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Groundbreaking Autism Academy takes out social impact award

Media release

A Curtin University program which is tapping into the unique skills of people on the Autism spectrum has won the Most Impactful Social Benefit Award at the annual WAITTA INCITE Awards.

The Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) launched last year with the aim of enabling students on the Autism spectrum to leverage their special talents through training, education and mentoring programs, so as to create pathways to long-term employment within the software testing industry.

AASQA Deputy Director, Associate Professor Tele Tan of Curtin’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the Autism Academy was a social innovation initiative with a collective benefit for those with Autism, the Australian information and communications technology industry, and the wider community.

“Between 2500 and 3000 young adults with Autism leave schools each year in Australia, yet many of them currently fail to transition into employment or tertiary education,” Associate Professor Tan said.

“At the same time the ICT sector, which is expected to be worth nearly $138 billion a year to the Australian economy by 2020 and is an important catalyst for innovation and growth in other sectors, is relying increasingly on software systems to collect, store, secure, analyse and disseminate information.

“This has led to a corresponding demand for highly skilled and reliable software testers to ensure software functions as it should before release – a job perfectly suited to many people on the Autism spectrum.

“People with Autism tend to be very detail focused and have highly developed problem solving skills, which is beneficial when testing software as a keen eye and patience is needed,” Associate Professor Tan said.

“AASQA brings these two groups together and provides the support needed for each group to work successfully with the other – simultaneously meeting the social inclusion needs of people with Autism and the business needs of the ICT sector.”

Under AASQA, experts from the fields of software engineering, occupational therapy and special education mentor and support high school and tertiary students with Autism, sharing their expertise and helping them to find work placements in the software testing industry.

In its first year of operation the Autism Academy has successfully established three outreach partnerships and three undergraduate Australian Computer Society Foundation scholarships, and has raised about $300,000 for PhD research scholarships. Twenty-two high school and tertiary students have been mentored under the program so far.

“The rich links between the Academy and enterprise provide a strong business model to service the growing demands of the software testing industry, as well as delivering a ‘game-changing’ shift in enabling valued employment opportunities for adults with Autism,” Associate Professor Tan said.

The INCITE Awards also saw Nuheara Ltd and Professors Kevin Fynn and Sven Nordholm, of Curtin’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computing, take out the Most Disruptive Technology Award for their development of the wireless Nuheara IQbuds.

Other Curtin-related winners and finalists were:

  • Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Kate Raynes-Goldie, of the FTI and Curtin’s School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, who was named Achiever of the Year
  • Mustafa Atee from the School of Pharmacy, who was a National iAward Finalist in the Best Student Project of the Year (Peter Fillery) Award for the ePAT (electronic Pain Assessment Tool) for dementia
  • Optika Solutions Pty Ltd, which was a National iAwards finalist for the Most Innovative Collaborative Technology Award, for Akumen, a unique decision support environment which helps businesses visualise their operations, test and analyse scenarios and drive business outcomes. Optika is also active in both the AASQA program and Cisco IoE Innovation Centre, Australia, based at Curtin.

The WAITTA Incite Awards were presented by the Minister for State Development, Finance and Innovation, the Honourable Bill Marmion at a special ceremony last week.

All winners and National iAwards Finalists will represent Western Australia at the AIIA National iAwards, which will be held in Melbourne in September 2016.

A full list of winners and finalists can be found here: