The University of Newcastle, Australia

Autism project to help connect families

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Thanks to the success of the 2017 Gastronomic Lunch, HMRI/University of Newcastle autism researcher Assoc Professor Alison Lane will now aim to customise the ALERT autism intervention to find those children and families most likely to benefit.

Associate Professor Alison Lane
Associate Professor Alison Lane

The May 7 lunch, organised by restaurateur Neil Slater and his wife Donna, raised an incredible $136,000, bringing hope to the many parents who are desperately chasing a magic intervention that will make a difference for their child.

Usually children are diagnosed with autism around the age of 3 but parents say they notice, even in the first year of life, there is something different about their son or daughter.

The children often have difficulties making friends and transitioning from one activity to another, so the school environment presents a raft of distressing situations.

“Children and families tend to become isolated in social situations, being unable to enjoy a restaurant meal or play at parks,” Assoc Professor Alison Lane says. “Managing their child’s behaviour is their number one priority, and many will seek up to 20 concurrent therapies to find one that helps.

“Our aim is to help connect them.”


The ALERT program helps teach children ways to cope with their stress and anxiety. Until now, though, Occupational Therapists haven’t been able to drill down and find which intervention best suits a particular child.

Assoc Professor Alison Lane's team will combine their clinical understanding of behavioural nuances with advanced brain imaging technology.

“My motivation is to find out why these interventions work with some children so we can be more precise and targeted in what we offer families, hopefully getting them to better outcomes more quickly,” she adds.