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Spectrum Space Symposium 2022: The Speakers

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Ali Fardinpour

Ali Fardinpour

Dr Ali Fardinpour is an Immersive Technologies research scientist and the Founder and Executive Director of Wise Realities Institute for Healthcare Emerging Technologies Research, a health promotion charity focused on immersive technologies as therapeutic and educational tools. Ali has been conducting research on computer simulations and immersive technologies for more than a decade in education and healthcare. In 2017, Ali brought Healthcare Immersive Technologies into the spotlight for the first time in Western Australia. Ali is deeply passionate about helping those challenged by health issues through innovation and contributing to the future of healthcare, as a human right, to be equally accessible and affordable for all.

Virtual Reality and Autism
The practice of using Virtual Reality (VR) for the management of cognitive impairments has increased in popularity over recent years, with more data and studies emerging to support its claim as a therapeutic. Virtual reality offers an immersive simulation of a real-life situation and can be manipulated and controlled to make the environment therapeutic. VR is increasingly being investigated as an alternative to conventional treatment options due to its controllability and replicability. It can be used in studies to simulate social situations or potentially anxiety-triggering events in a safe manner, to habituate the participant to these environments. This allows the development of the skills necessary to manage these situations in real life.

This talk will discuss different advancements and applications of VR in autism, introduce a number of example experiences and discuss future opportunities in Western Australia.

Ana Palacios

Ana Palacios has a background in the contemporary arts and after receiving an adult diagnoses of autism, she realised her art practice had emerged as a positive adaptation to the challenges of being neurodiverse. Starting at Spectrum Space as a volunteer in 2017, Ana began working as a visual arts facilitator before expanding her role further. She now mainly concentrates on peer work, development of positive identity, as well as development and facilitation of training and educational courses.

Andrew Whitehouse

Andrew Whitehouse

Andrew Whitehouse is the Angela Wright Bennett Professor of Autism Research and the Director of CliniKids at the Telethon Kids Institute. He is also Professor of Autism Research at The University of Western Australia, Research Strategy Director of the Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) and the current president of the Australasian Society for Autism Research.

At the Telethon Kids Institute he leads a large team that seeks to find new and innovative ways to help each and every child on the autism spectrum reach their full potential. Andrew has published over 250 peer-reviewed journal articles and attracted over $60 million in competitive research grants. He currently presents an internationally syndicated video series called ’60 Second Science”, which has had over 2 million views. He is an advisor to State and Commonwealth Governments on policies relating to children with Autism Spectrum Conditions. He chaired the committee that generated Australia’s first national guideline for autism diagnosis, and co-chaired the committee that developed Australia’s first national guideline for early therapies and supports for autistic children.

Andrew has published one edited book with his twin-brother (Ben), and a popular science book that examined the science behind some of the myths of pregnancy and child development (Will Mozart Make My Baby Smart?). He has also been awarded a Eureka Prize for his research, and is the youngest fellow ever elected to the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences. Prior to coming to the Telethon Kids Institute, Andrew was a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Evidence-based practice: Australia’s first national guideline for early therapies and supports to autistic children and their families
Evidence-based practice is the backbone of safe, ethical and effective therapies and supports. In 2022, Andrew Whitehouse was asked to Co-Chair the development of Australia’s first national guideline for early therapies and supports to autistic children and their families. In this presentation, Andrew will describe the process for developing the guideline, and provide details of what the guideline includes.

Caitlin Hunt

Caitlin Hunt

Founding director of O2 Active and exercise physiologist Caitlin Hunt has over 20 years of experience in the field working with a vast range of clientele in exercise physiology. She specialises in the delivery of exercise and lifestyle therapies for the prevention and management of chronic disease, injury and disability. She believes exercise physiology can be used as a therapy to not just improve physical capacity and health but to improve emotional regulation, confidence and community participation.

Prior to O2 Active, Caitlin founded Silhouette Dance Studio and has more than 25 years of experience working in movement with youth and paediatrics. Exercise, movement and community sport have had a huge impact on her personally and she is passionate about enabling children, youth and adults to be involved. She believes everyone should have the opportunity to move better, feel good and be able to partake in everyday activities and community life.

Benefits of Exercise
Exercise physiology improves quality of life by helping create a strong sense of purpose and self-fulfilment. It plays an important role in supporting participants to become more independent, improve their physical motor functions and mental health, enhance strength and fitness, build stronger confidence, and overall heighten their general wellbeing. It can also help to upskill and transition children, youth and adults so they can partake in community sport, recreation and activities with their peers and community and thus decrease social isolation.

In this presentation Caitlin will give practical tips on how to build simple exercises into the daily life for those who experience barriers to taking part, including students in primary and secondary schooling, youth and adults, including how to fit it all in in your busy lives. She’ll touch on how to encourage and increase involvement and confidence in community / school sport and movement in general and how you or your child can have a positive experience being physically active and leading a healthy lifestyle.

Ebony Birch-Hanger

Ebony Birch-Hanger

Ebony Birch Hanger is an autistic Special Education Teacher, Teacher of the Deaf, Education Consultant, Neurodevelopmental Therapist, Public Speaker and Kodaly Music Specialist with more than a decade of professional experience in education, therapy, autism and neurological systems. Thanks to Ebony Birch-Hanger, the world of neurodiversity and additional needs has been made easier to understand and navigate. Ebony is committed to ensuring that all children and adults with diverse neurological needs grow up and live in a safe environment with the support and skills they need to succeed in life and develop to their full potential.

She regularly consults at school, local council and government levels and works closely with organisations such as Yellow Ladybugs and Amaze to offer her knowledge and support for individuals on the autism spectrum. Through her own consultancy organisation, Personalised Approaches, Ebony designs and presents teacher professional development and parent/carer workshops, offering unique insights from a blend of professional and lived experiences.  Ebony’s extensive knowledge in these fields has given her numerous notable speaking opportunities, including, but not limited to The Asia Pacific Autism Conference (Singapore); The International Kodaly Symposium (Malaysia); The National Autism in Education Conference (Brisbane); The National Education Summit – Special Needs Symposium (Melbourne); My Spirited Child conferences (Autism and ADHD); Growing with Autism Conferences (Melbourne); and multiple Yellow Ladybugs’ Mental Health Conferences and Educational Panel Lunches.

Modifying classroom environments to suit sensory and processing needs
In this presentation, you will learn more than just an overview of basic sensory needs. You will gain an understanding of how each of the sensory and processing systems interact and how inefficiencies in one or more of these systems can impact learning, communication and behaviour at school. You will leave with tools to identify possible environmental triggers for your students, ideas to modify your classroom and school environments and strategies to create more inclusive and productive learning spaces for all students.

Modifying curriculum and activities for children with additional needs in mainstream settings
In this presentation, you will gain an understanding of the key aspects of learning tasks which can frequently be challenging for students on the spectrum. You will be provided with guidance around how to scaffold or modify these key aspects to make the curriculum and certain learning tasks more accessible for your students. Examples of specific modifications which can be utilised across a variety of grade levels and subjects will be provided.

Jodi Rodgers

Jodi Rodgers is a qualified sexologist, counsellor and special education teacher.

Jodi has worked within the education and community sectors in both Australia and internationally and has extensive experience working with people with intellectual disability and people on the spectrum.
Jodi established her private practice, Birds and Bees Pty Ltd, after 25 years of working within the education, disability and sexuality fields. Birds and Bees specialises in delivering counselling services and workshops for people with a disability with focus on sexuality, sexual health and relationships, as well as delivering trainings for parents, carers and professionals to raise the community’s capacity in this sometimes-tricky area.

Jodi was recently featured on the ABC’s series “Love on The Spectrum”.

YEAH, NAH…The Complexity of Consent
Consent is a complex concept but an integral social rule to learn. The social skills and communication needed, to both give and to gain consent are a fundamental component of social skill development for all people, including people with autism.

This presentation links how the diagnosis criteria of autism, may impact on some people’s capacity in understanding consent and how the development of this understanding starts in early childhood and continues into adulthood.

The presentation will demonstrate the differing developmental stages and how consent can be taught across the lifespan.

This presentation will highlight how the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of people with a disability and the Convention of Rights of People with a Disability, uphold the rights of people to make informed choice and the need for consent education.

Maree Crabbe

Maree Crabb

Maree Crabbe is co-founder and Director of the Australian violence prevention initiative, It’s time we talked.

She is Co-Producer and Co-Director of the documentary films Love and Sex in an Age of Pornography, broadcast in 36 countries, and The Porn Factor, broadcast in Australia. She is also author of In The Picture – a resource to support secondary schools to address the influence of explicit sexual imagery.

Maree has worked with young people – and on issues affecting young people – for over 25 years. She has developed and delivered programs focusing on sexual violence prevention, sexual diversity, pornography, sexting, and the prevention of sexually transmissible infections.

Maree’s contributions to public conversations about young people, sexuality and pornography include television and radio interviews, and articles in academic and news media.

We need to talk about porn: Pornography, young people and autism

Schools have a critical role to play in equipping students for healthy, respectful relationships. But they are competing with some powerful influences. Including porn.

Readily available and aggressively marketed online, exposure to pornography is now mainstream. Consumption – particularly for young men – has become normalised. Pornography has become a default sex educator for many young people, with serious implications for their capacity to negotiate free and full consent, for mutual respect, sexual health, and gender equality.

For autistic young people, pornography’s influence can be even more challenging. Monotropism (being single minded), the key characteristic of autism, can make autistic young people particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pornography. The messages conveyed by pornography can be a source of confusion and concern, and shape unrealistic and unhealthy sexual understandings and expectations. At its worst, pornography exposure can increase the likelihood of autistic young people becoming a victim or perpetrator of a sexual crime.

This session seeks to support teachers and other interested professionals to understand pornography’s prevalence and influence, its implications for autistic young people, and how we can support them to navigate respectful, consenting and safe sexuality and relationships in this new reality.

Tammy McGowan

Tammy is a Training Facilitator for a disability service provider in Adelaide and is currently studying a Master’s degree in Disability. Tammy is an alumni of the Autism CRC Sylvia Rogers Academy 2019 Future Leaders and Governance Programs.

The Impact of Disclosure on Relationships
This presentation explores how disclosure can impact on existing and developing relationships. For many individuals, autism is experienced as a ‘hidden disability’, which places the onus on the person to disclose when navigating relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and potential romantic partners. The pressure to explain our unique thinking styles and sensory processing can be subtle or overt as the people around us try to find an explanation for our differences.

Late diagnosis can create distinct challenges as the individual processes what this will mean for them and reframes past life experiences. I will refer to my own experiences as an autistic woman diagnosed at the age of thirty-nine and parent to autistic adults. I will refer to a small research study I undertook in 2019 which explored disclosure in the workplace from the perspectives of autistic workers and their non-autistic colleagues. The research will be juxtaposed against my own experiences with relationships in paid employment prior to and following my choice to disclose. Finally, I will reflect on the power of leadership programs and peer role modelling in strengthening identity, building community connection, and promoting authentic relationships.

Theresa Kidd

Theresa Kidd

Dr Theresa Kidd is a clinical psychologist, research fellow and the clinical director of The Kidd Clinic, a private psychology group practice focussed on Autism Spectrum Conditions & Anxiety in Perth. Theresa is committed to helping neurodivergent individuals of all ages to minimise their challenges, increase their strengths and to achieve their life goals. Having many neurodivergent family members herself, she is also passionate about increasing family quality of life by assisting families to be as strong and healthy as possible.

With a passion for intervention research, she embarked on a PhD which focused on using family-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reduce anxiety in autistic adolescents. Concurrently, she co-developed and managed the Curtin University Specialist (peer) Mentoring Program to support autistic university students to successfully engage in tertiary settings. Following, she embarked on a post-doctoral research fellowship with Macquarie University where she coordinated a national trial to reduce anxiety and bullying victimisation in children.

In addition to her clinical and research work, and supervising other psychologists, she regularly presents to parents and professionals on Autism and co-occurring mental health problems. She has co-authored several articles and manuals related to Autism and has recently written a book, Helping Autistic Teens to Manage their Anxiety.

Supporting Children and Adolescents with a PDA profile
Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) has been identified as a profile that sits within the autistic population and is described as an overwhelming anxiety driven need to resist everyday demands and requests. Although children in general may try to avoid demands, children with a PDA profile demonstrate extreme avoidant behaviours usually associated with a loss of control and feelings of panic. Drawing upon research and clinical experience, the key characteristics of PDA, clinical identification of this profile, and an overview of how to effectively support these young people will be provided. With engagement in education, therapy, and the community often difficult, Theresa will provide practical strategies to assist with increasing engagement across these important areas.

Helping Autistic Teens to Manage Their Anxiety
Based on Theresa’s recent book of the same title, this presentation outlines the co-occurrence of anxiety and autism and highlights specific anxiety triggers. In addition, the latest research and application of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for anxious autistic teens will be provided. Theresa offers parents and professionals practical strategies to increase therapeutic engagement and assist autistic teens to manage their anxiety symptoms.

Wenn Lawson

Wenn Lawson

Dr. Wenn Lawson is an autistic researcher (PDAer), has three autistic offspring and three autistic granddaughters. Wenn is also a lecturer, consultant, advocate, and poet, sharing his experiences for almost three decades.

Wenn is published internationally, is an Associate Researcher with Curtin University (WA), and Macquarie University, NSW; Tutor Practitioner with Birmingham University (UK), a Board member for Autism in Adulthood, and the Australian Research Council, Ambassador for I CAN (Autistic Youth Advocacy) has a Youtube channel and home page.

In 2008 he won 4th place as Victorian Australian of The Year, in 2017 he presented to the United Nations on matters of autism and ageing, and in 2021 he won the Lesley Hall, disability leadership lifetime achievement award. Wenn is passionate about all things LGBTQIA+ and autism.

We need to talk about porn: Pornography, young people and autism

Schools have a critical role to play in equipping students for healthy, respectful relationships. But they are competing with some powerful influences. Including porn.

Readily available and aggressively marketed online, exposure to pornography is now mainstream. Consumption – particularly for young men – has become normalised. Pornography has become a default sex educator for many young people, with serious implications for their capacity to negotiate free and full consent, for mutual respect, sexual health, and gender equality.

For autistic young people, pornography’s influence can be even more challenging. Monotropism (being single minded), the key characteristic of autism, can make autistic young people particularly vulnerable to the impacts of pornography. The messages conveyed by pornography can be a source of confusion and concern, and shape unrealistic and unhealthy sexual understandings and expectations. At its worst, pornography exposure can increase the likelihood of autistic young people becoming a victim or perpetrator of a sexual crime.

This session seeks to support teachers and other interested professionals to understand pornography’s prevalence and influence, its implications for autistic young people, and how we can support them to navigate respectful, consenting and safe sexuality and relationships in this new reality.