'Getting together’ to support students with autism in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Scene from the story-telling animation Finding out about Kevin

Positive Partnerships was established in 2008 to help teachers and school staff, and parents and carers, to support school students with autism. It works with the education sectors across Australia, community organisations and with the autism community. Since 2008:

  • more than 10,000 teachers, principals and other school staff have participated in professional learning
  • nearly 13,000 parents and carers have attended workshops
  • more than 60,000 users have registered on the Positive Partnerships website to access training and other online material.

While there is limited data on autism in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, a high number of children from these communities display characteristics consistent with a diagnosis of autism.

Positive Partnerships was delivered in phases and worked with the First Peoples Disability Network during Phase 2 (2012–2015) to set up a National Aboriginal Reference Group.

Phase 2 saw the development of whole-school community programs including whole-of-community consultations, ‘get-togethers’ and action plans. This was supported by specific resources on the website including videos, a case study, ‘yarn up’ sheets, and a planning template or storyboard. The storyboard is designed to gather information about a child to share with key stakeholders at school and in the community to facilitate implementation of consistent support strategies.

Phase 3 of Positive Partnerships is now extending this approach into new communities. At St Georges Road Primary School in Shepparton, Victoria, 18 to 20 per cent of students are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and another 40 per cent are from families from other countries. In April 2016 all 60 school staff members attended an initial two-day workshop where they shared ideas on how to improve home-school partnerships and implement the storyboard in classrooms. The school plans to run sessions for parents based on the Positive Partnerships online resources to build the capacity of the school community to work together to improve outcomes for all students.

Image (top): Scene from the story-telling animation Finding out about Kevin.