to the national survey! The large participant pool also allowed for issues of intersectionality to be considered, which is very important. Good to see dissemination of findings beyond the group commissioning the research and the senate submissions.”

Professor Jones said it was an honour to receive the award, not least because it celebrates the collaboration between ACU and the Alliance to improve the social and economic participation of autistic people in Australia.

“The Australian Autism Alliance is using research to ensure public policy reflects the needs of autistic people and that service and program responses across different domains and jurisdictions enable autistic people to thrive.”

Professor Jones also emphasised the research team’s commitment to ensuring that the voices of participants are heard beyond the Senate submission, saying, “We see this as a living resource and are actively pursuing a range of activities to further analyse the findings and translate these into outcomes for autistic people. This includes consultation with representatives of communities who are currently excluded in much of the reporting on autism.”

ACU Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise Professor James McLaren congratulated Professor Jones, noting that she also received this prestigious award in 2019 for another autism project.

“Raising Awareness of the Needs of Autistic Australians is an exemplar of strong industry and community engagement and has produced the most comprehensive collection of autistic voices in Australia,” Professor McLaren said. “ACU is proud to support research that is engaged with end-users and realises societal benefits for autistic Australians.”

The Autism CRC Awards for Achievement in Autism Spectrum Research recognise and celebrate research initiatives that exemplify its mission, vision and values. There are two award categories: inclusive research practice and translation of autism research. The Autism CRC was established in 2013 and is the world’s first national, cooperative research effort focused on autism.

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