Joanne McCulloch


I have over twenty years’ experience of managing a comprehensive care package for my son, who has complex needs, including Autism Spectrum Condition, a learning disability and epilepsy.  I have also delivered individualised tuition to children and young people who have ASC labels in home, school and community settings.  I have experience of working with a wide range of professionals as part of a multi-disciplinary team, presenting data-based evidence and providing verbal and written advice to professionals from education, health and social care.  My interest in psychology stems from these experiences and I studied BSc (Hons) Psychology with The Open University alongside my work and caring commitments.  

 My undergraduate research project was a phenomenological analysis of the experiences of professionals who support young people who have ASC labels in social situations.  I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my research, particularly the independent nature of the work.  This was without doubt the most rewarding aspect of my undergraduate study and is what prompted me to undertake my PhD.

It is important to me that to respect everyone’s right to choose their own personal identity.  Many people identify as autistic and this is intrinsic to their wellbeing.  However, there is also a large population of people who have been assigned ASC labels and have complex needs that have a severe impact on communication about concepts such as personal identity.  I am aware that describing someone as autistic without their consent may not adequately describe who they are, so for the purposes of my own research I have chosen not to describe participants as autistic unless they communicate to me that this is how they prefer to be known.  This is to avoid speaking on their behalf and making assumptions about their personal identities.

Research interests

I am interested in mental health and wellbeing, particularly in people who have ASC labels and/or identify as autistic.  My doctoral research uses qualitative methods and draws on ethnographic and phenomenological methodologies to explore the experiences of students at a specialist school.  I am interested in how they maintain wellbeing and the resources that they draw on to help them negotiate any challenges they encounter.

My research uses methods that do not rely direct communication and the inclusion of students who may not respond to direct questions is a priority.  I am interested in how behaviour can fulfil the role of voice in people who do not communicate directly and in how behaviour is recognised and interpreted by others.

In summary, my research interests are:

•    Mental health and wellbeing in people who have ASC labels and/or identify as autistic, especially people who have more complex needs and may not initiate or respond to direct communication.

•    Behaviour Analysis and how we recognise and interpret behaviour as voice.

•    Interdisciplinary work that uses multi-modal and mixed method approaches to help ensure that people who have complex needs are actively involved and fully represented in research.

•    Researching individual lived experience.

I am interested in psychology and education and I am very interested in interdisciplinary research and collaborative working.  I would love to hear from others who have similar interests or experiences to my own and are working on similar projects.

Qualifications and Professional memberships

•    BSc (Hons) Psychology

•    Graduate member of the British Psychological Society

Research Groups and Institutes

•    ICY: Inclusion, Childhood and Youth Research Centre

•    Centre for Disability Studies


  • BSc (Hons) Psychology