Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson

Senior Lecturer

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Willingness to take Ph.D. students: Yes

I am interested in hearing from excellent potential PhD students who wish to deliver scientific rigour as well as community impact in topics relating to autism, disability and child development. Projects closely aligned to my on-going work may be more favourably viewed, though I am also keen to hear about novel ideas.


I first became interested in developmental disabilities, and autism in particular, through my work with the Oundle School Mencap Holiday, an organisation I’ve been volunteering with since 1997 and of which I became a trustee from 2006-2016. Inspired by OSMH, I am continuing this work by launching a similar charity in Scotland to provide residential holidays for children and young people with learning disabilities.

As an undergraduate I studied Psychology at the University of St Andrews, and then went on to a Masters and PhD at Durham University, where I was fortunate to be supervised by the wonderful Professor Sue Leekam. My PhD research explored the spontaneous social attention preferences of typically-developed adults and adolescents, and those with ASD, using a range of methods, including verbal descriptions, change blindness and eye-tracking. Since then I have worked under the fabulous mentorship of Professor Helen McConachie including a Nuffield Fellowship which funded the Click-East project. I’m now a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh based in the Patrick Wild Centre.

I am a trustee of Scottish Autism and am working closely with this organisation’s efforts to inspire and contribute to evidence-based practice in Scotland. Public engagement is very important to me and I try to provide useful insights into research and exposes of the truth behind the headlines in the DART blog.

My research interests can be summarised as attempts to harness rigorous research methodologies from psychology and medicine, often paired with qualitative data to enrich findings, with a view to delivering evidence ot support clinical and educational practice and policy. You can find out more about my projects at my research site, DART.


  • BSc (hons) Psychology, University of St Andrews (first class), 2003
  • MA, Developmental Psychopathology, Durham University (with distinction), 2004
  • PhD., 'Understanding social attention in adults with and without autism spectrum disorders', Durham University, 2008

Current Research Interests

My current projects and interests include:

  • Investigations of the influence of biligualism on cognitive development, community integration and well-being in children and adults on the autism spectrum (www.dart.ed.ac.uk/research/bilingualism-and-autism/)

  • Development and exploration of the role of technology in the communication, play and learning of autistic children (a range of projects hosted at www.dart.ed.ac.uk with relevant outputs shared at www.asdtech.ed.ac.uk). This includes a couple of projects focused on evaluation of the benefits of novel techologies for children.

  • Understanding the contexts and behaviours which prompt social communication in children on the autism spectrum (specifically investigating the child's emotional state and the parent / environmental prompts with accompany social communication bids)
  • Understanding early cognitive and social development in children born prematurely: a large longitudinal cohort study (www.tebc.ed.ac.uk)

  • Achievement of positive and equal research partnerships with members of the autistic and autism communities (for an example, see this seminar series website)

  • Creation of an evidence-based overview of cutural differences in attitudes to autism and learnign disability, to help practitioners supporting black and minority-ethnice families in the UK (practitioner website available here soon)

  • Evaluating the clinical validity and authenticity of representations of autism on TV and film

Collaborative Activity

Research activities & awards

  1. Autism & Technology: one day lecture series

    Activity: OtherTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Public lecture/debate/seminar

  2. Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, clinical training

    Activity: Participating in or organising an eventProfessional Development and Training

  3. Autism on Screen media coverage

    Activity: OtherTypes of Public engagement and outreach - Media article or participation

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