CRAE Newsletter Issue 6

Page 1

issue 6

spring 2014

New website, new team members and new avenues for employment! See inside for details...

editor: liz pellicano

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CRAE launch a brand new website On February 14th, we launched our brand new website: We created it with you – the autism community – in mind. We wanted to make sure that it was easy for you to find out who we are, what research we do and what events and activities take place at CRAE. Do visit! We really hope you like it. Let us know your thoughts!

Dr Anna Remington joins the CRAE team In October 2013, we were delighted to have Dr Anna Remington join the CRAE team as our new lecturer. Anna’s research focuses on those areas in which people with autism have superior abilities or special talents - like being able to focus intently on things and having an excellent memory for what might seem like irrelevant information. Many people might describe this distractability as a “deficit”. But Anna instead describes this as the “autism gift”. Her work has shown that autistic children and adults have a greater than normal capacity for perception – they can take in more information at any one time than non-autistic people. Anna is a perfect fit with CRAE. She has consistently published her research in world-class journals and is dedicated to making sure her scientific findings are communicated as widely as possible. She said: “I’m thrilled to be working at CRAE. Aside from the friendly and supportive team atmosphere, I have been so impressed by the way the centre prioritises both cutting-edge scientific research and bringing the results of this research to those who can benefit from them in the real world.”

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Anna began working in the area of autism after receiving her degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. She went on to do a PhD in Developmental Science from University College London, and subsequently worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London before moving to the University of Oxford in 2012. Anna has big plans to get to the bottom of autistic attention and perception while at CRAE. One project already underway with Dr Jake Fairnie, funded by the Baily Thomas Charitable Fund, is looking at how people with autism process sounds. Autistic people often show an excellent ability to tell apart different sounds - like musical notes. But they can also find sounds distressing, sometimes experiencing shutdown or overload. Anna believes this may be related to an increased ability in autism to take in auditory information. In another project, this time funded by the British Academy, Anna and Dr Andrew Bayliss from the University of East Anglia are looking at how autistic people pay attention to their special


interests. For non-autistic individuals, faces are one special interest – they provide a wealth of information about gender, ethnicity, emotion, attractiveness – and can be utterly captivating. This “face expertise” is underpinned by a specialised system in the brain for processing faces, which develops as children grow up and experience more and more faces. Anna and Dr Bayliss, together with the help of Owen Parsons, are looking to see whether autistic people might pay attention to their special interests in the same way that nonautistic people pay attention to faces. Anna would love for you to be involved in her new research! She is looking for adults aged 18–35 years (with and without autism), and for young people with autism (aged 15–20 years) who have a passion or strong interest in a particular topic. Feel free to drop her an email at

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Noisy Brains?

How can we help autistic people find a job? People with autism have so much to offer the world of work. Their unique qualities can be great assets to employers. But only around 15% of them are currently employed. This has got to change…

and academic researchers (including Anna and Liz from CRAE) - called the Autism Employment Alliance (AEA) who are committed to improving the employment prospects of autistic people.

CRAE is at the forefront of two initiatives designed to help people with autism into employment. The first initiative, launched in 2013, consists of two weeklong work experience placements to give autistic secondary school students a taste of working in a research team and an idea of where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

Together, we formed a social enterprise run with, by and for autistic people that will help people on the autistic spectrum to identify, profile and build their particular talents, find good work, and sustain it. It also helps employers of all kinds (from corporations to community groups) find someone with autism whose particular abilities and skills they need.

Students can also gain experience of adjusting to a new environment, learn about working with others and improve their independence. A work experience student at CRAE would be involved in things like team meetings, entering data and helping with social media and outreach programmes.

It will also link autistic workers, their families and supporters, and employers with peer-to-peer and third party support, specialist mentors, the latest research, assistive technologies and opportunities to grow. Sounds promising!

If you, or someone you know, is interested in applying please drop us an email at and we’ll send you an application form. The second initiative involves a coalition of autistic people, charities (e.g. MHF, NAS, RSA), employers (e.g. Specialisterne, SAP)

We proposed this idea to the European Social Innovation Competition, whose aim is to find the best social innovation solutions to help people move towards work or create new types of work - and we made it to the semi-finals! Wish us luck! Drop us an email if you’d like to find out more:

07-11 April, The Space, Main IOE Building, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL

understand how people think, remember and process information about the world. Children also get to take part in on-going research to help search for clues about how the brain and mind work!

The CRAE team are busy getting ready for our next set of Brain Detectives workshops! Brain Detectives is a FUN science club run by CRAE to give children and young people the chance to learn about the tools psychologists use to

If your child would like to become a Brain Detective, or if you would like more information about these workshops, drop us an email at

Contact us:

Several research findings have captured the news headlines recently with the suggestion that “noisy” brain signals could underlie autism. Nerve cells – also called “neurons” – send signals to each other across the brain. Random wavering in the activity of neurons can disrupt the signals they send. This can lead to variations in these signals, which people call “noise”. But how do we measure “noise” in the brain? And what role does it play in the developing brain – in children with and without autism? To try to answer these questions, Cathy Manning and Liz Pellicano hosted a research workshop in September 2013, funded by the Experimental Psychology Society. We brought together researchers from all over the country to discuss how “noise in the brain” may affect children as they grow up. The workshop promoted lively discussions and opened up many new questions. Many issues still remain unresolved, however. For example, people disagreed whether the brains of autistic people are more noisy, less noisy, or just as noisy as non-autistic people. Clearly, more research is needed in this area! Once we understand more about the brains of autistic people, the more that we can do to ensure that they experience the world with less distress. You can watch many of the talks on CRAE’s YouTube channel via

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CRAE news The staff and students at CRAE get to work with so many wonderful people - autistic children, young people and adults, their families, and those who support them, especially teachers, teaching assistants and other school staff, educational and clinical psychologists, occupational and speech and langauge therapists. You know who you are ... thank you all so much for your continued support! Huge thanks also go to our funders, including alumni and friends of the Institute... ...our work would not be possible without your help!

CRAE has grown in recent months! Since Anna Remington joined us in October 2014, she also brought along two researchers with her – Dr Jake Fairnie and Owen Parsons. Jake’s research focuses on the neuroscience of attention, awareness and unconscious perception and he and Anna are working on a project looking at superior abilities in autism.

much deserved!) 3-year Junior Research Fellowship at University College, Oxford.

Owen joined the team in January 2014 to work on a project looking at passions and special interests in autism with Anna. Owen originally studied Physics and Philosophy at the University of Bristol and has since worked as a Teaching Assistant with pupils with autism.

CRAE: Award winners! We are delighted to have been recently awarded the IOE Director’s Prize for Public Engagement in Research!

Anna Rudnicka is spending a 9-month placement at CRAE as part of her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Westminster University.

Join the conversation! At CRAE, we use social media to spread the word about our own and others’ autism research and activities and to

Have your say. Share your stories, images, experiences. And get involved. Interact with us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Search CRAE IOE.

Anna is an important part of the CRAE team and works on a number of research projects and public engagement activities. We’re so pleased to have her with us! We have also had a few reasons to celebrate at CRAE! Cathy Manning, who is currently doing a PhD with Liz Pellicano, has recently been awarded a very prestigious (and

This position will allow her to continue to work in autism research when she finishes her PhD at CRAE. Many congratulations go to Themis Karaminis and his wife Ef, on their new little baby boy, Damon – the first CRAEby! Just adorable...

Developing ways to communicate with you - the autism community and, ultimately, to promote awareness and acceptance of autism is what CRAE is all about. We’re so pleased to have been rewarded for all our efforts! CRAE also reached 1,000 Twitter followers – bit of a milestone! Do come join us – to hear about good quality autism research as it gets published. Finally, we’ve just heard that Liz Pellicano, Vivian Hill, Lorcan Kenny, Dan Sinclair, Rhiannon Yates and community partner, WAC Arts, have been selected by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to carry out a project looking at the views and experiences of children and young people in residential special schools very exciting! Watch this space…

The Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) CRAE is a partnership between the Institute of Education and Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism.

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Its aim is to “improve the outcomes for people with autism” by enhancing the research evidence for effective interventions, education and outcomes for children and young people with autism.


In this newsletter, Liz Pellicano reports on our recent activities, new research projects and upcoming events. Let us know what you think!

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