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Catherine Woolley

BMedSci | MRes

Research and Engagement Officer

  • Specialist Speech and Language Therapist for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Researcher at the University of Oxford

Current Project

My current research project is a Wellcome Trust Enriching Engagement funded project which aims to increase awareness in the general public about sensory processing differences in autistic individuals. This project is led by Dr Cathy Manning and in collaboration with Sensory Spectacle, 21andsensory, Jess Starns and Dr Brett Heasman.

While members of the autism community are all too aware of the importance of sensory processing differences, people without autism-specific training or expertise may be unaware of the effects that sensory processing differences have on daily life. In this project, we will be working with autistic people to create an immersive experience to inform those who come into day-to-day contact with autistic people (e.g., hairdressers, shopkeepers) about sensory processing differences. Shops, hairdressing salons and leisure places will be transformed into sensory experiences based on descriptions of difficulties faced by autistic individuals. To do this, we will first work with autistic individuals to hear which aspects of different environments most affect them and which audiences they would most like to be informed about their sensory needs.


After graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2014, I have been working as a speech and language therapist in Oxford in both mainstream and special schools. I am trained in the use of PECS (Picture Exchange System) and Oxfordshire’s Early Autism Project, which aims to use SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support) principles to support and facilitate the interaction of people with ASD.

In 2017 I led an outreach project by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust supporting children with ASD to develop social communication skills through theatre-based workshops. As part of this I led workshops to train the facilitators in the Hunter Heartbeat Method as well as how best to support and engage the children involved in the project. Parents reported increases in their children’s non-verbal behaviours as well as observed positive changes in their participation & wellbeing scores using TOMS (Therapy Outcome Measures). This project was nominated for both local and national awards and was I invited to discuss the results as part of the Health Matters: Art in Recovery series of talks in Oxford in 2018.

From 2018-2020 I completed a Masters of Research at UCL to identify the impact that theatre can have on the attitudes of the general public towards stammering and people who stammer. The aim was to educate and engage people about the impact that specific difficulties can have on an individual and their participation within society based on a social model of disability.

This project involved working collaboratively with a local theatre company to produce a performance about stammering. As part of the rehearsal process I facilitated knowledge exchange workshops with specialist SLTs, the cast and a local stammering charity. I also arranged a series of post-show talks about stammering for audience members with specialists in this field. This project was successfully funded by generous grants from both Oxford City Council and the Oxford Health Services Research Council.