Research to develop new autism intervention

Six members of Welcome Research Hub - Helen Hancock (Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit); Dr Jacqui Stedmon; Dr Becky McKenzie; Tara Vassallo (parent representative); Elinor Pegg (Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit); Professor Rudi Dallos

A research team at the University of Plymouth is developing a new support package for people with autism and their families. 

The Welcome Research Hub – comprised of academics from the School of Psychology, Plymouth Institute of Education and Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry (PU PSMD) – is working alongside a number of families living with autism to identify where support is lacking, and will refine an intervention based on the research findings.

Known as Systematic Autism-related Family Enabling (SAFE), the intervention – or ‘toolkit’ – will combine established forms of therapy practice with alternative therapies, advice and support, and can be adapted based on the user’s strengths and communication preferences. 

It is hoped that the initiative will empower and offer self-help support to those people and families who may feel more vulnerable in everyday life.

Research to refine the intervention is being made possible thanks to £90,000 from charity Autistica UK, and an exploratory trial is being managed by Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Plymouth thanks to £250,000 funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The Welcome Research Hub was launched last summer, and provides essential space on the University’s main Plymouth campus for families to contribute to the intervention. The research is also supported by Plymouth Autism Network, Plymouth Hospitals Trust, the National Autistic Society, Cornwall Hospitals Trust and the Brandon Trust. 

Dr Becky Stancer (previously McKenzie), Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies and founder of the Welcome Research Hub, said that SAFE was being developed in response to a need identified by local families, and said the Hub was looking for people to take part in their research to ensure the best possible outcome is achieved.

“Working with the Plymouth Autism Network, it became quite clear quite quickly that families of people with autism feel there is little support to help them in everyday life,” she said. “Most of us do things – going to work or school, talking to people, travelling from a to b – without even thinking about it, but the simplest tasks can sometimes bring real challenges to those with autism and their families, and there is little to remedy them.

“This is where our research comes in – we want to offer practical and sustainable support that actually works and is easy to call on. Our academic expertise in various aspects of psychology and education will help us to achieve this. If anyone has a family member with autism and feel they could contribute to and benefit from this research, we would really like to hear from you. Please email me via” 

The SAFE intervention was developed by Professor Rudi Dallos, from the University’s School of Psychology, along with Dr McKenzie and Dr Jacqui Stedmon; while Dr Matt Roser, Dr Ben Whalley and Dr Patrick Bach from the School of Psychology, and Dr Julian Archer from PU PSMD complete the Welcome Research Hub team refining the intervention.

Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit (PenCTU)

PenCTU is a leading academic clinical trials unit with expertise in designing, developing, supporting and coordinating high quality, multi-centre clinical trials and other well-designed studies that directly influences clinical and healthcare practice.

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