Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson

Senior Research Fellow; Director Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre


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 as founder of SuperTroop, a charity providing 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 became a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh based in the Patrick Wild Centre and in 2019 I moved into the role of Director of the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre.

I am a former trustee of Scottish Autism and working closely with this organisation, and autistic-led organisations such as ARGH and AMASE, to inspire and contribute to high-quality, respectful, 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.


  • 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

Research summary

I am interested in how children develop and learn, and in particular in cases where this follows an unusual trajectory.

First, I explore how we can characterise the early abilities and difficulties of babies who have either already experienced adversity (such as those born preterm) or who later go on to receive a specific diagnosis (such as autism).

Second, I ask how we can intervene to improve outcome for such babies and young children. My methods involve mostly direct observation and assessment including eye-tracking, and I also have an interest in technology, such as iPads, as an intervention route.

Research aims and areas of interest

  • Cognitive and behavioural approaches to understanding typical and atypical (social) development & consequent educational and therapeutic work
  • Applied research for autism in Psychology, Medicine, Informatics and Education
  • Autism social communication interventions, especially early years and/or technology-based, including rigorous outcome measurement for clinical trials
  • Infant cognition; eye-tracking as a measure of cognitive and social ability; studying long-term outcomes in infants born premature, and in other neonatal risk categories
  • Technology for learning; therapeutic and educational iPad app development; use of augmentative and alternative communication systems
  • Methodologies: randomised controlled trials; eye-movement recording; experimental group comparisons; focus groups; interviews; online surveys

View all 83 publications on Research Explorer