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Investigating the incidence of falls and relationship to motor ability in autistic adults

Project Description

Autism is a life-long developmental condition that affects how a person communicates and interacts with people. In addition to these social symptoms, >70% of autistic individuals show signs of altered motor control such as less accurate eye-hand coordination, unstable balance and abnormal gait patterns. As a consequence of these motor difficulties one might predict an increased risk of falls in the adult autistic population, however no research has investigated this possibility. Falls in adults and older people are associated with considerable negative consequences such as fractures, reduced functioning, loss of confidence leading to social isolation and increased dependency. If the incidence of falls is found to be higher in the autistic population this would highlight the need to identify those at risk from falls and implement therapies to improve motor ability, muscle strength and balance.

This PhD will investigate the incidence of falls in the adult autistic population and examine motor ability (e.g. balance, coordination, muscle strength) to identify fall risk factors. Methods will include questionnaires, motion tracking and biomechanics assessments. If falls in autistic people are a significant problem, adapted falls prevention programmes could be targeted at those at risk and may lead to great personal and economic health gains.

The successful student will join a vibrant multidisciplinary research team in the cross-faculty Body, Eye and Movement (BEAM) lab ( and the lab of Dr Emma Stanmore ( They will have the opportunity to attend regular seminars held within the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology and The Division of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work and will contribute to a bimonthly lab journal club. There are regular opportunities to become involved in other activities such as teaching and public engagement events. The student will also benefit from the interdisciplinary research network [email protected] (, chaired by Emma Gowen.

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper-second honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject. Candidates with an interest in psychology, neuroscience, nursing or sports science are encouraged to apply. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Poole D, Gowen E, Warren PA, Poliakoff.E (2015) Investigating visual-tactile interactions over time and space in adults with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 45(10):3316-26

Gowen, E., & Hamilton, A. (2013). Motor abilities in autism: A review using a computational context. J Autism Dev Disord, 43(2), 323-344

Stanmore, E.K. (2015) Recommendations for assessing and preventing falls in adults of all ages with rheumatoid arthritis. BJCN

Stanmore EK, Oldham J, Skelton DA, O'Neill T, Pilling M, Campbell AJ, Todd C. (2013) The Rheumatoid Arthritis and Falls (RAF) study: a prospective study of fall risk factors in adults with rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. Vol 381, 103

Stanmore, E. K, Oldham, J., Skelton, D., O’Neill, T., Pilling, M., Campbell, A. J., Todd, C. (2013) A prospective study of fall risk factors in adults with rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care and Research. Vol 65(8): 1251–1258.

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