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Empowering Autism with Digital Solutions

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Professor Laurie McLay is a Senior Research Fellow at the Child Well-being Research Institute, affiliated with Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) has embarked the leadership role in a research team from Aotearoa, New Zealand. This team aimed to enhance support services tailored for autistic children, utilising the innovative digital delivery medium.

Under the guidance of Professor McLay, the researchers have undertaken the task of crafting a comprehensive suite of digital (online) educational resources. These resources are designed to prioritise the holistic well-being of autistic children and provide invaluable support to their caregivers. The evidence-based insights of their digital offerings promise to be an indispensable asset in enriching the lives of autistic children and those who nurture them.

Professor Laurie McLay emphasises the importance of ensuring timely access to early support for children, a crucial facet in optimising their development and safeguarding the mental well-being of their caregivers, in an era where the impact of early interventions is widely acknowledged.

Notably, the envisioned digital resources are designed with inclusivity at their core, transcending the boundaries of a formal autism diagnosis. It means they will be available to all tamariki (children) and their whānau (families), fostering a more equitable and accessible approach to support services.

The cross-institutional research team led by Professor McLay is an alliance that brings together accomplished academics from various institutions such as the University of Canterbury (UC), Victoria University, the University of Auckland, and Massey University.

Their collective aim is to evaluate the digital resources they have developed comprehensively. This evaluation goes beyond accessibility and effectiveness, delving into social and cultural acceptability. Their noble pursuit ensures that these resources not only empower children and caregivers but also resonate with the diversity of New Zealand’s cultural and social landscape.

In the multifaceted landscape of these diverse projects, many innovative delivery methods have been deployed, each tailored to cater to the needs and preferences of the participants. These include the implementation of web-based educational support and the establishment of online group coaching sessions, thoughtfully co-facilitated by research team members alongside caregivers of autistic children. This dynamic approach offers resources and fosters a sense of community and shared experience among participants.

One testament to the impact of these programmes comes from a parent participant who articulated the “value” they found in the programmes, both for themselves and their child. This individual shared a transformational journey, citing how the acquired skills enabled them to connect better with their child.

Furthermore, these abilities facilitated enhanced communication and interactions within the parent-child relationship and with the broader social circle, seamlessly integrating into the broader spectrum of their life experiences, thus affirming their holistic growth.

The delivery methods have been meticulously designed to be practical and cost-efficient, alleviating the need for participants to pre-arrange childcare or take time off work. This thoughtful consideration of participants’ practical constraints underscores the research team’s commitment to making these resources as accessible and beneficial as possible, reinforcing their dedication to the cause.

Professor McLay emphasises that digital programmes are not considered a complete solution but present an accessible alternative. They empower parents with the freedom to choose how they connect with and participate in services.

Additionally, she suggests that diminishing the dependence on resource-intensive, one-on-one support models can significantly meet the growing demand for autism services and assistance.


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