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Free online course about autism, co-designed and delivered by people with autism

Photo: Free online course about autism, co-designed and delivered by people with autism
The number of people with autism spectrum disorder has increased significantly in Australia in recent years, with around one in 150 people identified with autism*. Given its prevalence, a free online course is being announced today, on World Autism Awareness Day. The Voices of Autism Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is open to anyone interested in learning more about the day-to-day needs of a person with autism and their family.

The course has been co-designed by Torrens University Australia and people with autism of all ages and from various areas of the spectrum – from greater support requirements, to those who are non-verbal and highly abled people.

The five-week course, which will be delivered by Torrens University lecturers and people from the autism community, will be valuable for educators, parents, relatives and health workers who care for someone on the autism spectrum. Given it’s delivered online, the course is available to people located anywhere in the world, with no minimum education requirements and no limit to the number of people who can participate.
“Our Voices of Autism MOOC is designed to give participants a real understanding of autism from the perspective of the person with autism and to uncover real-life issues for them and their carers. It utilises a ‘person first’ approach where we challenge participants to put themselves in the place of the person with autism, to consider solutions to an array of situations,” said Professor Mick Grimley, Dean of Education at Torrens University (and course facilitator).

“We know it is important and necessary to learn from the autism community, rather than taking a purely theoretical and academic perspective.

“Given this free course is offered online, we have the potential to reach people all over the world and therefore enable the broader community to see autism through a positive, contemporary lens, while also helping improve the quality of life of those with autism,” Professor Grimley said.

Course co-designer, Paul Micallef said he believes the course will help the wider population better understand this often misunderstood condition. “As a person on the autism spectrum, I’ve always found it challenging to get people to understand things from my perspective. For them, it may sound too strange or unbelievable,” Mr Micallef said.

“By sharing our stories and our approach to life situations, I believe we can create an impact on people’s understanding of our day-to-day lived experiences and bring real and positive change for people living with autism,” he said.

People who participate in the course will learn together (having the ability to connect with each other in a student community), build on their own knowledge and find new ways to support each other and autism understanding in the wider community. Participants will develop problem-solving skills through the stories that have been developed with the autism community. The insights and skills gained from the online course can be applied to every workplace, school or community. The course covers the subjects of: Person First in Autism; Education; Employment; and Journey to Independence.

Registrations for the course are now open (register at http://www.torrens.edu.au/mooc-the-voices-of-autism). The course will run from 30 April–1 June 2018. The workload is around two hours per week and can be undertaken on-demand.
All participants will receive a certificate upon completion.

“We believe real inclusion in education will bring real and positive change, which is in line with our global network’s philosophy of being ‘Here for Good’,” Professor Grimley said.

About autism spectrum disorder*
Autism spectrum disorder (also simply termed autism) is a persistent developmental disorder, characterised by symptoms evident from early childhood. In 2015, an estimated 164,000 people had autism, representing about one in 150 Australians (up from an estimated 64,400 people in 2009). Of those who were estimated to have autism in 2015, 143,900 were identified as also having disability (88 per cent). Males were four times as likely as females to have autism, representing 81 per cent of the population of people with autism. People with autism may face barriers in education associated with their condition, such as fitting in socially, learning difficulties and communication difficulties. People with autism may also face employment restrictions, such as difficulty changing jobs or getting a preferred job. About three in 10 (29 per cent) people with autism were permanently unable to work due to their condition or disability.

About World Autism Awareness Day
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day to highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society. This year marks the eleventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.

About Torrens University Australia
Torrens University Australia (Torrens) offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Business, Education, Hospitality, Design and Health for study on-campus or online (or a hybrid of both). Campuses are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Auckland. Torrens University is part of the global network of higher education institutions, Laureate International Universities, which believes society is best served when its students, employees and the entire organisation use their collective skills and experiences to create positive and enduring change. This commitment is expressed through the organisation’s philosophy of being ‘Here for Good’ and is represented by its status as a certified B Corporation®. In line with this commitment, Torrens is passionate about understanding autism and learning differences in education. It’s the first Australian university to introduce a raft of courses on learning differences, autism, and mental health – using the pioneering ‘person first’ approach. Torrens aims to support teachers, carers and the community in responding to these contemporary challenges.

About Professor Mick Grimley
Professor Mick Grimley is Dean of Education at Torrens University Australia and is an experienced educator with over 30 years of experience in education. Professor Grimley was previously the foundational Chair of Education at Swinburne University of Technology, having established and led Education as an online and face-to-face discipline across Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary teacher education. Professor Grimley is the recipient of two Vice Chancellors awards for Teaching and Inclusion and a Dean’s award for Teaching.

About Paul Micallef
Paul Micallef is a member of the Voice of Autism MOOC co-design team. He studied Aerospace Engineering and worked for five years at Boeing in Port Melbourne undertaking design work for the 787 Dreamliner, before feeling called to leave engineering behind and pursue a more empathic career, which made use of his natural talent for communication and emotional intelligence. Since discovering he has Asperger’s in 2015, Paul has worked for the I CAN Network, teaching parents, students and teachers about autism. He recently started his own online business teaching emotional intelligence in a way that is specifically designed to be autism-friendly (http://emotionsexplained.com.au).

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