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


Research Studies Currently Recruiting

Research Studies Currently Recruiting

TitleResearcher & Funding SourceDetailsStudy Flyer
SPARK for AutismAmanda Gulsrud, PhD - Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) is conducting a free online study that strives to gather genetic information on the autism community as well as biological family members in order to understand the role of specific genes in the development of autism. SPARK hopes that this study will be the largest of its kind, involving tens of thousands of participants. By dramatically increasing the number of research participants, SPARK aims to facilitate research that has not previously been possible. Download


Neural Assays and Longitudinal Assessment of Infants at Very High Risk for ASDMirella 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 DisorderMirella 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

Download Anxiety
Treating the Anxiety of Children with Autism and Intellectual DisabilityJeff Wood, PhD – Autism SpeaksThe 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 AutismDr. 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 fMRIDownload
Augmenting language interventions for ASD: A translational approachDr. 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

Research Projects

Ongoing Research Projects

Study NameResearcher & Funding SourceDetails
Hearing Abilities in Children with ASDAnjali Bhatara, PhD – UCLA Division of Head & Neck Surgery Fellowship, American Association of University Women Postdoctoral FellowshipTo 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 ChildrenConnie Kasari, PhD – Organization for Autism Research (OAR) GrantThis 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 MusicElizabeth Laugeson, PsyD – NAMM Foundation GrantDr. 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 EmotionsIstvan Molnar-Szakacs, PhD – Grammy Foundation GrantIn 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 EmotionsJudith Piggot, PhD – UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment GrantUsing 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 ChildrenJane Tavyev Asher, MDUsing 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 ChildrenJeff Wood, PhD – Autism Speaks Family Services Community GrantDr. 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 StudentsElizabeth Laugeson, PsyD – Nathan& Lilly Shapell Foundation Grant, Shapell & Guerin Family Foundation Grant, Friends of the Semel Insitute Grant, Semel Scholar Award for Junior Faculty DevelopmentThis 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 ChildrenJan Blacher, PhD – Institute of Education Sciences (IES) GrantIn 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