The projects featured on this website are united by a desire to apply excellence in psychological research methods to questions with real world relevance.
One strand of research involves exploring the uses of technology, and especially iPad apps, to support, educate and engage children with autism. A group of collaborators from across academic backgrounds developed an iPad app 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, called Click-East, which was broadly supportive of the possibilities for using apps to deliver therapeutic support to young children with autism.
Connected to this work, 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 publication of our guidelines on technology for parents of children with autism, published by the National Autistic Society. DART is also publishing regular app reviews which aim to provide an evidence-based perspective on apps for autism.
Another on-going project is exploring the experiences of brothers and sisters of autistic children. The study is called TUKS – the Taiwan-United Kingdom Siblings Project. This large-scale questionnaire based study is specifically looking at cultural differences in how young people are affected when they have a brother or sister on the autism spectrum. We hope the findings will contribute to improvements in the way the whole family of a child with autism is approached by society. If your interested in the study you can sign up to take part here.
Finally, the DART Child Development Lab is hosting a wide-ranging set of projects looking at the development of babies in their first year of life. We are using eye-tracking to understand learning and social behaviour at this young age. We are currently working with infants born pre-term and children with early-onset epilepsy. In the future, we may extend this work to also explore the early signs of autism in infants who have higher likelihood of a later diagnosis. Our goal is to understand early development better and therefore provide targeted help to infants who need it.
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 was last year’s Click-East tea party and the recently-completed EAR survey study on the ethics of early autism research.
A note about language: there seems to be an increasing split within the autism community regarding the use of person first language. In this website I use both person-first language (especially when talking about children, who are more vulnerable) and terms such as “autistic people”. This excellent blog post by Judith Endow has influenced this decision greatly.