Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Investigation of training and support needs in rural and remote disability and mainstream service providers: implications for an online training model

Genevieve Johnsson A B , Rachel Kerslake A , Sarah Crook A and Corinne Cribb A

A Autism Spectrum Australia, Building 1, Level 2, 14 Aquatic Drive, Frenchs Forest, NSW 2086, Australia. Email: rkerslake@autismspectrum.org.au; scrook@autismspectrum.org.au; ccribb@autismspectrum.org.au

B Corresponding author. Email: gjohnsson@autismspectrum.org.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH16132
Submitted: 15 June 2016  Accepted: 13 October 2016   Published online: 28 November 2016

Abstract

Objectives It is known that there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining practitioners in rural and remote communities and that access to support and professional development can be key in breaking this cycle. Technology provides a possible solution not only for increasing access to these opportunities, but also in building community capacity to support children with autism. The aim of the present study was to investigate the current learning and support needs within rural and remote professionals prior to setting up a model of support.

Methods An online survey was used to gather information from service providers in rural and remote communities on their demographics, current skills and confidence in working with clients on the autism spectrum, current supervision and professional development, identified learning and support needs, and the availability and uptake of technology for accessing professional development.

Results Respondents reported below average levels of perceived confidence and skills when working with children with autism, most notably children with challenging behaviour. Half the respondents do not currently attend supervision sessions, with only 15% receiving regular supervision (fortnightly or more often), and 66% of respondents had travelled more than 3 h to access professional development workshops. The majority of participants had access to technology and over half had already used this for online training.

Conclusion Overall, service providers in rural and remote areas are generally not currently meeting their needs in terms of frequency of supervision and professional development. The present needs analysis identifies key areas for learning, the ideal frequency of support and the acceptability of using technology to deliver this support. This information will guide future researchers in the development of an evidence-based model that will be accessible and meaningful to its participants.

What is known about the topic? It is known that there are difficulties in recruiting and retaining practitioners in rural and remote communities and that access to support and professional development can be key in breaking this cycle, which may be triggered by geographical isolation. Technology-delivered intervention and support, also known as eHealth or Telehealth, has been used successfully in the disability sector for medical rehabilitation, direct intervention, employment support and support groups, but there is little evidence as to how technology is received by and implemented with disability and mainstream service providers supporting children with autism living in remote regions.

What does this paper add? This paper provides an insight into the current skills and confidence of a broad range of service providers, including educators, allied health therapists and therapy and community support workers, in working with children with autism. This paper also investigates the experience, feasibility and potential uptake of a technology-driven program of support and professional development in rural and remote Australia. Finally, this paper provides an insight into the desired frequency of training and support, as well as identified learning support needs.

What are the implications for practitioners? These findings have and will continue to guide practitioners in the development of an evidence-based, technology-driven model of supporting rural and remote staff working with children with autism. Technology has the potential to provide practitioners in geographically isolated areas with access to more responsive, collaborative and individualised professional support and training. Such practice may improve the skills of practitioners and the level of support they can provide their clients with autism, with the added potential of increasing staff retention in rural and remote areas of Australia.

Additional keywords: autism, education, professionals, technology, webinar.


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