Connie Kasari: Providing UCLA Leadership in Worldwide Discussion of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Focus on underserved children with autism includes teacher training in Los Angeles, raising global awareness of autism solutions.

Professor of Human Development and Psychology Connie Kasari attended the World Health Organization’s “Consultation on Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disorders: From awareness raising to capacity building,” on September 16-18 in Geneva.  She spoke about educational services for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the United States.  Despite the wealth of the United States, her research focuses on the large number of children with ASD who are still underserved. Kasari studies the implementation of evidence-based interventions in under-resourced school settings, and for children who often have limited access to the most effective interventions.

Kasari also studies children with ASD who are under-represented in research studies. She has two studies funded by the National Institutes of Health that focus on children with ASD who are minimally verbal despite having had access to early intervention. These children are often excluded from research studies because they do not speak, so little is known about their potential.

“We know that the percentage of children who remain minimally verbal by age five or six has steadily decreased in the U.S., probably due to the increased access to early intervention services,” she says. “Still there are nearly 25-30 percent of children who speak very little by five years of age, and we need to find new ways to reach these children.”

Kasari also has been raising awareness of autism globally, and has recently traveled to India, Vietnam, and Bosnia.  She will travel to Russia and Malaysia later this year.

“We find many minimally verbal children in countries that do not have good infrastructure for early intervention or special education,” Kasari says. “ Often, [these] children are not welcome in the general school setting, or cannot go to school at all.  Children are tragically delayed when they do not need to be if they had had access to interventions and knowledgeable professionals.”

Kasari has been actively involved with teacher training in the Los Angeles area, particularly as more children with autism spectrum disorders are identified, now 1 in 88 children, and 1 in 56 boys.

“These are truly amazing children and we can learn so much from them,” she notes. “Our goal is to motivate teachers to include all children in their classrooms and to arm them with effective strategies for doing so.”

Kasari’s work has been featured in numerous autism and health journals, including the news section of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative and the NIH’s News in Health Newsletter. She has also blogged on school-based interventions for children with autism and produced a podcast for “Autism Matters,” a website by Sage Publications.


Photo by Tom Lenk