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Exploring the effects of multi-sensory environments on autistic children

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, March 20, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project offers a unique opportunity to investigate the use of multi-sensory environments (MSEs; also called Snoezelen® or sensory rooms) by autistic children. MSEs contain equipment that modify sensory input, usually in the auditory, visual and tactile domains. They are common features of special needs schools and are commonly integrated into a ‘sensory curriculum’ in the UK (Hogg et al., 2001). The positive impact of MSEs has been primarily attributed to meeting sensory needs of users, facilitating social interaction, and providing control over the environment (Baillon et al., 2002; Botts et al., 2008; Hogg et al., 2001). MSEs are widely used with autistic children, who commonly process sensory information in an atypical way (e.g. Leekam et al., 2007). However, despite their widespread use, there is very little research on the use of MSEs with autistic children. Existing research does not meet the standards of evidence-based practice (Botts et al., 2008) and MSEs cannot currently be recommended as a valid therapeutic intervention (Lotan et al., 2009).

The PhD project will be based at Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science, which uniquely benefits from a purpose-built MSE. In the past three years we have conducted a series of innovative and experimentally rigorous studies that have investigated practitioner experience of MSE use with autistic children as well as directly measured the experience of autistic children in the MSE, using behavioural observation and physiological measurement techniques. The advertised PhD will continue this work in two ways:

1) Use innovative qualitative interview techniques to explore the experiences of autistic children who use MSEs.
2) Use behavioural observation and physiological measurement techniques to compare the behaviours and experiences of autistic children using an MSE compared to using a ‘typical’ play space.

The PhD may also afford the opportunity to integrate measures of tactile processing, in order to explore the association between individual differences in tactile processing and the expression of sensory behaviours in the MSE.

The overarching aim of the PhD is to provide experimentally robust data that enables better understanding of how autistic children use MSEs and what the benefits are for these children. The PhD project will contribute to the development of much-needed guidance for practitioners on using MSEs with autistic children.

The student will be based in the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science and will be part of the Wales Autism Research Centre, the UKs first national autism centre. They will be supervised by Dr Catherine Jones and Dr Georgina Powell

The studentship will commence in October 2020 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2019-2020 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,009 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2250 for the duration of the studentship).They also receive a computer, office space and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

Cardiff University Centre for Human Development Science (CUCHDS) - The Cardiff University Centre for Human Development Science (CUCHDS) provides opportunities for research and training in the study of human development from conception to adulthood.

Funding Notes

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals, and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education.


How to apply:
You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2020 start date (programme code RFPDPSYA).

Please use our online application service at

and specify in the funding section that you wish to be considered for School funding.

Please specify that you are applying for this particular project and the supervisor.

Application deadline: 20th March with interviews (either in person or by Skype) being held in April and decisions being made by end of April

How good is research at Cardiff University in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 69.33

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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