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  Sensory experiences in the home for adults with intellectual disability and/or autism: Using technology to improve wellbeing

   Cardiff School of Psychology

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  Dr G Powell, Dr C Jones  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Background and rationale

Sensory experience is important for individuals with intellectual disability and autistic people, and sensory stimulation can provide enjoyment and relaxation. However, people can also report negative sensory experiences, including aversion and hypersensitivity to sensory input.  This PhD project will help to develop better sensory spaces for people with an intellectual disability (many of whom are also autistic), focusing on adaptations to their home environment.

Multi-Sensory Environments (MSEs or ‘sensory rooms’) are commonly found in schools, hospitals, and community care settings. They are adaptive spaces containing a range of equipment designed to stimulate the senses. However, travel to a community sensory room is not always possible or frequent and ideally sensory-needs should also be met at home.

There is very little research on the sensory experiences of adults with intellectual disability and autistic people in their home environments, or on how to best enhance these sensory experiences.

Sensory experiences in the home can be as simple as ambient music, or as complex as installing equipment that are commonly found in MSEs.  Our previous research with autistic children has found that the potential benefits of MSEs depended on how they were used and the user’s sensory profile (e.g. Unwin, Powell & Jones, 2021; 2022; 2023). At Cardiff University, we are conducting world leading research on understanding sensory experiences and how we can improve them in built environments.


The PhD project will focus on the sensory experiences of adults with intellectual disability and/or who are autistic within the home and will explore two novel research questions: 1) What are the sensory experiences  of adults with intellectual disability and/or who are autistic in their home environment? 2) Can using sensory equipment within the home environment improve their wellbeing?

The PhD student will work closely with the

Innovate Trust (, who are the largest supported

living provider for adults with an intellectual disability and complex needs in

South Wales, and an international leader in increasing digital inclusion for

those with intellectual disability.

Anticipated design and methods

The PhD will be based in the Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC), School of Psychology, Cardiff University. Housed within the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science.  WARC has a customed-designed MSE that will support the project.

The project will take a two-stage approach, with final decisions about design being driven by the student. First, the student will use mixed-methods to better understand sensory needs and experiences of adults with an intellectual disability and/or autism in the home, focusing on wellbeing, relaxation, and stimulation.  Methods may include qualitative interviews, questionnaires, observation, and physiological measurements. Second, they will use these findings to design a pilot intervention that assesses the benefits of bespoke sensory equipment within  supported living environments for adults with an intellectual disability and/or autism. The equipment will include the use of smart technology and the feasibility and acceptability of the equipment will be assessed, along with benefits for wellbeing.   

Applicants are welcome to contact the supervisors on the project for a discussion prior to applying (Georgie at [Email Address Removed]).

Applications are invited from exceptional candidates with a first class or strong upper second-class honours degree, or appropriate Master’s degree. A background in psychology is advantageous but we also welcome applications from candidates with a strong background in other disciplines that would inform the project e.g. the built environment, occupational therapy, design. The University values diversity and equality at all levels and we encourage applications from all sections of the community, irrespective of age, disability, sex, gender identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. 

In line with our commitment to supporting and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion, and to increase recruitment of currently underrepresented groups, applications from Black British, Asian British, minority ethnicity British and mixed race British candidates are particularly encouraged and welcomed. We welcome applications for both full and part-time study.


The studentship will commence in January 2024 and will cover your tuition fees (at Home level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2023/24 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £18,622 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive 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.

The School of Psychology is one of the largest and most successful in the UK and we are dedicated to providing a dynamic and stimulating learning environment informed by our leading research in psychology and neuroscience – ( 

The School’s excellent standard of research and teaching has been recognised in every Research Assessment Exercise. Our facilities offer unique opportunities for complementary and collaborative studies across methodologies to address novel research questions –

Clinical Neuroscience - Our research labs are equipped with the state-of-the-art facilities to address key questions of basic and clinical neuroscience  

Brain Imaging (CUBRIC) – Our research facilities include one of Europe’s most powerful brain scanners, as well as a purpose-built environment for patients and volunteers taking part in medical research and clinical trials 

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.

Education (11) Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

Home students are UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements (students must have been in the UK for >3 years before start of course).
How to apply:
You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with a January 2024 start date (programme code RFPDPSYB).
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.
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