23 September 2015
2006 Menzies Scholar in Allied Health and Secretary of the Menzies Memorial Scholars Association, Dr Josephine Barbaro, has been awarded the Inaugural Autism CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) award for best translation of autism research at the Asia Pacific Autism Conference in Brisbane.
Josephine (pictured with her award and with Yvonne O'Neill, Aboriginal Liaison Officer with Autism Queensland) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
The award was for her work on the Social Attention and Communication Study (SACS), which was originally funded by the Menzies Foundation through her scholarship in 2006, and again in 2012 through an Allied Health Sciences Grant. It has since been translated and disseminated in many countries around the world (South Korea, China, Japan, Bangladesh, Poland and more), improving early diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
SACS aims to identify children with autism and other developmental disorders as early as possible, as part of children’s routine health checks. Early diagnosis and intervention greatly improve children’s developmental outcomes. The SACS is currently the best available developmental surveillance tool for autism.
Primary health care professionals are trained in how to monitor the ‘red flags’ of autism during routine consultations. Not only does it provide a framework for determining if a child should be referred for further assessment, but it has reduced the average age of identification of a child with autism to 20 months – 29 months earlier than the national diagnostic average.
Over 30,000 babies in Victoria have been monitored as part of their routine health checks with their Maternal and Child Health nurses. The next phase of work is to replicate the study in Tasmania. Josie has just finished a visit to Tasmania to train primary health care professionals in the important elements of the program – identifying red flags, how to talk to parents if their child is “at risk” for autism, and what action parents can take to follow-up with support services.
Josephine has now trained health professionals in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania on the SACS.
Mobile App in progress
The next exciting development for Josephine and her team is the production of an App by Salesforce, the world’s largest CRM platform, as part of their integrated philanthropic 1/1/1 model, where Salesforce applies its people, technology and resources to help non-profits and education institutions achieve their goals.
The app – ASDetect - is expected to be launched by the end of the year and be available for use on Apple and Android products. It will later be targeted for use in developing countries, where communities may have limited access to tools for early autism surveillance.