Established in 2007, 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
Faculty & Staff
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 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
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 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
Dr. 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.
Dr. Mirella Dapretto
Dr. Dapretto is currently Professor in the UCLA Dept. of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. After receiving a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the UCLA Psychology Department, with a minor in Behavioral Neuroscience, Dr. Dapretto acquired expertise in neuroimaging methods – particularly functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – as a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. Since joining the UCLA faculty in 1999, she has been the recipient of several awards, including NIH funding to study the neural networks suberving language functions in typically-developing children, and several grants to study the neural basis of the socio-communicative impairments observed in autism (funded by the Cure Autism Now foundation, the M.I.N.D. Research Institute at UC Davis, the National Alliance for Autism Research, and Autism Speaks). From 2007 to 2012, Dr. Dapretto served as the PI of the imaging project of the first UCLA Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) funded by NIH (Project 3). As part of the recently funded new UCLA ACE (2012-2017), Dr. Dapretto currently serves as the PI of the imaging project (Project 4), as well as Co-PI of a project in infants at ultra high-risk for autism (Project 1 ). In addition, Dr. Dapretto has also been a co-investigator on several large-scale collaborative studies headed by Drs. Susan Bookheimer, Dan Geschwind, Elizabeth Sowell, and Danny Wang, including a recently funded multi-site ACE Network (PI: Pelphrey; participating sites: Yale, UCLA, Harvard, University of Washington). In 2010-2012, Dr. Dapretto also served as the Director of the FPR-UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development. Capitalizing on her dual training as a developmental psychologist and a neuroscientist, Dr. Dapretto’s research combines neuroimaging, behavioral, and genetic data to better characterize typical and atypical brain function. Her work is consistently published in prestigious journals such as Biological Psychiatry, Brain, Journal of Neuroscience, Nature Neuroscience, and Neuron.
Dr. Amanda Gulsrud
Dr. Gulsrud is an expert in social and behavioral treatments for young children with ASD or high risk for ASD, including developing and testing the Joint Attention Symbolic Play Emotion Regulation (JASPER) treatment, widely recognized as a major advance in the field (Autism Speaks 2010). Currently Dr. Gulsrud directs the UCLA Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) “Baby JASPER” project, which aims to test the benefits of JASPER for children as young as 12 months at high risk for ASD and other developmental delays. Dr. Gulsrud is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the David Geffen School of Medicine and oversees the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic, where she provides diagnostic evaluations and brief treatment for very young children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
James Yang, Project Coordinator
James Yang is the Project Coordinator for The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance. As Project Coordinator, James manages the daily activities of the Alliance labs, trains and supervises all research assistants, and oversees the recruitment for studies conducted through the Alliance. James also works closely with staff and faculty at The Help Group to support the objectives of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance. In addition, James is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology. James also attended the University of California, Riverside where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. His primary research interests include the role of neurological and emotional development in children.
Hira Asif, Research Assistant
Hira Asif is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. She assists in recruiting potential research participants and in the scoring and verifying of research protocol for several studies that are conducted through Alliance. Hira attended the University of California, Irvine where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology & Social Behavior and Criminology, Law & Society. In addition to working as a research assistant, Hira is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain her Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests include behavioral and post-traumatic stress disorders in children and young adults.
Steven H. Scott, Research Assistant
Steven H. Scott is a research assistant at The Help Group- UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. He assists in the recruitment of potential research participants for studies conducted through Alliance as well as the scoring and verification of research data. Steven attended the University of California, Irvine where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Criminology. In addition to working as a research assistant, Steven is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology.
Ana Mendoza, Research Assistant
Ana Mendoza 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, in addition to assisting in the recruitment of potential research participants for Alliance studies. Ana attended Fairfield University where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. In addition to working as a research assistant, she is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. Other than her clinical and research interests in autism spectrum disorder, her interests include anxiety and mood disorders in early childhood and adolescence, and eating disorders.
Rhideeta Jalal, Research Assistant
Rhideeta Jalal is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. Rhideeta assists in the scoring and verification of research data and facilitates the recruitment of potential research participants for Alliance studies. Rhideeta attended California State University, Northridge where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In addition to working as a research assistant, Rhideeta is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain her Master of Arts in Psychology. Rhideeta’s research interests include neurodevelopmental disorders, memory, and emotion regulation.
Tricia Choy, Research Assistant
Tricia Choy is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. Tricia assists in the scoring and verifying of research protocol and facilitates the recruitment of potential research participants for Alliance studies. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Tricia intends to pursue a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. Her primary research interests include the development of social cognition and child-parent relationships in children with autism.
Denise Williams, Research Assistant
Denise Williams is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. She assists in recruiting potential research participants for studies conducted through Alliance, as well as scoring and verifying research data. Denise attended the University of California, Davis where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology & a Minor in Music. In addition to working as a research assistant, Denise is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain her Master of Arts degree in Clinical Psychology. Her research interests include developmental disorders in adults and children, and attachment formation in adult relationships.
Yuan Zhang, Research Assistant
Yuan Zhang is a research assistant at The Help Group- UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. She assists in the recruitment of potential research participants for Alliance studies, and in the scoring and verification of research data. Yuan went to Shanxi University in China where she received her Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology. In addition to working at the Autism Research Alliance Yuan is now attending Pepperdine University to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Psychology. Yuan’s primary research interests include parent-child relationships for children and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the cultural difference between different countries’ interventions and their outcomes.
Gozi Egbuonu, Research Assistant
Gozi Egbuonu is a research assistant at The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. She assists in the recruitment of potential research participants for Alliance studies, and in the scoring and verification of research data. Gozi attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art. In addition to working at the Autism Research Alliance, Gozi is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain a Master of Arts degree in Psychology. Gozi’s primary research interests include the effects of epigenetics and sociocultural factors in the development of anti-social and aggressive behaviors in children and young adults.
Allison Pitts, Research Assistant
Allison Pitts is a research assistant at The Help Group-UCLA Autism Research Alliance under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson. Allison assists in the recruitment for ongoing studies as well as the scoring and verification of research data for several studies that are conducted through the Alliance. Allison attended Mount Saint Mary’s College where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In addition to working as a research assistant, Allison is currently attending Pepperdine University to obtain her Masters of Arts in Clinical Psychology, emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. Allison’s research interests include conflict resolution, couples, neurodevelopmental disorders and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
Research Studies Currently Recruiting
Research Studies Currently Recruiting
|Title||Researcher & Funding Source||Details||Study Flyer|
|Neural Assays and Longitudinal Assessment of Infants at Very High Risk for ASD||Mirella Dapretto, PhD - National Institute Health (NIH)||Our research team has been studying early markers of autism by tracking social, cognitive, and brain development of infants with and without a family history of ASD from birth to 3 years of age. Although behavioral concerns for autism emerge in the second year of life, it is likely that we can identify differences in brain markers in children who develop autism even earlier in development. Therefore, in our “infant-sibling study”, we are using a variety of innovative methods, including eye-tracking, electrophysiology (EEG), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in addition to behavioral testing, to characterize trajectories of brain function and development in the first year of life. The goals of our ongoing research are to identify sensitive risk markers of ASD as early as possible, as only with early detection can we initiate early intervention.||Download|
|Multi-modal Developmental Neurogenetics of Females with Autism Spectrum Disorder||Mirella Dapretto, PhD - |
National Institute of Health (NIH)
|The ACE Program is a trans-NIH (National Institute of Health) initiative that supports large-scale multidisciplinary studies on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), with the goal of determining the causes and the best treatments for them. This study specifically seeks to study sex-specific differences in ASD in genetics, brain function, and behavior.||Download|
|Sensory Responsiveness in Autism and Anxiety||Mirella Dapretto, PhD & Shula Green, PhD - Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)||This study, led by Dr. Dapretto, is focused on understanding sensory over-responsivity in youth with ASD and in those with Anxiety. The purpose of this study is to understand how long it takes youth with ASD to habituate to sensory stimuli in terms of their neural response, as this has important implications for interventions. The current study is also comparing patterns of habituation in youth with ASD compared to youth with Anxiety disorders to understand whether the abnormal habituation rates are related to anxiety in the youth with ASD or whether this is a response unique to youth with ASD.||Download ASD
|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 7-12 on the spectrum with less verbal capabilities.||Download|
|Treating Repetitive Behavior in Autism||Dr. James McCracken – National Institute of Health (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|
|Augmenting language interventions for ASD: A translational approach||Dr. James McCracken & Connie Kasari, PhD – National Institute of Health (NIH)||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|
Ongoing Research Projects
|Study Name||Researcher & Funding Source||Details|
|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.|