Neurodiversity research at Salford

At the University of Salford, we are doing lots of research on neurodiversity. At our launch event, six researchers told parents and carers about their projects. Information about each talk is below.

Autism, sleep, and word-learning: The Salford Autism Exercise Project

Dr Amy Bidgood, Dr David Tate, and Eve Bent

The Salford Autism Exercise Project looked at the links between autism, sleep, and word-learning. We worked with The Seashell Trust to give children swimming lessons. Some children had swimming lessons for six weeks during the study, and the others had the lessons afterwards. During the study, all parents filled in sleep diaries, and all children took part in word learning activities.

Graphic of a girl swimming.

Results of the study show that children in the swimming group increased their sleep over the 6 weeks of the project. They also got slightly better at learning the words. We also found that bonds and relationships developed between families. This was an unexpected outcome of the study, and is where the idea for our Network came from!

How many children in Greater Manchester have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)?

Robyn McCarthy and Prof Penny Cook

Photograph of Robyn McCarthy.

The University of Salford is proud to be a major contributor to the “UK FASD Research Collaboration”. We work with researchers and professionals across the UK to develop collaborative research into FASD.

Photograph of Prof Penny Cook.

In our recent study in mainstream primary schools, we screened children for neurodevelopmental conditions. This helps us find out how many children in Greater Manchester might have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). We looked at parents’ experiences of taking part in our study and what it was like to find out their child had ASD, ADHS or FASD.

Development of an adult autism intervention to improve social communication and interactions

Dr David Tate

Photograph of Dr David Tate.

Many autistic young adults find social life challenging, but there are few evidence-based interventions to help social communication and interactions. This can be even more important during the transition into adulthood. This study tested a new multi-model cognitive behavioural social competence intervention for young autistic adults. We worked with the autism community and experts in the field to develop the intervention. Findings were promising. People who took part were very satisfied, and they were able to follow the instructions. Observational and self-report behavioural assessments suggest there were several social improvements after completing the intervention. We even found changes in parts of the brain related to social cognition. We need to do more research to see how effective the intervention is, but this research show how useful it could be.

“SPECIFIC”: An FASD Intervention

Dr Alan Price and Prof Penny Cook

SPECIFIC stands for Salford Parents and carers Education Course for Improvements in FASD outcomes In Children.

When we did this research, we worked closely with families of children with FASD. We realised that there is a lack of support for families from service providers, and often the services were not appropriate. So, we designed a training course, that is specific for families and carers of children (aged 5 – 10) with FASD.

This course is based on published evidence, input from clinicians and other professionals, and people with the lived experience of raising a child with FASD. It includes strategies and advice for new parents and carers, so that everyone can be prepared for the specific challenges of FASD and put effective strategies in place as soon as possible.
We hope that this training will lead to reduced stress and feelings of guilt for caregivers. We also hope it will help children with FASD do better at school, and improve their behaviour and social functioning. This should help improve the life outcomes for children with FASD.

Fathers’ experiences as carers of autistic Children

Louise Cooper

Photo of a father and son.

This research explored the experiences of 4 fathers of autistic children who also have a Learning Disability. Most studies of parental experiences focus on mothers, so this research wanted to find out more from fathers’ perspectives specifically.
The fathers in this study took part in interviews. They told us that they felt helpless at times and felt unable to fulfil what they saw as their traditional role as providers and protectors. The fathers also felt emotions of shame and blame related to their child’s challenging behaviours. In addition, the fathers worried about the future and about the availability of support.
The fathers did however feel very close to their children, and they developed new identities through the challenges and joys they experienced alongside their children.
We are now doing more research looking at support for fathers of autistic children. The support is through online and face-to-face peer support sessions, ‘walk and talk’ sessions, and online resources. If you would be interested in taking part, or know someone who might be, please contact Louise for more information! Her email address is

FASD and the criminal justice system: vulnerability and suggestibility

David Junior Gilbert

Photograph of David Junior Gilbert (Gilbert).

Individuals with FASD are nineteen times more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system (CJS) than those without FASD. There isn’t much research about why this might be the case, or about the experiences of people with FASD in police interviews.
Gilbert’s study has two parts. The first study is an interview study, exploring the experiences of individuals with FASD as well as their parents/carers. The second study looks at whether there are links between the memory, IQ, impulsivity, and suggestibility of young people with FASD.