Wales Autism Research Centre
Advancing the scientific understanding of autism to create positive change.
The Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC) was officially launched in September 2010 by founding Director Professor Sue Leekam and was the first national centre for autism research in the UK. Our research plays a key role in the autism community with a strong reputation for translation into policy and practice.
Since April 2019, the centre has been led by Dr Catherine Jones and comprises of a core group of academic staff, postdoctoral staff and PhD students. We are based in the School of Psychology and are part of the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science. (CUCHDS).
Through our internationally recognised research and close ties with the autistic community, we aim to advance scientific understanding of autism to positively influence practice, policy and public awareness.
Our research covers three themes:
- Behaviour and Diagnosis
- Biological and Cognitive Processes
- Communication, Families and Relationships
Behaviour and Diagnosis
We carry out work to support and improve the diagnosis, recognition and understanding of autism. This includes work on the Diagnostic Interview for Social Communication Disorders (DISCO) and the development of training and awareness tools, including The Birthday Party film, which was designed to help front-line professionals identify the signs of autism in children.
We are also investigating diagnosis in adults and the post-diagnostic pathway for autistic children and how this might be improved. Research on social-communication and repetitive behaviours, in relation to co-occurring features (e.g. anxiety and mental health) is also being carried out.
Biological and Cognitive Processes
We are interested in the ways in which autistic people think and perceive the world compared to non-autistic people. We are investigating how social signals like faces and eye gaze are processed in autism, including exploration of the brain signals that underlie these processes, as well as how well autistic people understand other peoples’ minds.
Using our purpose-built sensory room, we have also been exploring how autistic children use sensory rooms and respond to sensory stimulation. We are also interested in how autistic thinking styles may affect mental health and the Study of Eating Disorders in Autistic Females is looking at anorexia nervosa in autistic women and why it develops and persists.
Communication, Families and Relationships
We also investigate how autistic people communicate with each other and with non-autistic people and the impact this may have on the individual, families and relationships. We have been exploring the triadic communication between autistic children, parents and therapists in a therapeutic setting, as well as considering communication during post-diagnostic support. We also have a programme of experimental work investigation how autistic children time their social behaviours, as well as work discovering how autistic people use compensatory strategies in everyday life.
The Birthday Party film
The Birthday Party film was developed with research partners and the Welsh Government, and was designed as a training tool for frontline professionals. The film highlights five ‘SIGNS’ (Social interaction; Imagination; Gestures; Narrow interests; Sensory responses) of autism by focusing on three autistic children (two boys and one girl) attending a birthday party.
The Birthday Party film is available to view at autismchildsigns.com and is available in English, Welsh, Latvian, Lithuanian, Italian and Spanish. If you would like to use the film in training then please complete a permission form available on The Birthday Party website.
Read the evaluation document to find out what professionals and families thought of The Birthday Party film.