Project ID NS-MH2023_25


Co Supervisor 1A IoPPN/Social, Genetic and Developmental PsychiatryWebsite

Co Supervisor 1B IoPPN/Psychosis Studies and Psychosis CAG; also SLaM, Honorary consultant NeuropsychiatristWebsite

Additional Supervisor Benjamin Baig

Autism and Functional Neurological Disorders

Functional Neurological Disorders (FNDs) are common causes of neurological symptoms such as seizures, limb weakness, movement disorders and sensory changes without structural neuropathology. There is increasing evidence of an association with autism in both adults and children with FND. Sensorimotor and pain abnormalities are common problems in autism.

Characteristics seen in both conditions such as alexithymia (difficulty identifying emotions), altered sensitivity to bodily functions (interoception) and hyper-focused (‘sticky’) attention might explain this link and inform understanding and management of both conditions.

The student will pioneer research in this novel area, working with an autism research expert at the IoPPN and both research and clinical FND experts in adult and paediatric centres of excellence across King’s Health Partners (St Thomas’/Evelina, Maudsley and King’s College Hospitals). They will receive training/gain experience in diagnosing and managing FND and autism, quantitative/qualitative methods, and join the supportive and dynamic Re:Spect Lab and Neuropsychiatry research groups.

Potential PhD plan:
Year 1:
Publish systematic review on FND and autism.
Observe specialist assessments of FND and autism.
Write up case series from existing clinic data of FND with autism.
Conduct PPI with people with FND and autism and their families.
Apply for ethics for new data collection.

Year 2:
Conduct qualitative studies of populations with FND and autism, write up and publish.
Quantitative study testing hypotheses alexithymia, interoception, attention and autistic traits in adults and children with FND.

Year 3/4 (depending on pathway):
Complete data collection, analyse and write up quantitative studies.
Dissemination at relevant conferences.
Develop information resources for clinicians and patients/carers/parents.
Submit thesis.

Representative Publications

Happé, F. & Frith, U. (2020). Annual Research Review: Looking back to look forward – changes in the concept of autism and implications for future research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 61, 218-232.

Butler, M., Shipston-Sharman, O., Seynaeve, M., Bao, J., Pick, S., Bradley-Westguard, A., Ilola, E., Mildon, B., Golder, D., Rucker, J., Stone, J. & Nicholson, T., (2021). International online survey of 1048 individuals with functional neurological disorder. European Journal of Neurology.