The Triple A project: how open access research is helping children

Every month, statistics about Durham Research Online (DRO) – our institutional publications repository – are published here. As part of this, we pick a publication of the month.

In November, there was an online talk given by members of the Department of Psychology’s Centre for Neurodiversity and Development about their project: Triple-A: Attention, Arousal and Anxiety in the classroom. The project draws attention to the fact that classrooms are busy, noisy and multi-sensory places and some children, often those who are ‘neurodivergent’ (e.g. have conditions such as autism), can face difficulties in this environment. The project is dedicated to raising awareness of these difficulties and helping develop tools to support children and educators. The talk was recorded and is available here. To celebrate the public talk, we picked a fully open access article, related to the research:

Distraction, distress and diversity : exploring the impact of sensory processing differences on learning and school life for pupils with autism spectrum disorders by Elizabeth K. Jones, Mary Hanley and Deborah M. Riby

The article is available on the publisher website ( and is one of many publications by the centre.

I spoke to one of the researchers, Dr Mary Hanley, about the article:

What it is about

This study, led by PhD researcher Liz Jones (NEDTC) and her supervisors Mary Hanley and Debbie Riby from the Centre for Neurodiversity and Development, is about understanding how sensory differences experienced by autistic pupils can impact learning and school life. Insights were obtained from a large range of parents and teachers, using an online survey which solicited qualitative and quantitative responses.

Why it is important

The findings from the study reveal significant negative impacts of sensory differences at school, particularly from auditory (classroom noise, sudden loud noises) and tactile (bumping in to people unexpectedly in group work, assemblies etc.), such that the majority of parents and teachers rated sensory differences as having a significant impact on learning and school life most of the time. As these findings have direct relevance for supporting autistic pupils in school, it was absolutely crucial that the paper be open access. It is so important that research that can have an impact for people is accessible and not behind a paywall. Indeed, we know from emails from parents that they have been able to access the paper and have found it useful and important in thinking about the challenges their children face at school. 

This paper is central to a framework that we have developed from our research to support autistic pupils at school. It is called Triple-A (attention, arousal and anxiety at school). We are currently funded by the ESRC IAA (Economic and Social Research Council Impact Accelleration Accounts) to make impact from this work with schools by developing an online support package. For more information, please see our recent public webinar on this work ( ). This webinar was part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, and over 450 people signed up for it. For more information on the impact work, please see the Triple-A project page for the Centre for Neurodiversity and Development here:

Indeed, we know from emails from parents that they have been able to access the paper and have found it useful and important in thinking about the challenges their children face at school. 

Dr Mary Hanley

The above quote demonstrates why the library’s research support team is so committed and passionate about helping Durham academics to make their publications available online for everyone.

Feedback by parents provided to the team about the talk and the open access research shows the importance of its availability: ‘It provides a different ‘lens’ for viewing and understanding my son’s more challenging behaviour’. Research like this can be used by anyone to advocate for and help to support children in their care.

Finally, there are many opportunities for parents and children to get involved with the research and make a difference:

This is something that the Repository Officer’s children have been involved with. They love being ‘mini scientists’. It allows parents and children to feel involved with research and see the dedication of Durham’s Psychology department to produce top quality research that benefits society, first hand.

We look forward to hearing about the Triple A project’s future and hope the launch of the training tool next year is successful and helps many children access a full and happy education.

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