Hamish Ramsay Autism Fund
Early intervention autism research by Flinders University’s Professor Robyn Young is changing the lives of hundreds of children and their families, thanks to the support of the Hamish Ramsay Autism Fund.
Unable to speak or communicate in any way, Marcus was diagnosed with severe Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at just two years of age.
‘Marcus was completely locked in his own world. He did not speak, and he made no attempts to communicate with myself or others. He seemed very serious and fearful of the world,’ says his mother, Ann Denham.
‘It was like a pane of glass separated us – I could see him, but I couldn’t reach him.’
Having constant meltdowns where his safety was at risk and with no concept of connection, he would run away unpredictably.
‘Our home life was filled with uncertainty of what Marcus would do next, and I was fearful for what the future held for him,’ says Ann.
Ann Denham and Marcus with their labrador Jet
Soon after being diagnosed with ASD by autism expert and Flinders University researcher Professor Robyn Young, Marcus began early intervention therapy using the SPECTRA program – which has proved life-changing for both Marcus and Ann.
The SPECTRA program, delivered as a published manual, is the result of 10 years of research at the Flinders University Early Intervention Research Program, led by Professor Young and financed by the Hamish Ramsay Autism Fund.
Established at the University in 2003 with a $300,000 donation from Hamish Ramsay, the fund supports autism research at Flinders and has enabled more than 50 of Professor Young’s world-leading autism research studies.
These studies relate to early detection and intervention, and interactions with the criminal judicial system – resulting in the publication of three books and 25 international journal articles.
‘With the fund’s support we created the SPECTRA program to target the behaviours our research had identified as pivotal in the development of typical behaviour – noting that the absence of these behaviours could affect the progression of autism, and impact development,’ says Professor Young.
Pivotal behaviours identified by Professor Young’s research include a lack of response to their name, poor joint attention, lack of gestures, poor functional play, lack of pretend play, lack of response to a smile, inability to shift from one task to another, and noise sensitivity.
‘Intervening early to address behaviours that are lacking minimises the collateral damage these behaviours have on a child’s development and their ability to interact in a complex world,’ says Professor Robyn Young.
The ground-breaking SPECTRA program has now seen more than 300 children receive intensive early intervention support through regular therapy sessions at the University, as well as the creation of tools and activities designed for their families to use at home.
The SPECTRA manual is now being used by autism support organisations across Australia, and is also available to those who can’t access therapy sessions because of distance or cost.
‘SPECTRA changed everything for us,’ says Ann, who learnt critical skills and adopted interventions through the family-focused program.
‘The little toddler who was once serious and distant has become a very confident, happy and talkative boy. He actively seeks interaction, can express his feelings and understands the feelings of others.’
And just a year into the program Ann says, much to her surprise, Marcus began to speak.
‘He turned to me and said, “I am happy”.
The program has enabled many Flinders University students to expand their skills and understanding of effective autism therapy, enhancing their training as therapists and leading to many students completing their PhDs in the area of autism – all with the continued support of the Hamish Ramsay Autism Fund.
‘I feel most grateful and quite humble to know that my donation has been a great help with Flinders University’s work on autism,’ says Hamish, whose initial involvement with Flinders nearly 20 years ago came through having a granddaughter diagnosed with Rett’s Syndrome, which has some similar aspects to autism.
‘My granddaughter’s situation made me realise what a very tough job carers for children with autism have. Also, that training for parents and carers, plus awareness for the general public and those in authority, is just as important as treatment for the child with autism.
‘Marcus’ story is touching and encouraging, and I applaud the work of the team at Flinders. For those in a position to help, it is important to realise that many research projects and their incredible outcomes, such as this one, can only be realised because of private donations.’
‘When Marcus was diagnosed, I had one wish – that one day I would know what his voice sounded like. The SPECTRA program has made this happen, and so much more. Robyn’s program has changed our lives,’ says Ann.
At seven years old, Marcus now enjoys attending school in a regular classroom setting and seeing his friends. He receives positive report cards and looks forward to completing his education.
‘Marcus still has autism and will always have autism. What Robyn’s research at Flinders University has given him is the ability to communicate and to become an active participant in society,’ says Ann, who is eternally grateful to the Hamish Ramsay Autism Fund for providing the support for Professor Young’s ground-breaking research.
‘Because of this research funding Marcus now has the potential to fulfill an exciting future.’
If you would like to support ground-breaking research at Flinders University, donate today. 100% of your donation will support significant research through the Highest Priority Research and Education Fund.
Tax exemption number for charitable donations: 65 542 596 200.
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