Research at the Centre for Applied Autism Research (CAAR) has three streams:
- developing and integrating novel cognitive and neuroscientific methodologies to improve the understanding of autism
- developing practical applications to support autistic people
- participatory research with the autistic community
Strengths and challenges in social, cognitive and emotional processing
Much of our research falls within the domains of social cognition, emotional processing (including anxiety) and cognitive processes (such as reasoning and memory). For example, we examine how autistic people perceive, process and interact with the world around them, and the impact this has for them in various contexts. The Dual Process Theory of Autism has been developed at CAAR to characterise the relative strengths autistic people can have in thinking deliberatively and logically and how these strengths can be used to overcome challenges with rapid, intuitive thinking (which is common in many social situations).
Developing practical applications
A key theme in our research is the development of support for autistic people within clinical, educational, employment and criminal justice contexts. For example, we have developed interviewing techniques that support differences in the way that autistic people remember and report events that can be used by police, employers, healthcare and other public service professionals to elicit more reliable information.
We have also developed support for autistic people who experience high levels of anxiety through the adaptation of psychological therapies, the development of problem-solving therapies and co-developing digital technologies to support learning and behaviour within educational contexts. The transition into university is supported by our autism summer school and the transition into employment is supported by our autism employment school. Employers and public service providers are also supported though our Ambassadors for Autism programme.
CAAR carries out rigorous world-leading research for and with the autism community. We have established new methods of ‘participatory design’ processes, involving autistic people as active collaborators in research and the design of digital technology (including autistic people with intellectual disability).
We also work closely with a range of stakeholders who support autistic people, including health-related professionals in supporting efficient transition of autistic children and adults in and out of appropriate service provision, employers in adapting their procedures for recruiting and managing autistic staff, and education professionals in supporting learning – as an example, our inclusive universities project seeks to make universities as accessible as possible.
We also work closely with various police forces (in particular Avon and Somerset) in developing adaptations to the custody environment and equipping police officers with the training and knowledge they need to make adaptations to better support autistic people in their policing roles more broadly.