Psychology Professor Ellie Kazemi Brings Autism Therapy to China

Professor Ellie Kazemi (left) held training and education seminars in China

Autism Spectrum Disorders run across continents and cultures, and can devastate parents. The situation is especially acute in China, where the condition is just beginning to be diagnosed, and few treatment options exist. But sharing expertise in applied behavior analysis gives families of children with autism a chance to see powerful improvement in their children’s condition.

Given the devastatingly large number of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Psychology Professor Ellie Kazemi wanted to help. She recently visited China to share evidence-based behavioral procedures to provide a foundation for treating children and adults. As the founder of the Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis program, she knew of the acute need for help.

In the U.S., about 1 in 59 children have an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. International statistics can be hard to pin down, but the CDC reports that in Asia, Europe, and North America, an estimated 1-2% of people have autism spectrum disorder.

China Daily reported that in 2015 four in 1,000 children aged 6-12 in China had autism. China’s news agency Xinhua reports that in China more than 13 million people suffer from autism. And in an Autism Speaks blog, journalist Nick Compton of China’s Global Journalism Institute noted that “According to the China Disabled People’s Federation, it is the nation’s most prevalent brain development disorder.”

In China, with schools unequipped for students with autism and private treatment centers hard to access and costly, parental despair is common. Because of the shortage of applied behavior analysts, families often receive training to try to help their children, rather than the child working directly with a therapist. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst designation is a graduate-level certification for behavior analysts, but few certified behavior analysts exist in China.

So Kazemi brought her knowledge to a country where autism still is not well understood. Along with Chinese liaison, interpreter Ling Ma, Kazemi met with officials at treatment centers, schools, and clinics. Ma is a board certified behavior analyst as well as a parent of a child with autism. Ma also translated videos that Kazemi’s students developed for community-wide trainings.

When the International Meeting for Autism research took place in Shanghai in 2015, Kazemi’s materials were translated into Chinese and resulted in meetings and visits with officials. That was followed up by her recent trip this year to follow up and continue community outreach.

“Ling Ma invited me to accompany her to China and provide caregiver/staff training workshops to individuals who implement therapy or teach learners with autism spectrum disorder,” Kazemi said. “We spoke with parents, teachers, school principals, autism centers, government officials and other stakeholders about the importance of obtaining evidence-based treatments. We also presented various clinical applications of behavior analysis for making teaching fun and effective. We taught specific procedures for teaching communication, play, social, self-help and academic skills. We typically visited centers or schools, and I observed regular daily activities and provided consultation on organizational management, staff training or clinical applications. We provided two or three days of in-person training on how to motivate children to learn, how to teach communication, and how to manage problem behaviors in a pro-social manner and increase the learners’ quality of life.”

Kazemi said Chinese officials, teachers, and parents treated her with great respect. “I felt like a super star, treated extremely well by all of the hosts. The teachers were eager to learn, and the parents would stay long after to ask questions. I felt like the work we did had an impact, which felt great.”

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