Our research projects

We support our staff to undertake postgraduate research to inform our practice and improve outcomes for children and young people who use of services. This section outlines the research projects that are taking place at Ambitious about Autism and TreeHouse School.

PhD research projects

Outcomes of ABA based school provision for children and young people with autism and complex needs

Although there is a large evidence base suggesting that ABA is an effective intervention for children with autism, there is very little research about how ABA is applied in ABA schools, and how children and young people progress within these teaching environments. The aim of this PhD research is to evaluate pupil progress (with a focus on academic and life skills progress, adaptive behaviour, and challenging behaviours) over 12 month periods for children and young people with severe autism and complex needs aged between 4-19 years.

Previous research on ABA schools is based on data from around 2-10 pupils, the current research will be the largest study of its kind, using pupil outcome data from approximately 90 pupils. This project is anticipated to strengthen the evidence base for delivering ABA based educational intervention within school environments.

UK Competencies project

Applied Behaviour Analysis is the branch of Behaviour Analysis that uses the science of behaviour to address issues of social significance. However, getting evidence from research into practice is not straightforward. This research explores ways of translating the findings of basic research more quickly and effectively into practice. It involves three strands:

  1. The development of a competence framework for ABA for practitioners working with children with autism in the UK. For more information click here (link to webpage)
  2. The development of a staff training package based on the developed competencies.
  3. Examining TreeHouse School staff competencies and pupil outcomes data to assess whether having a defined set of competencies and staff training package results in improved practice of ABA.

Find out more about the UK ABA Autism Education Competence Framework

Current MSc research projects

Increasing choice making skills in children with autism

Individuals with autism and severe communication difficulties are often face difficulties in expressing choice and preference. It is made more difficult when the choice is about something that cannot be physically held out and offered to the individual. This study will examine the preference of four children with autism by asking them to select a photograph of one of three possible activities in a systematic way (based on ABA techniques). It is hypothesised that children will select their preferred choice when selection of a photograph results in access to that activity. It is hoped this research will result in helping children with autism and severe communication difficulties make meaningful choices for activities.

The effectiveness of using a competence based approach to tutor training

The aim of this research is to evaluate training packages for new tutors working in an ABA school. Two programmes will be compared 1) a new training programme based on the UK ABA Autism Education Competence Framework and 2) a 'traditional' training programme. The two training packages will be assessed using a number of different measures such as a self assessment form, and the York Measure Quality of Intensive Behavioural Intervention (YMQI) to assess tutor competence.

Using Headsprout® to teach children with autism to read

Headsprout® is a computer programme that builds up reading skills using the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis. These lessons are cartoon based and are designed to appeal to children. TreeHouse School will be conducting a pilot scheme with 5-6 children to ascertain if Headsprout® is effective in teaching children with autism to read. It is anticipated that all children will improve their reading and phonetic skills as a result of the Headsprout® program.

Examining the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) protocol

PECS is an expressive communication system used with children and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. The PECS protocol involves six phases of teaching, as well as strategies for introducing attributes such as size, shape, and colour into the individual’s language. While previous studies have examined the effectiveness of PECS in developing functional communication, none have yet examined whether adherence to the PECS protocol allows for the students to expressively learn and use attributes such as colour (e.g. request a blue sweet) without being required to learn them receptively first (e.g. be able to point when asked to a blue sweet). The aim of the present research will be to test this hypothesis.

Completed MSc research projects

Visual schedules presented on an iPhone

‘The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the use of an iPhone as a means of presenting visual schedules, and the effect it had on the acquisition of critical adaptive skills which may significantly contribute to the levels of independent living for three participants with a diagnosis of autism. Baseline data were collected on the participants’ current level of independence with their analogue schedule (usually on laminated paper and attached using Velcro). The analogue schedule was then removed. A multiple baseline design was utilised to systematically introduce a visual schedule on an iPhone to each participant. Results indicated that the introduction of visual schedules presented on an iPhone was effective in increasing independent engagement in activities. Furthermore, for participants 1 and 2, who had prior experience of using analogue visual schedules, the iPhone schedule facilitated quicker acquisition of independent engagement skills, allowing both participants to work both more independently and for longer periods of time’.