2022: Dr Hannah Waddington, from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research titled ‘Transforming the clinical pathway for young autistic children and their whānau in Aotearoa New Zealand’
Published on 27 Whiringa-ā-nuku October 2022
Dr Hannah Waddington is an Educational Psychologist who leads the Victoria University of Wellington Autism Clinic Te Rāngai Takiwātanga: the only research-based autism clinic in Aotearoa, helping around 50 new whānau each year. Dr Waddington received her PhD in Education from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington in 2018, following under- and post-graduate studies in Psychology and Educational Psychology, respectively. She has since progressed to Senior Lecturer. She has also helped to develop the Australian National Guideline for supporting autistic children and their families, which will be released later this year.
An estimated 1 out of 40 tamariki across Aotearoa are diagnosed with autism; a condition that involves differences in social communication, sensory sensitivities, and narrow interests. These differences are associated with negative long-term academic, employment, and mental health outcomes. Access to high-quality early life support for autistic children and their whānau can significantly improve outcomes. Yet, long delays in diagnosis mean that most children do not access professional support until they begin school. Dr Waddington’s research aims to transform the clinical pathway so that children under the age of 5 years old who show signs of autism are identified earlier and can therefore receive high-quality support faster.
In this Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, a range of education and health professionals working with young children in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington will be trained to use a state-of-the-art surveillance tool to identify signs of autism. Eligible autistic children from a variety of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds and their whānau will then be randomly assigned to receive either high-quality early support or assistance to access appropriate services in the community. These groups will be compared with a similar group of autistic children and their whānau in Ōtautahi Christchurch, where professionals will not have been trained in using the tool. Dr Waddington will then evaluate the use and perceptions of the surveillance tool in the full context of Aotearoa, and the effects on outcomes for autistic children and their whānau. A culturally responsive approach to early identification and support will be used throughout key organisations in the country, giving this research the capacity to improve outcomes for tens of thousands of autistic children.