New study aims to understand behaviours associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Published 9 November 2016

A new study is under way to help better understand why restricted and repetitive behaviours exhibited by people in the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can change over time and increase or decrease in intensity.

As part of the study, led by Southern Cross University researcher Professor Andrew Cashin, parents or guardians of people with ASD who are participating in some form of primary or secondary schooling are being asked to complete an online survey.

Professor Cashin, from the University’s School of Health and Human Sciences, said approximately two per cent of the world’s population had a way of being in the world characterised by ASD.

“For those diagnosed with ASD, outcomes in terms of independent living, engagement in work or study and maintaining intimate relationships post-schooling are worse than most other disability groups, despite the great advances made,” Professor Cashin said.

“There are two elements of impairment that form the basis of diagnosis of ASD. One part is communication and social skills and this is an area where our understanding is strong and growing. The second part of this dyad is restricted and repetitive behaviours. However, there is surprisingly little research in this domain to inform intervention and supports.

“While central to the diagnosis of ASD, restrictive and repetitive behaviours often change over time and increase and decrease in intensity. We are not clear, however, why this happens, what the typical patterns are, and we definitely have no structured way of predicting when someone will get locked into these behaviours.”

Professor Cashin said his research would build on the small body of existing knowledge and add to the understanding of the trajectory of development across the school years. Findings will inform interventions and development of supports for people with ASD and their families.

The online survey is for parents or guardians of people with ASD participating in some form of primary or secondary schooling (approximately six to 18 years of age). Professor Cashin said he was aiming for 1000 responses to the survey.

This includes parents and guardians of people with the diagnosis of ASD, Asperger's Disorder, Autistic Disorder or Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified. The survey can be completed on a computer, smartphone or tablet. It will take approximately 25 minutes and can be completed over more than one session by saving the responses.

Professor Cashin has formal qualifications in nursing, health science, health policy, research and tertiary teaching. He provides clinical services in the SCU Health Clinic as an endorsed Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and is an approved NDIS provider in NSW.

The research has been approved by the Southern Cross University Human Research Ethics Committee (approval ECN-16-249).

For any questions related to the survey please contact Professor Cashin at

Photo: Professor Andrew Cashin.

Media contact: Brigid Veale head of Communications and Publications, Southern Cross University, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.