Autism Studies

Autism Studies - PCert, PDip, MA


This programme is an advanced professional development programme involving some or all of the following: distance learning; study workshops. Autism Studies can be completed mainly by distance learning.

About the Tizard Centre

The Tizard Centre is part of the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) and has excellent links with health and social care organisations, and other relevant establishments.

The Centre is at the forefront of learning and research in autism, intellectual disability and community care, and in 2013 received a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of its outstanding work in these areas.

The Centre has excellent links with health and social care organisations, and other relevant establishments. Our primary aims, through research, teaching and consultancy, are:

  • to find out more about how to effectively support and work with people with learning disabilities
  • to help carers, managers and professionals develop the values, knowledge and skills that enable better services
  • to aid policymakers, planners, managers and practitioners to organise and provide enhanced services.

The Tizard Centre is recognised as leading the field in deinstitutionalisation and community living, challenging behaviour, quality of staff support, sexuality and autism, and has had a significant impact on national policies in these areas. We are committed to addressing issues arising from social inequality.

National ratings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research was ranked 2nd for research power in the UK. The School was also placed 3rd for research intensity, 5th for research impact and 5th for research quality.

An impressive 94% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 99% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research, gaining the highest possible score of 100%.

Course structure

Coursework is taught through a mixture of web-based resources, directed reading, videos, lectures, seminars and practical sessions, supported by a number of workshops, where you work with skilled professionals and have the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with fellow students.


The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.  Most programmes will require you to study a combination of compulsory and optional modules. You may also have the option to take modules from other programmes so that you may customise your programme and explore other subject areas that interest you.

For the PCert you would earn 60 credits from the list of taught modules below. For the PDip you also submit the Research Project and for the MA you would then also submit the Extended Research Project.

Modules may include Credits

The aim of this module is to teach students about research methodology and the knowledge needed to access and interpret the research literature. For those who take the statistical analysis element, the aim is also to teach appropriate statistical techniques for the analysis of quantitative data. The emphasis will be on methods of data collection and analysis which will be useful in practice settings, so that advanced multivariate techniques will not be taught.

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100% Exam

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The aim of this module is to give students an understanding of organisational issues involved in learning disability services, including institutionalisation and deinstitutionalisation, theories of normalisation and criticisms of these theories, methods of analysing quality of life and care and ways of producing change in services. This module is taught as a web-based guided study module with seminars at several points in the first term. For AIIDD students, this module is closely linked to the service placement and discussion and application of web-based units will occur during placement supervision.

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All students will write one 6000 word essay on a topic which requires them to draw on material from the service issues, social psychology and behavioural analysis and intervention modules. This will be done over the course of the year for full time students and in the second year for part time students and will be submitted during the third term of the final year.

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The aim of this module is to teach the basic facts about the nature and origins of autism, including definitions, epidemiology, biological, social and environmental causes. In addition, characteristics and needs of people with autism will be considered (including cognitive and social characteristics). All of this information will be set within the wider context of intellectual and developmental disabilities and students, although focusing primarily on autism, will be required to learn and know about these issues more widely. Over 50% of people with autism have a co-morbid condition and therefore this is an essential approach.

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The aim of this module is to teach advanced facts about the nature and origins of autism, including definitions, epidemiology, biological, social and environmental causes and autism specific interventions. This module will build on the knowledge of characteristics and needs of people with autism (including co-morbidities), set within the wider context of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Whist TZ866 introduced students to intervention and approaches to supporting people with autism, this module will expand this knowledge to include the critical understanding of the research evidence around intervention in autism. Theories used to explain autism will be discussed in depth, with students supported to critically interrogate the evidence base. The knowledge and understanding developed will be used to compare and contrast approaches to intervention and draw intelligent conclusions about policy and practice. Issues from across the lifespan will be addressed, including early intervention.

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This module is intended for health or social care professionals who are working with people with autism (either in a paid or voluntary basis), or those who are family carers. Students will be able to apply their theoretical learning from TZ866 and TZPGaut2 to case studies.

Students will work their way through the case study material provided. As they do so, they will use their knowledge of the following to analyse case study data, produce formulations, plan interventions, interpret outcome data and describe methods of implementation, monitoring and evaluation:

• Characteristics, diagnosis and epidemiology of autism

• Cognitive, communicative and social characteristics of people with intellectual disabilities

• Biological, social and environmental causes of autism

• Behaviour analysis

• Intervention and approaches to supporting people with autism.

• Challenging behaviour and other associated complex needs;

• Ideology, policy and service development;

• Definition and measurement of service quality;

• Relationships between service organisation and quality

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During the first term of the course students will develop ideas for their research project and will be given the opportunity to choose a research project proposed and supervised by members of the course team or other Tizard staff (see Appendix 4 of course handbook for the list of topics for the current year). Students who choose to design their own project will be allocated a dissertation supervisor. Students following the MSc in Analysis and Intervention in Intellectual and Developmental Disability are required to do an empirical dissertation. All other students can choose between either an empirical or a non-empirical (e.g. policy or research review) dissertation.

Students develop a proposal (assessed) for their research project with advice from their supervisor and apply for ethical approval either to the Tizard Ethics Committee (Ethical Review Checklist available on web-based resources) or to another ethics committee such as those in the NHS.

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Teaching and Assessment

Each of the five taught modules is assessed by a one-hour, computer-based exam and an extended essay. In addition, the Research Methods module involves short assignments and a worked problem.

Programme aims

This programme aims to:

  • provide you with a detailed knowledge of autism and other developmental disabilities
  • provide you with experience of conducting research or intervention in the field of autism (PDip/MA only).

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You will gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • the characteristics, diagnosis and epidemiology of autism
  • cognitive, communicative and social characteristics of people with intellectual disabilities
  • biological, social and environmental causes of autism
  • behaviour analysis
  • intervention and approaches to supporting people with autism
  • challenging behaviour and other associated complex needs
  • ideology, policy and service development
  • definition and measurement of service quality
  • the relationships between service organisation and quality research methodology.

Intellectual skills

You develop intellectual skills in:

  • appraising and interpreting evidence from the academic literature and personal/work experience
  • presenting critical, balanced arguments.

Subject-specific skills

You gain subject-specific skills in:

  • (applies to MA and PDip only) conducting research on a topic relevant to autism and / or conducting an intervention study and case study assignment relevant to autism.

Transferable skills

You will gain the following transferable skills:

  • communication: the ability to organise information clearly and respond to written sources
  • numeracy: if you are doing the statistical element of the research methods module, you will make sense of statistical materials and integrate quantitative and qualitative information. You will also become familiar with ways of summarising and presenting data
  • information technology: the ability to produce written documents, undertake online research
  • working with others:  the ability to work co-operatively on group tasks both within the virtual learning environment and during the residential workshops
  • improve your own learning: the ability to explore your strengths and weaknesses, time management skills and review your working environment
  • problem-solving: the ability to identify and define complex problems, explore alternative solutions and discriminate between them.


Our postgraduate courses improve employability prospects for both those with established careers and new entrants to the field. Many of our students already work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in professional, management or supporting capacities.

Our programmes support their continuing professional development and enhance their opportunities for career advancement. Other students, who are at the beginning of their careers, move on to a range of professional roles in health and social care including working as psychologists in learning disability or behavioural specialists in community learning disability teams; service management of development roles; clinical psychology training or a PhD.

Career destinations include working as a clinical specialist, special needs advisor, autism teacher and ABA tutor for various health and special needs organisations such as the Step by Step School, Special Help 4 Special Needs and WA Health.

Study support

All teaching takes place at the Tizard Centre. Postgraduate research students have a shared office space with a computer and telephone.

Acclaimed active department

The Tizard Centre runs an annual seminar series where staff or guest lecturers present the results of research or highlight recent developments in the field of social care. The Jim Mansell Memorial Lecture invites public figures or distinguished academics to discuss topics that could interest a wider audience. The Centre also publishes the Tizard Learning Disability Review (in conjunction with Emerald Publishing) to provide a source of up-to-date information for professionals and carers.

The Tizard Centre provides consultancy to organisations in the statutory and independent sectors, both nationally and internationally, in diversified areas such as service assessment, person-centred approaches, active support and adult protection. The Centre also teaches a range of short courses, often in conjunction with other organisations.

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: Journal of Mental Health; Journal of Applied Research and Intellectual Disabilities; American Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities; and Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Entry requirements

A good honours degree, typically in psychology or other relevant social sciences, or comparable professional qualifications and experience.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country. 

English language entry requirements

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

Research areas

Current research areas include: social inequalities and community care; intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Staff research interests

Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.

Professor Julie Beadle-Brown: Professor in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Autism and social impairment in learning disability; the implementation of active support in services; the effect of grouping people in services; personcentred approaches; exclusion of people with challenging behaviour from services.

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Dr Jill Bradshaw: Lecturer in Learning Disability

Staff attributions; communication and personcentred active support; communication environments; total communication approaches; augmentative and alternative communication.

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Dr Mecca Chiesa: Lecturer in Learning Disability

Behaviour analysis; precision teaching; fluency building; autism and learning disabilities.

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Professor Rachel Forrester-Jones: Professor in Social Inclusion; Director of the Tizard Centre

Community care outcomes (mental health, learning disabilities); social networks and social support relating to all client groups, including university students; social inclusion; social environments; supported employment; death, bereavement and spirituality.

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Dr Nick Gore: Senior Lecturer in Learning Disability

Relational Frame Theory; acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT); challenging behaviour; supported employment.

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Professor Peter Langdon: Professor of Clinical and Forensic Psychology

Adapting, developing and evaluating psychological therapies for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; forensic mental health problems including sexual offending and their treatment; information processing models; use of technology in psychological therapies.

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Dr Michelle McCarthy: Reader in Learning Disability

The sexuality of people with learning disabilities, in particular women with learning disabilities, and sexual abuse; sexual and reproductive health; the menopause for women with learning disabilities.

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Professor Peter McGill: Professor of Clinical Psychology of Learning Disability

Applied behaviour analysis; challenging behaviour; positive behaviour support; family support.

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Professor Glynis Murphy: Professor of Clinical Psychology and Disability

Effectiveness of cognitive behavioural treatment for men at risk of sexual offending; effectiveness of treatment for people with untreated phenylketonuria (PKU); symptoms of abuse for people with severe learning disabilities; capacity to consent to sexual relationships; early development of self-injurious behaviour; effectiveness of early intervention in autism.

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Tony Osgood: Lecturer in Learning Disability

Positive behaviour support for challenging behaviour; behaviour analysis; person-centred planning; autism and asperger’s; organisational influence on human services outcomes.

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Dr Paraskevi Triantafyllopoulou: Lecturer in Learning Disability

Sleep functioning and sleep problems in children and adults with learning disabilities and/or autism; sleep and challenging behaviour; offending in people with learning disabilities; person-centred active support.

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The 2018/19 annual tuition fees for this programme are:

Autism Studies - MA at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £7300 £15200
Part-time £3650 £7600
Autism Studies - PCert at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £2435 £5070
Part-time £1218 £2540
Autism Studies - PDip at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £4870 £10140
Part-time £2435 £5070

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 


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