Asher Gregory will have beaten the odds when he receives a Curriculum Council Award for Excellence at a ceremony held at Murdoch University on February 8.
Asher has autism and as a baby his parents were told he would live most of his adult life in an institution.
His father Keith credits researchers at Murdoch University for his son leading a normal and successful life.
“When Asher was 15 months old we realised he was autistic, so we started to search for cures here in Australia and were told there were none,” Keith said.
“We discovered 16 years ago that in America Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) was recognised as an evidenced-based proven therapy programme to achieve the best outcomes for children with autism,” Keith said.
“We were told to buy a book on the subject and in that particular book we read about a study that had been conducted at Murdoch.”
“The study had only run for one year because it ran out of funding but we were able to track down the students who had conducted the research and they became Asher’s therapists.”
Therapy was intense with Asher doing 25 hours a week over four years but the results are evident today.
“When Asher was first diagnosed he was within the parameters of severe autism, but you meet him now and he’s such a cool kid,” Keith said.
“He will be applying to do a degree at Murdoch in Sound Engineering at the end of this year, after completing Certificate 3 and 4 in Sound Production at TAFE.”
Murdoch’s Associate Professor David Leach was the co-author on the 1991 research on autism and also a supervisor of the students who assisted Asher.
“ABA is based on principles of behavioural science developed over the last 50 years to plan and predict behaviour change,” Professor Leach said.
“When referred, we look at each child individually and find out what he can and can’t do at that moment and find out what he needs to learn and then break complex skills down into very small teaching steps.
“Every small change in behaviour is initially prompted and then reinforced; this could be by giving the child food or drink or something else enjoyed such as briefly playing a game or making him laugh.”
Keith says there is now more than 30 years of documented evidence that ABA is the best treatment for children with autism.
“The sad thing is the largest affiliated organisation in WA, The Autism Association, has just opened a new $10m government funded centre but does not do any ABA and of the 25 registered service providers only four actually do,” he said.
Awards are granted by the Curriculum Council to senior secondary students studying the Curriculum Council courses and vocational education and training. The awards recognise individual excellence at the end of senior secondary schooling.
The main ceremony will take place from 6:30pm-7:30pm on lower Bush Court at Murdoch’s South Street Campus. The Minister for Education, the Hon Dr Liz Constable MLA, will present the awards to the highest achieving students.