Autism Spectrum Australia

Aspect National Recognition Awards

  • Posted: Wed, 09/04/2014 - 11:03am

2014 Aspect National Recognition Award winners honoured in Sydney

April was World Autism Awareness Month. To celebrate the achievements of people in the community living on the spectrum, Aspect (Autism Spectrum Australia) Australia’s largest not-for-profit autism support services provider held the 2014 Aspect National Recognition Awards Ceremony in Sydney in April. Six outstanding award winners were honoured for their services to autism.

The Awards were judged by a combination of industry experts and individuals with personal experience of autism. The 2014 National Recognition Award recipients were:

Read more about the winners here

Adrian Ford, CEO of Aspect said, “Our utmost congratulations go to all of the 2014 Aspect National Recognition Award winners. Their achievements and commitment in their services to people on the spectrum in their local communities and the wider autism community is exceptional.”

The 2014 Aspect National Recognition Awards Ceremony is one highlight of an exciting and diverse month of Aspect activities across Australia to celebrate World Autism Awareness Month.

Held at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney, the event was attended by 150 guests from across the country including The Honourable John Ajaka, Minister for Disability Services, Aspect Chair, Jenny Young and Aspect CEO, Adrian Ford.

The night was hosted by John Doyle AM and featured an impressive line-up of entertainment including Australian country rock artist, Adam Toms, who donated proceeds of his album sales to Aspect.

The judges were: 

  • Alexandra Robinson, member of the Aspect adult social group.
  • Kylie Ouvrier, parent of two boys on the autism spectrum.
  • Dr Anthony Warren, Clinical Psychologist and autism expert. 
  • John Kelly, Aspect Director, NDS Ready, Communication and Marketing


Inspiration Award for Individual Achievement (adult): Patrick Francis

Patrick Francis is a 22 year old artist and athlete living on the spectrum with an intellectual disability and limited speech. With his sister Lesley, they have led the development of Absolutely Awetistic Arts, a not-for-profit organization that promotes positive autism awareness through art exhibitions, slideshows, publications and a strong online presence. Through promoting positive disability awareness and inclusive arts and cultural opportunities, they aim to instigate social change to encourage inclusion for all members of society.

Patrick (centre) accepting his award with parents, Sanda and Greg, John Doyle, Aspect Patron (left) and Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO (Right)

Inspiration Award for Individual Achievement (youth): Daniel Sahyoun

Daniel Sahyoun is a 17 year old student currently enrolled in year 12 at Bulahdelah Central School. At the age of 2 he was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, when a pediatrician described him as the “most extreme case seen in his 20 year career.” Daniel has struggled every day of his life with “fitting in” and understanding the world around him. This has led to periods of depression. However, he has demonstrated great determination in working towards his aim of being accepted as a “normal” adolescent.

One of Daniel’s most notable achievements has been his initiative in raising awareness of autism in his community.  His motivation behind this was to break down the barriers in the school environment for all students on the spectrum and to educate the wider community on this condition.

Daniel’s acceptance is evident through his personal achievements. These include being elected School Vice-Captain during 2013-2014 by his peers, and also being awarded DUX of Year 11 in 2013. Although Daniel has had to work harder than most other students, these achievements attest to his determination to succeed in life, and show that with a little understanding, students on the spectrum can succeed and be accepted as equals amongst their peers.

Daniel (centre) accepting his award accompanied by his parents and John Doyle, Aspect Patron (left) and Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO (Right)

Parent/Carer of the Year Award: Jaki French

Jaki French is an inspirational woman living in Moree NSW. As the first Aboriginal woman to share her honest and moving personal journey with her 16 year old son who has autism and the additional difficulties faced by Aboriginal families where a diagnosis of autism is often unheard of, Jaki is the voice of all Aboriginal women affected by autism. When her son, Murri, was first diagnosed, Jaki searched libraries, the internet and book stores in an attempt to learn as much as she could about autism from an Aboriginal perspective. However, Jaki could not find any information, support or guidance, and felt she needed to be the voice and perspective that was missing for other Aboriginal mothers, in the hope that they will feel supported, valued and empowered to move forward.

Additionally, she went back to study as a teacher’s aide when her son started school as she saw the importance of Aboriginal representation in the world of autism. Jaki has since helped countless other children on the spectrum in schools and she is considered a strong community advocate for Aboriginal families. Jaki is a hero to many because the sharing of her story has helped other Aboriginal mothers come forward and seek assistance for their children without the shame and blame that so often accompanies such an acknowledgment in Aboriginal communities.

Recently, Jaki has developed a strong relationship with Positive Partnerships as she has trusted the organisation to share her story through the work they do in remote locations with Aboriginal families. Jaki’s story has shaped the entire content that has been developed for Aboriginal communities across Australia to inspire them to seek assistance and acceptance.

Lee Casuscelli, National Program Co-ordinator, Positive Partnerships, Jaki's partner, Brett, winner Jaki French, and Adrian Ford, CEO of Aspect

David Foster Appreciation Award (for volunteer service): David Cowell

David Cowell is a father to a son on the spectrum who attends a local school in Forestville.

For the past three years David has volunteered to be the coordinator, driving force and key motivator behind the Aspect Lend Lease Community Days. He has given many hours of his personal time to ensure that the Community Days are a success.

Each year David works with Aspect Vern Barnett to make up a wish list of tasks. David and his group have generously donated their time and resources to resource and build cubby houses, shade cloths, wood chip soft fall, sand for sand pits, beautifully painted lunch tables and walls and more.

In 2013 David stretched himself further to include a working bee at the new Aspect Adult Program site at Hurstville. He organised a team leader and volunteers and again sourced resources to make sure that the day was a success and that the site was fresh and inviting for staff and clients.

Over the years David’s amazing efforts as a volunteer have resulted in Aspect receiving  thousands of man hours from hundreds of volunteers, he has also attracted the donation of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of donated resources for both Aspect Vern Barnett and Hurstville Adult Programs. 

In addition to his contribution to Aspect David volunteers with special needs nippers through North Steyne Lifesaving Club and was a driving force behind its establishment. Special needs’ nippers provides kids on the spectrum and other developmental disabilities with the opportunity to participate in junior life saving activities and to learn about surf and safety at the beach.

David (left centre) accepting his award with his wife Janelle and John Doyle, Aspect Patron (left) and Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO (Right)

Above and Beyond Award (financial or in-kind contribution by an individual or an organization): Michelle and Shane Finlay

Michelle and Shane Finlay

Since 2007 Michelle and Shane Finlay have continued to go above and beyond to support Aspect and make a significant contribution to the autism community in the Hunter Region.

Some of their more notable achievements include:

  • Helping to coordinate and run the ‘Frock On Fashion Parade’ in 2009, 2010, 2011 to raise funds for Aspect Hunter School and to raise awareness of autism in the community, achieving wide-ranging TV and other media coverage and raising more than $80,000 in the three years.
  • Shane spent countless hours decorating his home with Christmas lights from 2008 to 2012 to attract media attention to raising awareness of autism and raising more than $15,000
  • Running the Autism Awareness Race Day 2012, 2013 at Newcastle Jockey Club to raise more than $32,000, providing an opportunity for a number of corporate sponsors and their guests to broaden their understanding of autism.
  • Bringing together almost 1000 people from the Hunter Region who have been impacted by autism at the Light It Blue Picnic in the park in 2012 and 2013 – raising more than $3000.

They have worked tirelessly with the School and Aspect to support media outreach and encourage parent participation in events. They have presented at local schools to raise awareness about autism, and regularly help prospective families to transition to school by sharing their own story.

Michelle and Shane Finlay accepting their award with John Doyle, Aspect Patron (left) and Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO (Right)

Advancement Award: The Secret Agent Society Program, QLD

The Secret Agent Society (SAS) Program aims to help parents and professionals improve children's emotional understanding and social skills by teaching them a specific skill set. The program creates a fun environment where students engage with content through a range of activities. Code cards, gadgets, computer games, work books and home missions are just a few components. The program incorporates parent training alongside student intervention.

Before the development of the Secret Agent Society, schools did not have the capacity or knowledge base to deliver a high quality, best practice social skills program with facilitator confidence. Implementing an evidence based program across classrooms ensures teachers and facilitators are delivering a quality social skills program and meeting the needs of students.

Coordinators have been following up to measure results of the program. Participants showed significant improvements in emotional regulation and social skills, which continued to improve after six and then twelve months after the program was completed. Anger and anger management strategies significantly improved even 12 months after the program ended.

All in all a highly successful program, with direct positive outcomes for participating students.

Renae Beaumont accepting the award with John Doyle, Aspect Patron (left) and Adrian Ford, Aspect CEO (Right)



Aspect National Recognition Awards