Evaluation of the 'tips for autism' professional learning and development programme

Publication Details

In June 2007, the Ministry of Education contracted a team from Massey University to evaluate ‘tips for autism’ – a professional development programme for people who work with and/or care for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The evaluation spanned three years. During the first year, the evaluation was co-purchased by the Ministries of Education and Health and Child, Youth and Family (CYF), a service of the Ministry of Social Development. The focus in this first year was on 'tips extended', a pilot programme for those supporting children with ASD who were also in the care of CYF.

The purpose of the 'tips' evaluation was to inform the future development of this programme which has been running in New Zealand since 2001, and to provide lessons for other ASD professional development initiatives. To achieve the objectives, the evaluation team was required to address a series of ten questions developed and prioritised by the Ministries of Education, Health and CYF.

Author(s): Jill Bevan-Brown, Roseanna Bourke, Philippa Butler, Janis Carroll-Lind, Alison Kearney, Mandia Mentis, Massey University College of Education.

Date Published: November 2011

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The evaluation used a mixed method design for the type of information sought, the data collection methods used and the interpretive approaches taken. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were used. The evaluation team used a participatory, collaborative approach. Stakeholders were consulted to ascertain what they considered were essential components of a professional development course on ASD and what were meaningful “outcomes” for them. The evaluation had a goal-free, needs-based, open-ended focus. Using a variety of data sources to ascertain the evaluative criteria enabled multiple stakeholder input and allowed for both intended and unintended effects of the ‘tips for autism’ programme to be identified and considered.

The evaluation consisted of four principal and one subsidiary component: needs assessment; case studies, quantitative data analysis; ‘tips for autism’ programme information and documentation; and a brief literature review. Five data gathering measures and strategies were used. These were: written surveys/questionnaires, face-to-face interviews, observations, document analysis and Advisory Group and expert consultation. The report outlines which measures and strategies were used for each priority question over the three-year evaluation period.

Demographic Data

Twenty-eight courses containing 169 teams and 837 participants were evaluated over the three-year period. The largest group was school personnel (400), followed by parents/caregivers (199), key workers (157) and other (81). The courses were held in eight North Island and five South Island venues. The largest numbers were in the Auckland region, followed by Wellington and Canterbury.


As identified in the New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline, a range of individuals and groups from across the sector should have access to some form of professional development relating to children, young people and adults with ASD. The Guideline states that those who “work or live with people with ASD can improve the outcome for those individuals if they have the necessary skills required through appropriate education” (p. 192). For the sake of these individuals, their families and whānau ASD courses should be readily accessible and be of a high quality so that learning and outcomes can be maximised. This three-year evaluation showed that ‘tips for autism’ is such a high quality course.

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