Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long neurodevelopmental condition characterised by persistent difficulties in social communication and social interaction across multiple situations (APA, 2013). The deficits in social skills experienced by individuals with ASD can have a negative impact on an individual’s psychological and social wellbeing and may be associated with a range of negative consequences such as, isolation, rejection, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, teasing, bullying, school dropout, and unemployment (Mitchell et al., 2010).
The most commonly used interventions that aim to develop social interaction and communication abilities in individuals with ASD are Social Skills Training (SST) groups. Such groups typically enable positive social experiences by teaching certain social skills within an environment where immediate rehearsal and reinforcement can be facilitated. However, SST tends to run in contrived settings (Mitchell et al, 2010) and there is a need for further research to examine how the effects can transfer to sustained improvements in wider psychological wellbeing in more naturally occurring settings. There is some evidence that social skills interventions which utilise areas where ASD individuals may function similar to or even exceed peers, such as musical activities, may be more effective (Eren, 2015).
Research exploring the impact of SST have mainly focussed on children and adolescents with ASD, there is, however, a paucity of evidence in adult populations. Literature suggests that social difficulties continue into adulthood and that adults with ASD remain dependent upon others for everyday support with a high degree of dependence on families or support services (Gray et al, 2014). The negative consequences of limited social interaction and communication skill may also be more pronounced as social situations become more complex and the opportunities to access social communities become more restricted for some individuals following the completion of secondary education. Hence, it is vital that research investigates how adults with ASD can be supported to improve social skills, psychological wellbeing and quality of life.
One example of a recently developed provider of support for adults with ASD is Aukestra (https://www.aukestra.com/). Aukestra use their band, Aukestra, as a means to create ongoing, challenging, ever-changing learning experiences through the creation, performance and promotion of their music and all of the associated aspects of being in a touring, professional act.
The overall aim of this PhD is to address the paucity of existing literature on interventions and support for adults with ASD in more naturally occurring settings and their potential lasting impact on essential life skills and wellbeing. The project aims to achieve this objective in the following stages: 1) working initially with Aukestra to explore the potential effect of a music-based approach to the development of social and communication skills and psychological wellbeing, 2) based on the findings, design a model for the development of interventions and techniques that can be used to support services working with adults with ASD, 3) implement and evaluate the devised model in appropriate services utilising established connections through Aukestra. Evaluation of previous literature highlights a need for triangulation of data, so the research will apply a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods and analyses in order to address the aims of the project. The proposed research will fill the gap in the literature on interventions and support for adults with ASD which is currently is sparse.
In line with the aims of the Centre for Applied Psychological Science and the Health and Wellbeing theme, the research with bridge the gap between theoretical research and applied practice by providing evidence-based underpinning to the development of interventions aimed at developing essential life skills and supporting positive social experiences and wellbeing in in adults with ASD. The project will also contribute the Grand Challenges objectives of shaping the future of health, care and wellbeing and creating vibrant and resilient societies. The applied nature of the research will have implications for the development new holistic ways of supporting adults with ASD that will inform local communities, support groups, practitioners and policymakers. In line with Teesside 2025, the research will involve external partners and will have significant local, national and international impact assisting the development of real-life interventions and support for individuals with ASD.
Applicants should hold or expect to obtain a good honours degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant discipline. A masters level qualification in a relevant discipline is desirable, but not essential, as well as a demonstrable understanding of the research area. Further details of the expected background may appear in the specific project details. International students will be subject to the standard entry criteria relating to English language ability, ATAS clearance and, when relevant, UK visa requirements and procedures.
How to Apply
Applicants should apply online for this opportunity at: https://e-vision.tees.ac.uk/si_prod/userdocs/web/apply.html?CourseID=1191
Please use the Online Application (Funded PHD) application form. When asked to specify funding select “other” and enter ‘RDS’ and the title of the PhD project that you are applying for. You should ensure that you clearly indicate that you are applying for a Funded Studentship and the title of the topic or project on the proposal that you will need to upload when applying. If you would like to apply for more than one project, you will need to complete a further application form and specify the relevant title for each application to a topic or project.
Applications for studentships that do not clearly indicate that the application is for a Funded Studentship and state the title of the project applied for on the proposal may mean that your application may not be considered for the appropriate funding.
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