Social Development Research Group

Researching autism, childhood attachment, social and emotional development, and Neurofibromatosis Type I (NF1).



The development of social competency is a key foundation for mental health and social functioning in children. There are many determinants of social competency, which means there are many ways in which competency can be impaired.

Our group investigates some of these developmental routes into social impairment, their clinical consequences, and potential interventions to help them.

The bulk of our work links to social impairments associated with autism spectrum disorders. Here, we undertake a range of developmental studies from the infancy prodrome through to later development and preschool and school-age interventions.



Group members

We are a group of academics and researchers at The University of Manchester, led by Professor Jonathan Green. 

We are interested in improving our understanding of social development in infants and children and of neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, and genetic conditions, such as NF1. We are also working to improve evidence-based support for children with these conditions in the UK and South Asia.

Head of Research Group

Professor Jonathan Green

Jonathan Green.Professor Green is a Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at The University of Manchester and Honorary Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Green has long standing clinical and research interests in autism and other aspects of social development in children.

He co-led the UK’s first study into Asperger Syndrome and has published on social and language development in autism, co-morbidity and treatment intervention.

He has also published on attachment disorder and the social development consequences of early attachment failure.

Our team


Our research

Our group conducts scientific research in the fields of autism, childhood attachment, social and emotional development, and Neurofibromatosis Type I (NF1).

This work has led to innovative and ground-breaking outcomes to better support children, their families and those who support them. Our focus is to ensure that evidence-based knowledge is translated to the real world so that our work can make a real difference to people’s everyday lives.

Active studies

ChAAMPS: A new anxiety treatment for autism

Helping your child with fears and worries (HYC) is a short parent-led anxiety programme for children. It is used both throughout the NHS and across local authorities.

Throughout the programme, caregivers are supported by a therapist to help their child, and are provided with a range of helpful resources. Parent-mediated support such as this is often useful for children who are unable to attend in person support sessions, as they are still able to access support through their caregiver.

It is possible that this approach may be beneficial for autistic children, who have anxiety. This research project aims to adapt the HYC programme to meet the needs of autistic children with anxiety problems.

The project involves an active collaboration between researchers, autistic adults and parents of autistic children. Autistic children with anxiety problems and their caregivers will be asked about how the programme can be adapted to meet their needs.

Following this, an expert reference group will meet regularly to review the information collected and adapt the programme.


In the last decade, our team has collaborated with Sangath, an Indian public health research team, and we have developed the Parent-mediated intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in South Asia (PASSPlus).

PASSPlus is an adaption of an effective UK autism intervention (PACT) that can be delivered by non-specialists, and is the first of its kind to show real world effectiveness within research trials. In addition, colleagues in the World Health Organisation have undertaken the first detection study for NDD and ASD in India, and have adapted for South Asia an effective UK ASD intervention.

The resulting PASSPlus intervention, delivered by non-specialists, is the first of its kind with demonstrated effectiveness in published trials; supported by a digital training and supervision platform.

In addition, NAMASTE collaborators have also developed group-based Caregiver Skills Training (CST) for more general neurodisability.

Building on this previous work, NAMASTE will test the implementation and effectiveness of a combined intervention pathway, identifying children with NDD or ASD, and linking them to CST and/or PASSPlus ASD intervention.

This care pathway will be tested within four varied health systems, as well as building the systems’ clinical and research capacity and investigating the cost-effectiveness aspects of this system.

For more information, see the NAMASTE website.

CAPE: Autism Care Pathway Implementation – with NHSE

Over 20 years of research at The University of Manchester has shown that family-focused social communication interventions for autistic children and infants at high likelihood of being autistic are effective at improving social-communication skills, and consequent improved child and parent outcomes.

As a result, we have confidence that early autism diagnosis and interventions are important to improve outcomes for autistic people. Currently, autism policies in England focus narrowly on reducing wait times to receive a diagnosis, thus reducing the opportunity develop an improved diagnostic pathway which may improve the mental health and wellbeing of autistic people.

This collaboration between Professor Jonathan Green, stakeholders, and NHSE seeks to build on evidence to produce a more effective autism care pathway.

For more information, see Collaboration Fund projects (CAPE).


Full title: Communication-centred parent-mediated treatment for autism spectrum disorder in South Asia (COMPASS)

The aim of COMPASS is to evaluate the effectiveness of a parent-mediated intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in South Asia, delivered by lay health workers in community settings. This is an ambitious trial which hopes to generate new tools and evidence for policymakers to guide the scale-up of the intervention.

The trial is a collaboration with Sangath, a non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation in India, which is committed to improving health  by empowering existing community resources.


Full title: Identifying early markers of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in Neurofibromatosis Type I (NF1; EDEN)

The EDEN study aims to investigate early social, communication and attention development in infants who have a parent with NF1 or have a diagnosis of NF1.


Full title: Dissecting the effects of genomic variants on neurobehavioral dimensions

The DIGEN study is looking into two genetic disorders: 16p11.2 deletion and duplication, and the impact they have on the mental health and behaviour of children aged 7-17 years.


Full title: Research trial for parents of children recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (REACH-ASD)

The REACH-ASD Trial is a new trial looking at how effective a new group-based programme for parents of children recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is. The programme, called EMPOWER-ASD, aims to help parents in the period following their child’s ASD diagnosis.


Instruments and training courses

We have developed a range of instruments for both research and clinical use that are now widely used in both communities.

Find out more about the instruments developed by the research group and training available in these measures.

Manchester Assessment of Caregiver-Infant Interaction (MACI)

The Manchester Assessment of Caregiver-Infant Interaction (MACI) is a global measure of caregiver-infant play interaction suitable for children aged from 3 to 15 months.

The MACI-Infant was developed in 2008, has been validated, and is currently used internationally in a number of research projects.

In 2014, the MACI-Toddler was developed for 2 and 3-year-old children to enable further longitudinal measurement. Currently, training is available for MACI-Infant.

For further information please contact:

Professor Jonathan Green

Further reading

  • Wan, MW, Green, J & Scott, J 2019, ‘A systematic review of parent-infant interaction in infants at risk of autism’, Autism: the international journal of research and practice, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 811-820.
  • Wan, MW, Green, J, Elsabbagh, M, Johnson, M, Charman, T & Plummer, F 2013, ‘Quality of interaction between at-risk infants and caregiver at 12-15 months is associated with 3-year autism outcome’, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, vol. 54, no. 7, pp. 763-771.
Manchester Child Attachment Story Task (MCAST)

The Manchester Child Attachment Story Task (MCAST) is a structured doll-play story completion method for measuring and understanding attachment representations in young school age children toward a specific caregiver suitable for clinical and research purposes.

It has a significant research literature and has been used clinically internationally and in 25 research studies.

For further information please contact:

Ming Wai Wan

Further reading

  • Green, J.M., Stanley, C., Smith, V., & Goldwyn, R. (2000). A new method of evaluating attachment representations on young school age children – the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task. Attachment and Human Development, 2, 42-64.
  • Goldwyn, R., Green, J.M, Stanley, C., & Smith V. (2000). The Manchester Child Attachment Story Task: Relationship with parental AAI, SAT and child behaviour. Attachment and Human Development, 2, 65-78.
  • Allen, B, Bendixsen, B, Fenerci, RB & Green, J 2018, ‘Assessing disorganized attachment representations: a systematic psychometric review and meta-analysis of the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task’ Attachment and Human Development.
  • Barone, L., Del Guidice, M., Fossati, A., Manaresi, F., Actis Perinitti, B., Colle, L., & Veglia, F. (2009). Psychometric Properties of the Manchester Child Attachment Story Task: an Italian multicentre study. International Journal of Behavioural Development. 33 (2) 185-190.
Dyadic Communication Measure for Autism (DCMA)

The Dyadic Communication Measure for Autism (DCMA) is a measure of the natural flowing dyadic communication interaction between parent and child in a free play context.

Developed here in Manchester, it captures aspects of communication in young children with autism and aspects of the parent communication style that are often targeted in communication-focused interventions. 

It is grounded in the theory and research on pragmatic language development in children, specifically in children with autism.

The DCMA was developed in the PACT pilot study (Aldred et al., 2004) and applied in the PACT trial (Green et al., 2010). It was found to be a reliable measure, sensitive to change in the key target indices in these studies.

The DCMA involves video-recording the parent and child playing together in a natural way using a standard set of toys. The interaction is then coded from video-tape and three levels of the interaction are observed:

  • Parent synchrony and responsiveness
  • Child communicative initiations, responses and communicative functions
  • Amount of mutual shared attention between parent and child

The DCMA is being adapted for use in South Asia and is a key outcome measure in the PASS Trial.

The DCMA is also being extended for use with children with autism between the age of 7 and 11 years, who may have higher levels of conversational ability. This is for use in the PACT 7-11 Follow-Up Study.

For more information please contact:

Catherine Aldred


Autism Family Experience Questionnaire (AFEQ)

The AFEQ is a parent-nominated measure that assesses the impact of interventions on family experience and quality of life.

It was developed through focus groups and online consultation with parents, and reflected parental priorities.

The AFEQ has the potential to enhance understanding of the external validity of early psycho-social interventions for children with autism.

Read the AFEQ research paper (Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders).

For more information, please contact:

Kathy Leadbitter

Past studies

We have a long history of publishing high impact research across the spectrum of social and emotional development in childhood.

You can find out more about each of our past studies at the links below.


PhD and training opportunities

There are opportunities to join our research group at doctoral or postdoctoral level.

We also offer research attachments, projects and work experience placements at different times of the year.

PhD opportunities are advertised in our faculty’s PhD project finder.

If you’re interested in progressing your research career with our group, please get in touch.

Contact us

If you would like more information about our group, please get in touch.

Sofia Ahmed, Project Coordinator


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