Hon Roger Cook BA GradDipBus MBA MLA

Hon Roger Cook BA GradDipBus MBA MLA

Deputy Premier; Minister for Health; Mental Health

    WA children to pilot world-first autism therapy

    20/10/2018 8:00 AM
    • New trial for Western Australian children at risk of autism
    • Provides vital early intervention at the crucial early stages of a child's development
    • Child health research projects awarded more than $3.5 million 

    A team of Western Australian child health researchers is about to pilot a world-first group intervention for young children showing early risk signs for autism.


    It is hoped the pilot project will improve children's social and communicative development, and could ultimately mean more WA children at risk of autism are given timely and effective help.


    The randomised controlled trial involves videoing interactions between parents and their children. Parents are then offered feedback on how to enhance communications with their children. 


    Autism is a lifelong developmental disability characterised by impaired social and communicative skills. While it is rarely diagnosed before three or four years of age, risk factors for it, including non-verbal cues, can be identified much earlier.


    The therapy is modelled on an existing UK program that was found to be effective in providing sustained results in children known to have been at significant risk of autism. This program was home-based and delivered one-on-one, making it labour intensive and costly.


    The WA team has taken key elements of the program to develop a group-based intervention which, apart from an initial home-based session, will be delivered in clinics to groups of up to six parents.


    The modifications will enable it to be delivered to more children and at approximately a third of the cost of the UK program.


    The WA research is led by Child Development Service Paediatrician Associate Professor John Wray. Eighty children, aged from nine to 14 months, will be recruited for the trial following referrals from child health nurses and general practitioners.


    The trial is among 13 research projects that will share in more than $3.5 million in the sixth round of the Telethon Perth Children's Hospital Research Fund (TPCHRF).


    The TPCHRF is a collaboration between the Department of Health and Channel 7 Telethon Trust that provides funding for WA research activities which focus on the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents.


    Visit the Department of Health's website for the full list of TPCHRF recipients.


    Comments attributed to Health Minister Roger Cook:


    "This world-first project will provide new hope for families with a child displaying early signs of autism. In Western Australia around 400 to 500 new cases of autism are diagnosed in children under six years of age every year, equivalent to one or two cases a day.


    "This project is an example of some of the exciting, innovative research taking place in Western Australia's public health system.


    "We know that the right help, given in the crucial early stages of a child's development, can significantly change the trajectory of that child's life.


    "As we prepare to embrace Channel 7's Telethon this weekend, research like this is the perfect reminder of how the money you donate dramatically improves the lives of WA children."


    Minister's office - 6552 6500