The profound experience of having a family member cope with intellectual impairment inspired Gold Coaster Danielle Ward to pursue a Master of Autism Studies at Griffith University.
The 24-year-old said she had spent years observing her brother Brendan’s courageous battle for social inclusion and hoped to use her degree to strive for positive outcomes for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
“I have always been interested in teaching children with special needs and I was fortunate to spend a year on the Gold Coast working in special schools. I also worked at TAFE with disengaged youth and adults with disabilities,” Danielle said.
“My passion stems from Brendan’s experience in dealing with an intellectual disability for all his life.
“I have seen what he has been through and I recognise the need to raise awareness, conduct research, identify risk factors, overcome stigma and respond to a person’s unique situation and needs.”
Danielle said there was an urgent need for greater knowledge and empathy regarding the social, communication and behavioral challenges facing people with developmental disabilities classed as ASDs.
The Master of Autism Studies, an online degree offered through Griffith’s Autism Centre of Excellence, addresses these issues with its focus on education, experience and awareness.
“This is so important, especially for aspiring teachers,” Danielle said.
“With some form of autism diagnosed in one in every hundred people, it’s likely every teacher will come into contact with a person affected by an ASD, so to be armed with that level of professional and personal insight is invaluable.
“Eventually I’d like to look into the transition of people with ASDs from secondary to tertiary study and then on to meaningful work.
“It’s about developing social and life skills to ensure people don’t miss out on opportunities or are left isolated. That’s where I would like to help.”
Danielle added another goal was to undertake research towards a PhD.
The Dean of Griffith’s School of Education and Professional Studies, Professor Donna Pendergast, acknowledged the Autism Centre of Excellence as a prime example of Griffith University’s commitment to cutting edge, diverse and innovative education programs.