Want to take part in autism research?

We want to understand the biomedical causes of autism spectrum conditions, and develop new methods for assessment and ways to offer support.
With your help we can achieve this!

Studies include: personality tests, genetic research, cognition tests, and brain scans

If you are over 16 with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or a parent of child/ren with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum please go to


Arc – Autism Research Centre

University of Cambridge



I, Daniel Blake review – a battle cry for the dispossessed

Ken Loach crafts a Cathy Come Home for the 21st century, the raw anger of which resonates long after you leave the cinema.

Mark Kermode

Ken Loach’s latest Palme d’Or winner, his second after 2006’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, packs a hefty punch, both personal and political. On one level, it is a polemical indictment of a faceless benefits bureaucracy that strips claimants of their humanity by reducing them to mere numbers – neoliberal 1984 meets uncaring, capitalist Catch-22. On another, it is a celebration of the decency and kinship of (extra)ordinary people who look out for each other when the state abandons its duty of care.

For all its raw anger at the impersonal mistreatment of a single mother and an ailing widower in depressed but resilient Newcastle, Paul Laverty’s brilliantly insightful script finds much that is moving (and often surprisingly funny) in the unbreakable social bonds of so-called “broken Britain”. Blessed with exceptional lead performances from Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, Loach crafts a gut-wrenching tragicomic drama (about “a monumental farce”) that blends the timeless humanity of the Dardenne brothers’ finest works with the contemporary urgency of Loach’s own 1966 masterpiece Cathy Come Home.

We open with the sound of 59-year-old Geordie joiner Daniel Blake (standup comic Johns) answering automaton-like questions from a “healthcare professional”. Having suffered a heart attack at work, Daniel has been instructed by doctors to rest. Yet since he is able to walk 50 metres and “raise either arm as if to put something in your top pocket”, he is deemed ineligible for employment and support allowance, scoring a meaningless 12 points rather than the requisite 15. Instead, he must apply for jobseeker’s allowance and perform the Sisyphean tasks of attending CV workshops and pounding the pavements in search of nonexistent jobs that he can’t take anyway.

Meanwhile, Squires’s mother-of-two Katie is similarly being given the runaround, rehoused hundreds of miles from her friends and family in London after spending two years in a hostel. “I’ll make this a home if it’s the last thing I do,” she tells Daniel, who takes her under his wing, fixing up her flat and impressed by her resolve to go “back to the books” with the Open University. Both are doing all they can to make the best of a bleak situation, retaining their hope and dignity in the face of insurmountable odds. Yet both are falling through the cracks of a cruel system that pushes those caught up in its cogs to breaking point.

“We’re digital by default” is the mantra of this impersonal new world, to which carpenter Daniel pointedly replies, “Yeah? Well I’m pencil by default.” Scenes of Blake struggling with a computer cursor (“fucking apt name for it!”) raise a wry chuckle, but there’s real outrage at the way this obligatory online form-filling has effectively written people like him out of existence. Yet still Daniel supports – and is supported by – those around him; from Kema Sikazwe’s street-smart China, a neighbour who is forging entrepreneurial links online (the internet may alienate Daniel, but it also unites young workers of the world), to Katie’s kids, Daisy and Dylan – the latter coaxed from habitual isolation (“no one listens to him so why should he listen to them?”) by the hands-on magic of woodwork. Having lost a wife who loved hearing Sailing By, the theme for Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast, and whose mind was “like the ocean”, Daniel carves beautiful fish mobiles that turn the kids’ rooms into an aquatic playground. Meanwhile, their mother is gradually going under.

A scene in a food bank in which the starving Katie, on the verge of collapse, finds herself grasping a meagre tin of beans is one of the most profoundly moving film sequences I have ever seen. Shot at a respectful distance by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, the scene displays both an exquisite empathy for Katie’s trembling plight and a pure rage that anyone should be reduced to such humiliation. Having seen I, Daniel Blake twice, I have both times been left a shivering wreck by this sequence, awash with tears, aghast with anger, overwhelmed by the sheer force of its all-but-silent scream.

“They’ll fuck you around,” China tells Daniel, “make it as miserable as possible – that’s the plan.” For Loach and Laverty, this is the dark heart of their drama, the use of what Loach calls the “intentional inefficiency of bureaucracy as a political weapon”, a way of intimidating people in a manner that is anything but accidental. “When you lose your self-respect you’re done for,” says Daniel, whose act of graffitied defiance becomes an “I’m Spartacus!” battle cry that resonates far beyond the confines of the movie theatre. Expect to see it spray-painted on the walls of a jobcentre near you soon.


Shake-up proposed for home-to-school transport for Bury children with disabilities and special needs

A PROPOSED shake-up in home-to-school transport for young people with special needs or disabilities has been announced by Bury Council.

It follows a change in the law on the what councils are required to provide when getting children to and from school, college, respite care facilities and on short breaks.

Young people often travel by minibus and the proposed changes aim to offer more independence.

A council report said: “The manner in which transport and financial assistance for travel is currently provided is no longer totally compatible with the principals of reforms, which place greater emphasis on the needs of the child or young person, and planning for their future to enable greater flexibility and choice in the way parents or carers access provision.”

Under the proposed new system, the council would assess if each person can travel independently or if their families can fund transport using their personal care budget.

If not, their parents can be paid to take them to school.

Only when those options have been ruled out will a minibus be laid on and, if possible, the pick-up point will be communal, rather than at their door.

The council’s children’s representative Cllr Paddy Heneghan said that the town hall is not expecting to save money from the change and finance is not the reason for making it.

He added: “The idea is to make children as independent as possible.

“There is a feeling that some children who are, for example, capable of walking part way to school independently are instead being taken from their front door on a minibus.

“The change is aimed at improving their self confidence and social skills.

“They will get all the support they need, whether it be routetraining, planning for when things go wrong or whatever else is necessary.”

The report said a version of the system was introduced at Elms Bank Specialist Arts College in Whitefield and the number of local authority vehicles required to transport students has been reduced as a result.

However, the report acknowledged that the change could be open to legal challenge and risks “reputational damage to the council.”
A consultation process with all parents and carers affected by the changes is now under way.


Remembering and imagining both engage the same key brain region, but they depend on distinct neural processes

Remembering and imagining appear to be very different functions, one recovering true information from the past, the other considering the unreal or exploring the future. And yet many patients with damage to the hippocampus (a structure in the temporal lobes) – and resultant memory impairment – struggle in imagining the future. Moreover, neuroimaging data show the hippocampus is involved in both tasks. Taken together, this evidence suggests that memory for the past and imagination for the future may depend on shared neural processes.

A new imaging study by Brock Kirwan and his colleagues confirms at a broad anatomical level that both memory and future imagination call on similar regions of the hippocampus. But the research also shows how these two mental functions do depend on distinct neural processes after all.

Fourteen study participants were invited into a scanner where they were presented with photographs in a series of runs. One run contained only personal photographs that the participant had taken in the last five years; another presented photos of unfamiliar situations, known to be novel to each participant thanks to a biographical survey they completed earlier.

After each image, the participants had to either recall what they’d just seen (in the case of the personal photos), or imagine the presented situation (in the case of the unfamiliar photos), as vividly as possible, for 8.5 seconds. It was during these contrasting mental tasks that the key scanning data were collected. Participants then immediately rated the vividness of each memory or imagined situation, and only trials that met a threshold of vividness were included in analysis (this disqualified the bulk of the “imagine” trials).

The two tasks activated different brain areas: a range of frontal areas for the imagining task; cingulate and parahippocampal areas for the remembering task. But both tasks were also associated with activation within the hippocampus itself – in the left anterior and (more weakly) posterior regions, specifically. Next, the researchers used a “classifier accuracy analysis”, which essentially gives a computer a bunch of information unfolding over time (in this case, patterns of activation across hippocampal voxels, each measuring about 2 cubic millimetres) and asks it to identify from the patterns of activity, which mental process was ongoing at the time – remembering or imagination.

The computer was far from perfect at this task, but it did significantly better than chance. This shows that if we zoom in enough, we find there are some consistent differences in how the neural resources of the hippocampus are put to work in remembering and imagining. This raises the question – what role is the hippocampus serving when we imagine the future? One possibility is that it makes available raw materials (memories?) that are then recombined to create an imagining. However it does it, the new research confirms that the hippocampus appears to be crucial to the creation or recreation of realities beyond our current sensory inputs: a key component of mental time travel.


Mindfulness for mental wellbeing

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.

Some people call this awareness ‘mindfulness’, and you can take steps to develop it in your own life.

Good mental wellbeing means feeling good about life and yourself, and being able to get on with life in the way you want.

You may think about wellbeing in terms of what you have: your income, home or car, or your job. But evidence shows that what we do and the way we think have the biggest impact on wellbeing.

Becoming more aware of the present moment means noticing the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that you experience, as well as the thoughts and feelings that occur from one moment to the next.

Mindfulness, sometimes also called “present-centredness”, can help us enjoy the world more and understand ourselves better.

Being aware is one of the five evidence-based steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. Learn more about the five steps for mental wellbeing.

What is mindfulness?

Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

Professor Williams says that mindfulness can be an antidote to the “tunnel vision” that can develop in our daily lives, especially when we are busy, stressed or tired.

“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.

“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.

“Awareness of this kind doesn’t start by trying to change or fix anything. It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”

How mindfulness can help

Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.

“When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh many things in the world around us that we have been taking for granted,” says Professor Williams.

“Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.

“This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us.

“Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’

“Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.”

Studies have found that mindfulness programmes, where participants are taught mindfulness practices across a series of weeks, can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood.

How you can be mindful

Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.

“Even as we go about our daily lives, we can find new ways of waking up to the world around us,” says Professor Williams. “We can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”

It can be helpful to pick a time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

“Similarly, notice the busyness of your mind. Just observe your own thoughts,” says Williams. “Stand back and watch them floating past, like leaves on a stream. There is no need to try to change the thoughts, or argue with them, or judge them: just observe. This takes practice. It’s about putting the mind in a different mode, in which we see each thought as simply another mental event and not an objective reality that has control over us.”

You can practise this anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been “trapped” in reliving past problems or “pre-living” future worries. To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here is the thought that I might fail that exam”. Or, “Here is anxiety”.

Formal mindfulness practices

As well as practising mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice.

Several practices can help create a new awareness of body sensations, thoughts and feelings. They include:

meditation – participants sit silently and pay attention to the sensations of breathing or other regions of the body, bringing the attention back whenever the mind wanders
yoga – participants often move through a series of postures that stretch and flex the body, with emphasis on awareness of the breath
tai-chi – participants perform a series of slow movements, with emphasis on awareness of breathing

More steps for wellbeing

There are other steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. Learn more about the five steps for mental wellbeing.

You can also learn more about the other four steps for wellbeing:

Connect for wellbeing
Get active for mental wellbeing
Give for mental wellbeing
Learn for mental wellbeing


Drop the strut: Both men and women find humility more attractive

By guest blogger Temma Ehrenfeld.

There’s been much debate about the “cheerleader effect,” the idea that men are wired to attract desirable mates by showing off in silly ways. The effect may not even exist, but if it does, they might try humility instead. New research suggests that both men and women prefer humble to less humble partners.

The studies are part of a push to define humility, a concept associated less with science than Christianity, as in Matthew 11:29 where Jesus says “I am gentle and humble in heart.” While research on narcissism — arguably the inverse of humility — has taken off, it’s been harder to define and measure humility. Researchers do agree that it isn’t another word for modesty. A person who brushes off compliments isn’t necessarily helpful, generous, respectful during conflicts, or accepting of criticism—all traits we might expect of the humble.

According to one model, the humble see their strengths and weaknesses accurately and are inclined to altruism. Such people would be apt to treat their romantic partners well and to act in ways that support the bond. With that model in mind, a team led by Daryl Van Tongeren conducted three studies that tested whether participants valued humility in a potential date and were more inclined to forgive a partner they perceived as humble.

In the first study, 41 students created dating profiles in response to a series of computer prompts and answered personality questions. They expected that other participants would see their results and that, in return, they’d review other students’ profiles. In fact, everyone was presented with the same mock profile alongside mock scores on the personality test. The fictional potential date (who was unnamed, and potentially either male or female) had scores indicating that he or she was agreeable, extraverted, conscientious, not neurotic, and open. But in some cases the phantom was “highly humble” with a score in the 87th percentile—while other participants saw a score of “not humble” (24th percentile). Humility won: the “highly humble” stranger got better ratings from participants, who were also more likely to say they’d give the “highly humble” their phone numbers and make a date. Men and women were equally prone to favor the humble.

Since a score of “not humble” could have been a turnoff just because it came with a low number, in the second study, 133 participants didn’t see any scores. Instead, the team varied the language in the profile to be more or less humble. Among other variations was this one: “I’m a pretty good student, but not a bookworm. Other people say I’m smart, but I don’t like the attention” vs. “I’m a really good student and pretty smart, but definitely not a nerd or bookworm: I guess it just comes naturally.” The profiler who claimed not to like attention was the favourite for both men and women.

The researchers went on to test whether humility was helpful in maintaining relationships. Long-distance romances are especially stressful, and the team hypothesised that perceptions of humility would buffer stress. This time the 416 student participants were currently involved in exclusive relationships with an average duration of 18 months. Half of the relationships were long-distance, the others nearby. Participants completed standard questions measuring their tendency to forgive, their feelings about a recent offence by their partners, and their partners’ humility. After controlling for tendencies to forgiveness and the perceived hurtfulness of the offence, the study confirmed earlier research showing that people were less forgiving of partners who lived far away. It also found that daters who viewed their partners as humble were more likely to forgive them, mitigating the stress of distance.

According to conventional wisdom, people most often get burned by arrogant charmers early in life, so it’s surprising that even college students show the good sense to appreciate the humble. “We certainly think humility is worth cultivating because it is attractive to other people,” says Van Tongeren.

You’d have to be especially humble—and by definition, accurate in your self-assessments—to know how humble you are. Van Tongeren decided to experiment on himself. He guessed that his wife would rate him as slightly more humble than the “midpoint.” As it turned out, “When I asked her, she rated me as slightly below the midpoint; slightly more arrogant,” he says. So how should we measure humility? The John Templeton Foundation sees grants for “character virtue development” as part of its core mission. It has funded a study, led by Don Davis at Georgia State University, to find a “behavioral measure of humility,” van Tongeren says. Once a good measurement is in hand, he expects the field to flourish over the next five years.