The projects featured on this website are united by a desire to apply excellence in psychological research methods to questions with real world relevance.
You can download the latest DART newsletter here and find out more about the DART team on this page. The work of DART is now hosted within the Patrick Wild Centre, a pioneering research group applying methods from basic laboratory science, clinical expertise and psychology to research into autism, fragile X syndrome and intellectual disability.
Development: The DART Child Development Lab is hosting a wide-ranging set of projects looking at the development of babies and toddlers. We are using eye-tracking to understand learning and social behaviour at this young age, working with infants born pre-term and children with early-onset epilepsy. A related study involved peadiatric plastic surgeon Felicity Mehendale to explore the cognitive outcomes of children who have had cleft palate surgery in infancy. In this infant work, our goal is to understand early development better and therefore provide targeted help to infants who need it.
Another on-going theme is exploring the experiences of autistic people and their families. We are working to understand the needs and attitudes of the autism community towards research with infants at higher likelihood of receiving an autism diagnosis. Another study is called TUKS – the Taiwan-United Kingdom Siblings Project. This large-scale questionnaire based study looked at cultural differences in how young people are affected when they have a brother or sister on the autism spectrum. In another project we asked parents what it is like raising a child with autism in a bilingual household. We hope the findings from these projects will contribute to improvements in the way the whole family of a child with autism is approached and supported by society.
Autism: In all of the work associated with DART we aim to engage with stakeholders before, during and after individual projects to ensure that our researcher goals meet the needs of the community and are mutually-informative with clinical and educational practice. An example of this is the Family in Residence project in which we are working with a family affected by Fragile X syndrome to involve them in all aspects of research and teaching at the Patrick Wild Centre. We are also attempting to build a library of accessible summaries of all of the published research created by members of the DART team. DART members have also been involved in a new UK-wide seminar series which is attempting to engage with members of the autism and Autistic communities to set the agenda for the future of UK autism research.
Research: Research at DART is strongly founded in a belief in the importance of employing multiple methods to capture real world priorities and at the same time deliver exceptionally rigorous science. In education, clinical practice and social support children, young people and those with additional needs deserve the highest standards. One component of a good quality trial is having the right measures available which can capture meaingful progress and do so in a scientifically valid way. In one current project we have been looking at whether eye-tracking could be a useful tool for recording progress in response to learning with technology specifically.
Technology: The principal strand of DART research involves exploring the uses of technology, and especially iPad apps, to support, educate and engage children with autism. During the Click-East project, a group of collaborators from across academic backgrounds developed an iPad app called FindMe designed to teach fundamental social communication skills to children with autism – things like looking at people, and looking where they are looking too. This app was then evaluated in a formal trial – you can hear about the results of that trial in this three minute video, or download the published article here.
Growing out of these research endeavours, DART is involved in various knowledge-sharing initiatives to improve the field of autism and technology research and practice. We want to promote high quality design of new technologies, help people make good choices when choosing hardware or software, and create links between experts in the area including academics, practitioners, and members of the autism community. All this work recently resulted in the creation of our guidelines on technology for parents of children with autism, published by the National Autistic Society and the creation of a similar guide for schools wanting to introduce new technology to support learners iwth autism in the classroom. DART is also publishing regular app reviews which aim to provide an evidence-based perspective on apps for autism. Finally we also recently developed a short factsheet for parents of children with or without autism about the use of technology in schools.
A note about language: there is a split within the autism community regarding the use of different forms of language and terms to describe autism. In this website I use both person-first language (especially when talking about children, in line with parent preferences) and terms such as “autistic people”. This excellent blog post by Judith Endow has influenced this decision greatly.