Volunteers needed as study to help autistic children learn new words reaches final stages

Categories: School of Health and Society

Researchers at the University of Salford are in the final stages of a project looking at whether exercise can help autistic children to sleep better and to learn new words more easily. 

Estimates put the number of autistic children in the UK at around 150,000, and previous research has found that up to 80% of these children can have problems sleeping. 

Sleep is really important for many aspects of our lives, including making new memories and learning new words. Research shows that doing more exercise can help children to sleep better, so the team at the university is aiming to find out if this could also have a knock-on effect on language.

In the Salford Autism Exercise Project, researchers working with the Seashell Trust are providing swimming lessons for autistic children aged 7-11. The Seashell Trust are experts in working with children with a range of different needs and have designed the swimming lessons especially for the children taking part in the project. 

Lessons take place in a private pool and both parents and children have given amazing feedback – the teachers understand how the children will learn best and make the lessons fun and inclusive. Both children and parents have made new friends and feel that they have got far more out of the lessons than just learning to swim!

As well as the swimming lessons, the children are taught ‘novel’ words. These are words that are made up, but that sound like they could be real English words. Words are paired with objects that children are unlikely to have a name for in English already. 

The children are taught the words on Saturday, before they go swimming, then tested on Sunday, after a night’s sleep. Tests measure how they are doing before they start the lessons, on the weekend of the first lesson, and then on the weekend of the final lesson. 

Parents also complete a diary to record how well the children are sleeping. If swimming helps the children to sleep better, then it might also mean that they start to get better at learning the new words. Researchers won’t know if this has worked until the project has finished, so watch this space!

Over 20 children have already taken part in the project, but there are still a few spaces left.

If you have an autistic child who you think might enjoy taking part, contact the project team to find out more. Children need to be aged 7-11 and be verbal. You would need to travel to Cheadle for the swimming lessons; there is a small reimbursement to cover travel costs, so you shouldn’t be out of pocket, and swimming lessons are free of charge to the families.

For more details, you can email autismexerciseproject@salford.ac.uk and check out the Salford Autism Exercise Project website. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Salford Autism Exercise Project is funded by The Waterloo Foundation.

For all press office enquiries please email communications@salford.ac.uk.