Professor Sue Leekam - BA (Open), DPhil (Sussex)


Research group:
Developmental & health psychology
029 208 76604
Tower Building, Park Place

Research summary

I hold the Chair in Autism at Cardiff University and I am the Director of the Wales Autism Research Centre I am a developmental psychologist and I research the behavioural and cognitive factors that affect the onset and development of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). I use models of typical development to guide this work in areas of social and non-social attention, representational understanding and repetitive behaviours. I also carry out research with adults with ASD on impairments in perception and learning that may be the outcome of these earlier developmental difficulties.

My research also focuses on the clinical aspects of ASD. This and other research on the development, detection and diagnosis of ASD is part of a larger programme of work that links research with clinical practice and supports the Welsh Assembly Government’s Strategic Action Plan for ASD. See the Autism Research Policy Practice Hub for more information.

Selected publications (2014 onwards)


Full list of publications


Research topics and related papers

I research detection, diagnosis, cognitive development and intervention in autism. In current work I am focusing on attentional processes, repetitive behaviours, sensory interests and anxiety. I am also interested in social cognition and understanding of representations.


Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund in collaboration with NISCHR. Seedcorn grant. Visual attention control in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. June 2013. PI: Leekam, S. R. Co-Is: Wass, S., Erichsen, J., Clarke, A., Millington, A. £49, 402. (Oct 2013-Sept 2014).

ESRC Knowledge Exchange Grant. Developing a Research-Policy-Practice Hub for Autism Spectrum Disorder. PI: Leekam S.R; Co-I: Wimpory, D. (Bangor University). ESRC and matched funding from Welsh Government. £200,000. Nov 2012-March 2014. 

Wellcome Trust Longitudinal follow-up of 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome: A study of individuals at high risk for schizophrenia. October 2012, PI: Van den Bree M.B. Co-Is: Owen M.J., Thapar A., Doherty J., van Goozen S., Leekam S.R., Carrington S.J., Jones D.K. £69,579. (Oct 2012-Oct 2013).

Welsh Government. Children’s Diagnosis Methods, PI. Leekam, S.R. £42,116.

Sense. Joint Attention in Deafblind Children: An investigation into the use of alternative sensory modalities to share attention, intentions and to scaffold learning. PI: Nunez, M. Co-I:  Franco, F., Middlesex University and Leekam, S.R., Cardiff. September 2011 to September 2013.

Autism Speaks Trailblazers Award. Tuning anxiety out: Exploring the potential of noise cancellation in Autism Spectrum Disorder sound sensitivity PI: Atherton, M. (Brunel University); Co-I Leekam, S.R., McGonigle, D. (Cardiff University), Osborn, S. (Kingwood Trust). £100,000. May 2012-June 2013.

Economic and Social Research Council. Integrating research and practice in autism spectrum disorders PI Leekam, S. Co-I Carrington, S.,£124,403. July 2011- Sept 2012.

Strategic Insight Partnership Grant. Leekam, S.R. £2,000. July 2012

Waterloo Foundation. 2010. ASD and the Neurobiology of Sensory Symptoms. PI: McGonigle; Co Investigators: Leekam, Jones, Singh, Edden,

Welsh Office for Research and Development, NISCHR 2010. Developing effective early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. (PI: Leekam), (£60,000).

Baily Thomas Foundation 2010- Developing targeted intervention for repetitive behaviours and anxiety in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. (PI: Leekam; Collaborators; Kanaris Gwent NHS and Mullis, Ashgrove School, Consultant Speech and Language Therapists; Prof Prior, University of Melbourne, Australia and Prof Evans, Buckley College, USA), (£115,618).

Welsh Assembly Government-2010: Service Evaluation of Children’s ASD Diagnostic Services in Wales. (PI. Leekam, Collaborator, Dr Wimpory) (£24,995).

Welsh Assembly Government& Betsi Caldwaladr University Health Board: 2010. Development of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) database within the Betsi Caldwaldr University Health Board (BCUHB) (PI. Dr Wimpory, Co-investigator, Leekam)

NIHR - 2009-2011: Research for Patient Benefit Effective therapy for young people with autism spectrum (PI: McConachie, Co Investigators; Leekam, Le Couteur, Rodgers, Freeston), (£228,857).

Waterloo Foundation- 2009-2010 Understanding anxiety in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): An awareness-raising training module designed to integrate new research evidence into practice in schools. (PI: Leekam, Collaborators, Bowen and Plimley, Autism Cymru), (£14,889).

ESRC CASE Award-2009-2013. Using the Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) for research. (PI; Leekam in partnership with NAS), (£64,000).

Research group

Wales Autism Research Centre

Research collaborators

Dr Sarah Carrington, Research Associate
Dr Georgie Powell, Research Associate
Dr Louise White, Project Manager
Dr Chris Ramsden, Project Manager
Lynda Morgan, Project Manager

Postgraduate research interests

Symbolic, social, cognitive, attentional and sensory development in children with and without autism. Diagnosis and intervention in children with autism.

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.

Current students

Sarah Barratt 2013-2016: Imagination and repetitive behaviour in individuals with autism

Rachel Kent 2010-2014: Using the Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO) for research.

Second Supervision: Rhiannon Fyfield (with Dale Hay), Bev Winn (with Katherine Shelton and Sophia Gameiro), Sarah Thompson (with Catherine Jones).

Previous students

Mirko Uljarevic 2010-2013: Developing effective early intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Linda Iao, 2007-2011: Children’s understanding of representation.

Anastasia Kourkoulou 2004-2010: Implicit learning in autism spectrum disorders.

David Marshall 2004-2011. Attention shifting in children with autism spectrum disorders.

Sue Fletcher-Watson, 2004-2007: Understanding social attention in autistic spectrum disorders.

Emma Honey, 2003-2006: The relationship between repetitive behaviour and imagination in autism. 

Lucy Carey, 2003-2006: Narrative in autism: An intervention in mainstream schools.

Greig Coull, 2003-2006: Pathways to social understanding in typical and atypical development.

Antonio Gagliano MPhil 2001-2002. The development of pretend play.

Beatriz Lopez, 1998-2001: Contextual and global processing in autism. 

Undergraduate education

She gained a first class degree in Psychology from Open University in 1982, during a 10 year career in the Civil Service.

Postgraduate education

She then began a career in research under the supervision of Professor Josef Perner at the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Sussex, working first as a research associate and subsequently as a PhD student with him and completing a PhD in cognitive development in 1988.

Awards/external committees

Professor Leekam is on the editorial boards of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder, Autism: International Journal of Research and Practice and Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disability. She has also served on expert review panels for the UK Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research, USA and she holds an honorary appointment at University of Newcastle.



She began researching in autism in 1988 initially mentored by Professor Uta Frith and subsequently by Professor Margot Prior at La Trobe University, Australia with whom she worked as a postdoctoral fellow. In 1991 she moved back to the UK to take up a lectureship and senior lectureship at University of Kent, where she began a long term research collaboration with Dr Lorna Wing and Dr Judith Gould, National Autistic Society. Her research work specialises in identifying the cognitive, social and behavioural aspects of development that underlie the clinical diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.