The Alliance is an innovative partnership between The Help Group and the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and is dedicated to enhancing and expanding clinical research in the education and treatment of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to contributing to the development, greater understanding and use of best practice models by researchers, educators and clinicians.

Goals of the Alliance

  • Enhance and expand research in the education and treatment of children and adolescents with ASD
  • Develop educational and clinical evidence-based best practice models for individuals from preschool to young adulthood across the entire range of the autism spectrum
  • Contribute to the greater understanding of best practice models for educators and mental health professionals working with individuals with ASD

Current Areas of Research

  • Interventions using joint attention to improve language development
  • Decreasing social anxiety through cognitive behavioral treatment methods
  • Improving friendship quality and social skills
  • Understanding the neural circuitry involved in processing emotions
  • Examining the powerful impact of music education
  • Parent education in the treatment of ASD


Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is Director of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, a collaborative research initiative dedicated to developing and expanding applied clinical research in the education and treatment of children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Laugeson is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and Director of the UCLA PEERS Program, an outpatient clinic providing parent-assisted social skills training for adolescents and young adults with ASD and other social impairments.

As co-developer of an evidence-based social skills program for teens with ASD known as PEERS, Dr. Laugeson has presented her groundbreaking research at international conferences in the United States, England, Australia, Canada, Italy and Finland. Her pioneering work has also been featured on national and international media outlets including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, CBS, NBC and Channel 4 in the UK.

Dr. Jan Blacher

Dr. Jan Blacher

Dr. Jan Blacher is the Founding Director of SEARCH, a family autism resource center newly established at UC Riverside. Dr. Blacher’s NIH-funded research, which is longitudinal in nature, focuses on the family context of children and adolescents with and without developmental disabilities, including predictors of later psychopathology. She has published on family coping in Anglo and Latino families and on aspects of syndrome specificity and parental well-being. Currently, she is directing a longitudinal study, funded by IES, of successful transitions to school for children on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Bruce Baker

Dr. Bruce Baker

Bruce L. Baker is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology at UCLA. Dr. Baker is a clinical psychologist whose research has focused on children with developmental disabilities (DD) and their families. His academic career has been spent as a professor of psychology at Harvard and then UCLA. Among his clinical activities have been Director of the Children’s Unit at the Fernald School near Boston, MA., Founder and Director of Camp Freedom, a summer ABA residential program for children with intellectual disabilities (ID), and co-author of Steps to Independence, A Skills Training Guide for Parents and Teachers, which has been in print for 35 years and translated into 9 languages. Dr. Baker’s research has focused on evidence-based interventions for families of children with ID and childhood psychiatric disorders. His current Collaborative Family Study, conducted with Drs. Jan Blacher and Keith Crnic, has had 15 years of funding from the National Institutes of Health to investigate psychiatric problems in children and adolescents with ID. Dr. Baker is the author of over 130 publications, and a Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. He received the Edgar A. Doll award for lifetime achievement from APA.

Dr. Jeff Wood

Dr. Jeff Wood

Dr. Jeff Wood is a clinical child psychologist with a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the Division of Child Psychiatry and the Division of Psychological Studies in Education at UCLA. He is also a faculty member of the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment. He received a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the UCLA Psychology Department, specializing in clinical trials of cognitive behavioral therapy for childhood anxiety disorders and OCD. As a doctoral student of Dr. Marian Sigman's and a psychology intern at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, he acquired expertise in the assessment and behavioral treatment of school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Wood was the PI of a CART Pilot Grant in 2004. Dr. Wood has also been the recipient of several awards from NIMH, AERA, and UCLA, and has attained multiple grants from NIMH, the Cure Autism Now foundation, Autism Speaks, and the Organization for Autism Research to study cognitive behavioral interventions for school-aged children with autism. His work has been published in well-regarded scientific journals such as Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Developmental Psychology, and Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Drawing upon contemporary cognitive science models of memory retrieval competition and cognitive neuroscience models of information processing in autism, Dr. Wood has been developing novel intervention techniques and adapting techniques from other areas of childhood psychopathology (e.g., emotional disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, and habit disorders) in the formation of a comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapy program for school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder and high levels of anxiety. Dr. Wood's research seeks to identify effective treatment methods that improve self-regulation, increase adaptive behaviors in social and academic contexts, and address the varying patterns of symptom expression (e.g., repetitive behaviors) and psychiatric comorbidity (e.g., anxiety, conduct problems) seen in many children with ASD. Dr. Wood is currently Principal Investigator on a study of CBT for children aged 6 to 13 years with autism, with the primary objective of reducing the severity of autism symptoms and increasing children's perspective taking and empathy.


Dr. Jane Tavyev

Y. Jane Tavyev, MD is Director of Pediatric Neurology at Pediatric Services at Cedars-Sinai. She is board certified in Neurology with Special Certification in Child Neurology.

Dr. Tavyev is a member of several professional societies including the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society.

Dr. Tavyev earned a bachelor's in biochemistry and anthropology from Rice University. She earned her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Dr. Tavyev performed a residency in pediatrics and a clinical and research fellowship in child neurology and neurodevelopmental disabilities at the Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children's Hospital system. Her clinical and research interest was in the area of autism.

Dr. Tavyev speaks Russian and Spanish.


Research Team

Yasamine Bolourian, M.A., Project Coordinator

Yasamine Bolourian, M.A. is Project Coordinator for The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance. As Project Coordinator, Yasamine manages the daily activities of the Alliance labs, trains and supervises all research assistants, and oversees the recruitment for studies conducted through the Alliance.  Yasamine also works closely with staff and faculty at The Help Group to support the objectives of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance. Yasamine attended Boston University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 2009. She received a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology in 2011. Yasamine’s clinical research interests relate to social skills treatments, particularly for adolescents diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, and/or Depression.

Jessie Sanchez

Jessie Sanchez, Research Assistant

Jessie Sanchez is a research assistant at The Help Group - UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson where she assists in the scoring and verification of research data for various studies that are conducted through the Alliance. Jessie attended the University of California, San Diego where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2011. She is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain her Master of Arts in Psychology. Jessie’s primary research interests include dating and social anxiety as well as social skills treatments for adolescents and young adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Khadija Noorbhai

Khadija Noorbhai, Research Assistant

Khadija Noorbhai is a research assistant at The Help Group - UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. She facilitates in the scoring and verification of numerous psychological batteries included in the research studies conducted through the Alliance. Khadija received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine in 2010. Her clinical experience involves providing Applied Behavioral Analysis interventions to children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In addition to her clinical background, Khadija is also interested in research focusing on brain function and cognition associated with various neurological and developmental disorders. She is passionate about pursuing a career in Neuropsychology.

Elizabeth Shipley

Elizabeth Shipley, Research Assistant

Elizabeth Shipley is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson where she assists in the recruitment of research participants for current and upcoming studies and trainings, and the scoring and verification of various psychological batteries. Elizabeth attended the University of Nevada, Reno where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a minor in Sociology in 2009. She received her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2011, where she presently continues to work towards her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Elizabeth’s primary clinical and research interests include treatment for children with developmental disabilities, psychological assessment in child and adolescent populations, and pediatric neuropsychology. She is also interested in biopsychosocial factors and their contribution to the development and/or onset of psychopathology.

Research Studies Currently Recruiting

TitleResearcher & Funding SourceDetailsStudy Flyer
Understanding Social Difficulties in Children with Autism Jeff Wood, PhD – National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Grant and Autism Speaks Dr. Jeff Wood will be testing the impact of a 32-week therapy program for children ages 6-13 with Autism who experience nervousness in social situations or difficulties in understanding others’ perspectives. Download
Treating the Anxiety of Children with Autism and Intellectual Disability Jeff Wood, PhD - Autism Speaks The study, led by Dr. Wood, focuses on adapting strategies from a cognitive-behavioral program to limit verbal demands and make treatment more accessible for children ages 8-12 on the spectrum with less verbal capabilities. Download
Augmenting language interventions for ASD: A translational approach James McCracken & Connie Kasari – National Institute of Health (NIH) In this study, Drs. McCracken and Kasari aim to investigate the benefits of the addition of the dopamine-stabilizing drug, aripiprazole on short-term social communication and language outcomes in 6-11 year old children with ASD who lack phrase speech and receive an intensive, developmentally informed language intervention. . Download
Treating Repetitive Behavior in Autism James McCracken – National Institute of Health (NIH) (NIH) In order to deepen our understanding of repetitive behaviors in ASD and its treatment, Dr. McCracken is examining the benefits of risperidone administration in children 8-16 year old with ASD, as measured by fMRI Download
Effects of Medication on Social Communication in Autism James McCracken- National Institute of Health (NIH) Dr. McCracken is testing the safety, tolerability, and effects of an investigational medication on social communication in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Download

Ongoing Research Projects

Study NameResearcher & Funding SourceDetails
Hearing Abilities in Children with ASD Anjali Bhatara, PhD – UCLA Division of Head & Neck Surgery Fellowship, American Association of University Women Postdoctoral Fellowship To better understand how children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) hear and process sounds in their environments, Dr. Anjali Bhatara is testing the hearing abilities of children ages 10-14 while measuring their brain activity using EEG technology.
Improving Language Development in Preschool Children Connie Kasari, PhD – Organization for Autism Research (OAR) Grant This two-year project, headed by Dr. Connie Kasari, is testing the effectiveness of improving language development for preschool children with ASD through treatment in joint attention and symbolic play.
Understanding the Positive Impact of Music Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD – NAMM Foundation Grant Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson will be examining the positive emotional and behavioral impacts of a school-based music education program for lower functioning children with ASD.
Identifying the Neural PathwaysAssociated with Understanding Emotions Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, PhD – Grammy Foundation Grant In this innovative project, Dr. Istvan Molnar-Szakacs is using music as a tool to explore the ability of children with ASD and to identify emotions in musical excerpts and facial expressions using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology.
Detecting Dynamic Facial Expressions in Children and Adolescents Emotions Judith Piggot, PhD – UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment Grant Using fMRI technology, Dr. Judith Piggot is comparing children and adolescents with ASD to typically developing children in order to understand the neurological processing of emotion in dynamic faces.
Using Yoga to Decrease Sleep Problems and Anxiety for Children Jane Tavyev Asher, MD Using a yoga intervention, Dr. Jane Tavyev Asher is examining the effectiveness of reducing anxiety, decreasing sleep problems and increasing the overall quality of life for children ages 5-8 with ASD.
Decreasing Social Anxiety in Elementary School Aged Children Jeff Wood, PhD – Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant Dr. Jeff Wood is heading this project to test the effectiveness of training mental health practitioners at The Help Group to implement a cognitive behavioral treatment intervention to treat social anxiety in children ages 7-11 with ASD.
Improving Social Skills for Middle School Students Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD – Nathan& Lilly Shapell Foundation Grant, Shapell & Guerin Family Foundation Grant, Friends of the Semel Insitute Grant, Semel Scholar Award for Junior Faculty Development This study, led by Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson, is testing the effectiveness of improving friendship skills for middle-school students with ASD using a teacher-facilitated, parent assisted social skills intervention in the classroom.
Successful Transition in the Early School Years for Children Jan Blacher, PhD – Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Grant In order to guide the development of evidence-based interventions to promote student-teacher relationships, Dr. Jan Blacher is investigating salient factors and predictors of success to understand how children with ASD adapt best to early schooling.


Download Publication

Impaired Timing and Frequency Discrimination in High-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders

Anjali Bhatara, Talin Babikian, Elizabeth Laugeson, Raffi Tachdjian, Yvonne S. Sininger

Evidence-Based Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program

Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Fred Frankel, Alexander Gantman, Ashley R. Dillon, Catherine Mogil

Social Skills Training for Young Adults with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study

Alexander Gantman, Steven K. Kapp, Kaely Orenski, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Parent-Assisted Social Skills Training to Improve Friendships in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Fred Frankel, Catherine Mogil, Ashley R. Dillon

Autism, Emotion Recognition and the Mirror Neuron System: The Case of Music

Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Martha J. Wang, Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Katie Overy, Wai-Ling Wu, Judith Piggot

What is Translational Research and Why is it Important in the Treatment of Autism

Elizabeth Laugeson

Conferences & Presentations

Download Publication

Auditory Perception of Timing in Adolescents with ASD

A.BHatara, E.Laugeson, T.Babikian, R.Tachdijian, & Y.Sininger

An ERP Investigation of the Acoustic Change Complex in High-Functioning ASD

A. Bhatara, T. Babikian, E. Laugeson, R. Tachdigian, E. Ballat, & Y.S. Sininger

Who is Key? Can Teachers be Social Skills Instructors too?

Leigh Ann Tipton, Ruth Ellingsen, Lara Tucci, & Elizabeth Laugeson

The Relationship between Social Anxiety and Lonliness among Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Kathryn Fitzpatrick, Tiana Bayrami, Daniel Janulaitis, Yasamine Bolourian, Jessica Hopkins, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Understanding the Relationship Between Friendship Quality and Peer Conflict Following the UCLA PEERS® School-Based Curriculum

Melissa Wasserman, Meredith Kalies, Ruth Ellingsen, Yasamine Bolourian, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Predicting Treatment Outcomes of a Teacher-Facilitated Social Skills Intervention for Adolescents with Autism: The School-Based UCLA PEERS Program

Mary Goodarzi, Yasamine Bolourian, Lindsay Henry, Ruth Ellingsen, Lara Tucci, Shannon Bates, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Improving Social Skills in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Adaptation of the UCLA PEERS Program into a School-Based Teacher-Assisted Intervention

Ruth Ellingsen, Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Jennifer Sanderson, Jin Lee, Amanda Lenvin, Jennifer McNamara, Fred Frankel

Perceptual Differences Between Young Adults with Autism and their Parents

Steven K. Kapp, Alexander Gantman, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Psychosocial Treatment Effects of the PEERS Social Skills Intervention for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Alexander Gantman, Steven K. Kapp, Kaely Orenski, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Parent-Assisted Social Skills Training Program for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program

Alexander Gantman, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Perceptions of Social Functioning in Young Children with ASD: Comparing Parent and Teacher Reports

Michelle B. Jackson, Maile A. Horn, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Associations of IQ and Autistic Symptomatology with Functioning in Young Adults with ASD: Self- and Parent Report

Steven K. Kapp, Alexander Gantman, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Increasing Positive Affect and Social Responsiveness in Children and Adoelscents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Adaptation of a Music-Based Intervention in a School Setting

Dilshad Tung, Ruth Ellingsen, Lara Tucci, Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

Benefits of a Social Skills Intervention in Residential Treatment Settings for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program
Allison Vreeland, Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Jessica Romeyn, Lara Tucci, Ruth Ellingsen, Alex Friedman

Improving Prosocial Behavior in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Positive Impact of Music Education in the School Setting

Yasamine Bolourian, Lindsay Henry, Mary Goodarzi, Ruth Ellingsen, Lara Tucci, Elizabeth A. Laugeson

The 6th annual UCLA CART autism research symposium will be held on Friday, January 31st in the Neuroscience Research Building Auditorium.

The flyer is posted below, and additional details, including the conference brochure with agenda, are posted at the CART website Events page found at http://www.autism.ucla.edu/events  and at UCLA's CME Registration website http://www.cme.ucla.edu/courses/event-description?event_id=2201997. To register by phone, please call the CME Office at 310.794.2620. Please note that seating is limited.

If you have questions, please contact Jenifer Sakai at jsakai@mednet.ucla.edu , or at 310-794-6570.

2014 CART Flyer


  • Stephanie’s Day 2013

    Tiana Bayrami, M.A. (Research Assistant); Jason Tinero (Research Assistant); and David Diaz (Research Assistant)