Summary

This research will investigate pervasive technologies that are able to support the accurate and objective assessment of symptoms known to be associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Within the UK and Ireland, the processes for diagnosing ASD are lengthy and compounded by significant waiting times for screening, which delay treatment and ultimately affect outcomes. One reason for such delays is the lack of a scientifically objective, reliable and valid assessment (Fombonne, 2018).

From a research and clinical perspective, the Mirror Neuron Dysfunction theory of ASD provides a robust basis for the development of objective Neuropsychological tests that are correlated with a diagnosis of ASD (Brighenti et al., 2018; Hamilton, 2013; Ramachandran et al., 2006). Research has suggested that Mirror Neurons support abilities such as empathy and the perception of another individuals intentions and as such presents an interesting focal point for assessment in ASD.

These assessments are traditionally conducted within clinical settings, using paper-based tools or basic computerised tests to capture data points surrounding attention, problem solving, memory, language, I.Q., visual-spatial skills, academic skills, and socio-emotional functioning (Lezak et al., 2012). Pervasive sensing technologies offer a novel perspective to this clinical domain. We postulate that neuropsychological deficits correlated with ASD can be more effectively assessed with passive sensor technologies, capable of measuring patterns of movement, gaze, behaviours, speech, facial expressions and responses to neuropsychological test stimuli, particularly when integrated with rich interactive assessment tools such as Serious Game environments (Jouen, A-L., 2017).

This project will seek to validate:

(a) the design of a serious game environment as a replacement for existing paper-based approaches to assessment;

(b) the capture and synchronisation of key metrics from both behavioural and physiological perspectives;

(c) the application of machine learning methods to explore patterns that may be present within data collected from case and control groups.

This research plans to ultilise a new collaboration with Psychology clinicians in the Republic of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) Child Development Team, based in County Cavan. The proposal fits with the University’s strategic theme of Healthy Communities and closely aligns with the Pervasive Computing Research Group, focusing upon research within the areas of Behaviour Analysis and Affective Computing. The project benefits from access to a range of existing pervasive and wearable sensing technologies and from a potential pilot site, in Cavan.

The supervisory team has expertise and experience in both the theory surrounding the work and its application to support people on the autism spectrum. Brighenti, et al. (2018). Neuropsychological aspects of Asperger Syndrome in adults: A review. Neuropsychological Trends, 63-95. Fombonne, E. (2018). Editorial: The rising prevalence of autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(7), 717-720. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12941 Hamilton, A. (2013). Reflecting on the mirror neuron system in autism: A systematic review of current theories. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 3, 91-105. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2012.09.008 Ramachandran, V., & Oberman, L. (2006). Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism. Scientific American, 295, 62-69. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1106-62 Jouen, A-L et al. (2017) GOLIAH (Gaming Open Library for Intervention in Autism at Home): a 6-month single blind matched controlled exploratory study. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 11(17).


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Applicants will be shortlisted if they have an average of 75% or greater in a first (honours) degree (or a GPA of 8.75/10). For applicants with a first degree average in the range of 70% to 74% (GPA 3.3): If they are undertaking an Masters, then the average of their first degree marks and their Masters marks will be used for shortlisting.

Funding

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Adrian Johnston

As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

Watch Video  

Profile picture of Xin Wei

I received the bachelor’s of engineering degree in computer science and technology from Shangrao Normal University, Jiangxi, China, in 2013; and the master’s degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. When I was pursuing a PhD degree at Ulster University, I continued my research on face recognition and image representation.This long journey has only been possible due to the constant support and encouragement of my first supervisor. I also like to thank my second supervisor for his patience, support and guidance during my research studies. My favourite memory was the days of exercising, gathering and playing with my friends here. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be "submit more papers to Journals instead of conferences".

Xin Wei - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics


Profile picture of Jyotsna Talreja Wassan

In the whole PhD ordeal, my supervisory team played a tremendous role:- they are three in a million. They are perfect supervisors who perfectly know which milestones or pathways to be taken during research initiatives, and they understand the roles of virtually all stages in the journey of PhD. They showcased superior abilities in managing and motivating me evoking high standards; demonstrating a commitment to excellence. Jane and Haiying guided me as their daughter and Fiona turned out to be the best of friends.I heard from “Eleanor Roosevelt” that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The dream with which I grew up to become a Doctor one day, has finally come true. In the journey of PhD, I embraced that a PhD is not just the highest degree in Education but rather it is a life experience where perseverance is the key. I can never forget words from my external examiner Prof Yike Guo, from Imperial College London. His words

Jyotsna Talreja Wassan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics