A University of Otago researcher is involved in a project investigating the benefits of early diagnosis of autism in children, with a view to providing more timely support.
The project is an alliance between the University, Laura Fergusson Trust Incorporated, Autism New Zealand, and the University of Canterbury with the support of a financial grant from the Joyce Fisher Endowment Fund Trust.
Autism/takiwātanga is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that is estimated to impact 2.3% of children worldwide.
Nick Bowden (pictured), from the University’s Division of Health Sciences, will lead one part of the project which will utilise the Integrated Data Infrastructure, a large research database about people and households in Aotearoa, to gather novel and contemporary information to better understand the impacts of autism.
“The objective is to contribute to an evidence base that can be used to highlight the benefits of early diagnosis and early supports for autistic children and their families,” Mr Bowden says.
“While associated with strengths such as visual thinking, logic and memory, the effect of autism can result in a need for a range of supports in order for autistic people to live their daily lives.”
Researchers will use the data to investigate the lives of autistic people and their families compared with non-autistic people and families.
They will compare the health, education and social support outcomes of autistic and non-autistic young people, and the labour market and health outcomes among parents of autistic and non-autistic children.
They will also explore the potential fiscal cost savings associated with early diagnosis and early supports for autistic children and their families.
The project will be undertaken by a large, multidisciplinary research team which includes members of the autistic and autism communities.
Mr Bowden will also work with Associate Professor Laurie McLay, from the University of Canterbury, who will lead research on early childhood teachers’ experience with an Autism New Zealand training programme, and ongoing use of an early surveillance tool.