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Alexandra Hendry

NIHR Advanced Fellow

My research focuses on developing ways to identify and help children most likely to struggle with executive functions – the thinking and regulation skills that help us to plan, solve problems and control our impulses. I lead the START (Supporting Toddlers with a family history of autism/ADHD to develop strong Attention, Regulation and Thinking skills) early intervention programme. I also collaborate on the Oxford Early Executive Functions project – a longitudinal study of attention and executive function development from 10 months to preschool age – and the Social Distancing and Development Study – which aims to understand the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns on early language and cognitive development.

I completed my PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London where I investigated the early development of executive functions and attentional control skills in infants with an increased likelihood of developing autism and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), because they have an older sibling already with a diagnosis. This work was part of the ongoing STAARS project (www.staars.org). Both autism and ADHD have been linked to increased difficulties with executive functions but little is understood about the early development of executive functions in these populations, in part because it is so difficult to measure in very young children. A core part of my research was developing new ways of measuring executive functions in toddlers, who are limited in terms of their ability to understand complex instructions. My measures include ‘eye-tracking’ tasks which enable us to record exactly where, and for how long, toddlers look at different images on a screen, problem-solving games and touchscreen tasks.

In January 2018, I joined the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford to work on a project investigating executive functions from infancy into early childhood, led by Dr Karla Holmboe. In this project we are developing new games and tasks to measure executive functions in infants as young as 10 months.

In 2021 I was awarded an Advanced Fellowship from the NIHR to develop and pilot the START early intervention programme. The aim of the START programme is to support all children to thrive, whether they are neurodivergent (i.e. autistic/ADHD) or neurotypical (have no developmental conditions).