My qualifications

PhD Developmental Psychology
Durham University
MSc Developmental Psychopathology
Durham University
BSc Psychology
University of Essex

Previous roles

2019 - 2021
Research Fellow
University of Edinburgh

Affiliations and memberships

BPS Developmental Section
Committee Member and Newsletter Editor


Research interests

Research projects

My publications


McDougal, E., Riby, D., & Hanley, M. (2020). Teacher insights into the barriers and facilitators of learning in autism.
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Background: Little is known about the factors impacting on learning for autistic pupils, even though academic outcomes are highly heterogeneous. The aim of the current study was to qualitatively explore factors that are perceived to impact positively (i.e. facilitators) and negatively (i.e. barriers) upon learning for primary school pupils with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten teachers currently engaged in teaching autistic pupils, which were analysed using thematic analysis. Results: Three key themes were identified: pupil’s behaviours and abilities (factors related to the child’s behaviour, cognition or personality), academic environment (physical and contextual), and teacher skills and qualities (e.g. training, trust and relationships). Conclusions: A range of factors were therefore identified by teachers, some of which corroborate with existing research, while other findings provide novel insights. Priorities for facilitating learning are discussed, as well as key areas for future investigation and potential intervention.
McDougal, E., Riby, D., & Hanley, M. (2020). Profiles of academic achievement and attention in children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder.
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Background: Academic outcomes for autistic individuals are heterogeneous, but the reasons for this are unknown. Attention is known to predict learning in typical development, but there is less evidence about this relationship in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), even though attention is reported as atypical in this group. Aims: To investigate reading and maths achievement profiles for children with and without an ASD, focusing on the role of attention in these profiles and to enable a better understanding of individual differences. Methods: Reading, maths and attention abilities of 22 autistic children (6−16 years) and 59 TD children (6–11 years) were measured using standardised assessments. Results: A hierarchical cluster analysis that included all children (N = 81) revealed three distinct transdiagnostic subgroups, characterised by children with good, average, and poorer divided attention and academic achievement respectively. Children with poorer attention and achievement displayed relative weaknesses in maths, while children with average or above-average attention and achievement showed no such weakness. Conclusions: The findings provide a novel insight into the relationship between attention and achievement and understanding individual differences in ASD and typical development.