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Wales Autism Research Centre

Advancing the scientific understanding of autism to create positive change.

The Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC) was initiated through a unique collaboration between Autism Cymru and Autistica, the School of Psychology, Cardiff University and the Welsh Government. Its establishment was supported by generous donations from the organisations above and from Autism InitiativesBaily Thomas Charitable FundWaterloo Foundation, Jane Hodge Foundation, Research Autism, Freemasons Grand Charity.

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).

In 2020, WARC celebrated its ten-year anniversary and on the School of Psychology engagement webpages, you can view the ten key milestones of the Centre.

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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 investigating how autistic children time their social behaviours, as well as work discovering how autistic people use compensatory strategies in everyday life.


Cardiff University Sensory Room Guide

Our Sensory Room Guide is designed for practitioners working with autistic children in sensory rooms. It is based our research findings and was created with input from stakeholders.

Please visit our Sensory Guide impact page to learn more and to download the Guide.

Repetitive Behaviour Questionnaire-3

Cardiff University is the home of the Repetitive Behaviour Questionnaire-3. The RBQ-3 measures repetitive behaviours across the lifespan in both self-report and parent/carer-report formats.

Please visit our Repetitive Behaviour Questionnaire-3 (RBQ-3) page to learn more and to download the questionnaire.

Birthday Party film

The Birthday Party film was developed with research partners and the Welsh Government as a training tool for frontline professionals. It is available for anyone to view or use in relevant training and education.

Please visit our Birthday Party impact page to learn more and access the film.

Next steps


Research that matters

Our research makes a difference to people’s lives as we work across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and our environment.


Postgraduate research

Our research degrees give the opportunity to investigate a specific topic in depth among field-leading researchers.


Our research impact

Our research case studies highlight some of the areas where we deliver positive research impact.