Research highlights

Below we discuss in more detail some of our current projects.


2015 highlight : The Autism Imagination Study

The main aim of the Autism Imagination Study is to better understand the imagination of adults with ASD. In the past, clinicians and researchers thought that autistic people had a general difficulty with imagination. However, we now know this is not true. There are many autistic people who very imaginative and talented in art, poetry and creative writing.
Most previous imagination research has been carried out with children, looking at pretend play.

We are exploring a wider range of imagination tasks in autistic adults to understand what they might find easier or more difficult. We are also interested in how different aspects of imagination connect to other abilities. For example, some people have argued that imagination in autistic people is related to their repetitive behaviours. Therefore we are examining this relationship as it may help us better understand imagination in autistic adults.

As part of this research we developed The Adult Repetitive Behaviours Questionnaire-2 (RBQ-2A). This is first self-report measure of repetitive behaviours in adults. You can learn more from the RBQ-2A’s website (

Eventually we hope that the results of this research will lead to better ways of supporting creativity and imagination in autistic people. The research may also help to inform diagnostic practice.

Sarah Barrett will be presenting some of her research findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research 2016.


2014 highlight: Visual attention control in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders


This project brings together research and clinical expertise in a new collaboration involving Psychology, Optometry, and Clinical Genetics and fits under our research theme of Biological and Cognitive Processes. In this project we are studying children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their response to a novel training method designed to improve visual attention. The project is developing this training method for the first time for children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and also Rett syndrome.

Prof. Sue Leekam and Dr Georgie Powell are working with researchers from the Optometry (Dr Jon Erichsen and Andrew Millington) and Medical Genetics (Prof Angus Clarke) departments at Cardiff University and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge University (Dr Sam Wass).


Early attention abilities play a critical role in social and communication development and so targeting attention at an early age may lead to improvement in these key areas of development. Children watch videos on a computer that uses eye gaze technology. Eye gaze technology is perfectly suited to individuals with ASD and Rett syndrome who may have problems with verbal communication and fine motor skills. By monitoring children’s eye movements we can study their ability to flexibly control where they are looking. We can also assess the kinds of attention skills that individuals will need extra help with.

This is a feasibility study and we will need further project funding in order for a complete trial to be carried out. The research so far completed by Dr Powell is showing that children are responding well to the tasks and this method is suitable to be adopted for a future trial.

Dr Georgina Powell

Research associate at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology

Professor Susan Leekam

Chair in Autism at Cardiff University and Director of the Wales Autism Research Centre

2013 highlight: Closing the gap between Research Policy and Practice

The RPP plays an important role in helping us meet our objective of improving professional and public awareness of research.


The Autism Research Practice Policy hub (RPP) is an open-access site that champions the use of research in policy and practice in the UK and beyond.  The goal of the site is to raise awareness and enrich the translation of knowledge in order to improve outcomes for individuals with ASD.  The hub is a shared knowledge translation platform, developed thanks to matched funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Welsh Government.  The site has three main components including Group Discussions, News and Articles & Resources.

Dr Christopher Ramsden

Online project manager of the Research Policy and Practice Hub

Lynda Morgan

Co-offline project manager (with Louise White) of the Research Policy and Practice Hub

Dr Louise White

Post-doctoral Research Associate

2013 highlight: Wales NHS ASD Adults Diagnostic Network adopts DISCO ‘family’


A three year project funded by the Welsh Government has created the All Wales Clinical Network for the Diagnosis and Counselling of Adults, which falls under our research interest of Behaviour and Diagnosis.

This network works to; to (a) facilitate a standardised process of assessment and diagnosis within each NHS Health Board, (b) develop and deliver training for clinicians and (c) enable quality assured improvements and sharing of good practice.


New research:

The use of diagnostic instruments is an important aspect of the assessment process. Members of WARC; Prof Sue Leekam, Dr Sarah Carrington and Rachel Kent have contributed to the network by carrying out original research to develop an abbreviated diagnostic instrument.

The DISCO ‘family’ is the name given to a coordinated set of interviews uniquely designed to be used by the Diagnosis and Pre-post Diagnosis Service.

The full DISCO interview (320 items) was developed by Lorna Wing and Judith Gould (Lorna Wing Centre), to help clinicians to assess an individual’s pattern of behaviours and needs. This interview has been published (Wing et. al., 2002; Leekam et al., 2002) and is already well established in clinical practice.

The new DISCO- Abbreviated Interview (68 items) was designed in 2012 especially to be used as part of this service. In addition a very short ’signposting’ or screening interview is under development, which once validated would form part of the ‘family’ in the future. A research publication led by Dr Sarah Carrington identifies essential (abbreviated) items for diagnosis of DSM-5 and has been accepted for publication in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The same results will be reported at the International Meeting for Research in Autism (IMFAR) in May 2014, the world’s largest autism research conference. The IMFAR program committee invited Dr Carrington to give an oral presentation, as the submission received a high rating and was described by the committee as an important topic to be reported.


Prof Leekam and Dr Carrington have also contributed to training. The Training Sub Group of the All-Wales Diagnosis and Pre/post Diagnosis Service for Adults (Dr Sundari, Aneurin Bevan Health Board and Dr Matthews, Hywel Dda Health Board) organised training for the full and abbreviated forms of the DISCO. The training has been led by Dr Judith Gould, Director of the Lorna Wing Centre, National Autistic Society. The WARC team have developed new training materials and a manual, and have contributed to training on the course.

DISCO-Abbreviated training began in July 2013 and three groups have now been trained, in Cardiff, Carmarthen, and Llanfairfechan.

Dr Sarah Carrington

Postdoctoral Research Associate with the Wales Autism Research Centre

Dr Rachel Kent

PhD student with the Wales Autism Research Centre

Professor Susan Leekam

Chair in Autism at Cardiff University and Director of the Wales Autism Research Centre