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Culture & Disability: Autism Spectrum Disorder in India and The US

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Thomas S. Wesiner

PhD, Professor, Department of Anthropology
Director, Center for Culture and Health, UCLA

More about Thomas Weisner...

Toms_photo.306131405_stdThomas S. Weisner, PhD is Professor of Anthropology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences (NPI Semel Institute, Center for Culture and Health) and Anthropology at UCLA.  His research and teaching interests are in culture and human development; medical, psychological and cultural studies of families and children at risk; mixed methods; and evidence-informed policy. He is Director of the Center for Culture & Health, and the Fieldwork and Qualitative Data Laboratory in the Mental Retardation Research Center. Weisner has ongoing collaborations across the Semel Institute with the Center for Community Health, with Naihua Duan (in the Center for Health Services), and the MRRC (Fieldwork lab core facility). Weisner is on the executive committee of the Culture, Brain, and Development program (CBD) housed in  Anthropology, and has served on the research, education, and training committees of the CBD.  He also has coordinated the core seminar of the CBD, and participated in conferences sponsored by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research.  He participates in Anthropology Department activities as a joint appointment, including seminars and training activities there.

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Tamara Daley, PhD

Senior Research Analyst, Westat, Inc.

More about Tamara Daler...

Tamara_DaleyTamara Cohen Daley, PhD, is a Senior Study Director at Westat. She has both lived and worked in India on and off throughout her life. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Daley has designed and conducted more than half a dozen research and evaluation studies on disability in India. These projects include the first national study of parents of children with autism in India; a national survey of diagnostic practices and beliefs among paediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists; a comparison of paediatrician practices and beliefs about autism over a 10-year period; a comprehensive review of published literature on autism; and the effect of the popular media on awareness of autism amongst the general public.

In addition to research in India, Dr. Daley has led or contributed to the design, implementation, and analysis of multiple research projects involving children, adolescents, and families in the U.S. and elsewhere. These projects include work in rural Kenya, such as identifying changes in child cognitive scores over time and the role of classroom quality; research on mental health problems in second generation Cambodian refugees and intergenerational transmission of trauma; longitudinal studies of children with developmental delay; and evaluation of the implementation of the U.S. federal special education law using large-scale national datasets. Dr. Daley currently is engaged in separate evaluations of human trafficking projects located in India, Qatar and Cameroon.

Dr. Daley received a BA in psychology from Grinnell College, a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake research in India, and an MA and PhD in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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Affiliated Faculty

Nidhi Singhal, PhD

Director, Research & Training, Action for Autism/National Centre for Autism, New Dehli, India

More about Nidhi Singhal...

Nidhi2Nidhi Singhal, PhD, is Director of Research and Training at Action for Autism (National Centre for Autism) in New Dehli, India.

Dr. Singhal has extensive experience providing psychological services to persons with autism and their family members. As a PI or co-Investigator on several grants, Dr. Singhal laid the groundwork for autism research in India. She helped develop and establish an IRB for Action for Autism, which was critically important to ensure that research on autism in India is conducted with high standards and clear consideration of ethical issues. Dr. Singhal coordinates research collaborations with other institutes, and mentors graduate, postgraduate, doctoral and post doctoral students interested in researching the field of autism in India. Dr. Singhal’s own research has focused on two primary areas: development of a tool for screening, diagnosis and functional skills assessment in autism, and on the topic of psychosocial support for families of children with autism. Her research interests include studying the sociocultural interplay and its influence on development of and access to services for people with autism; researching the autistic symptomatology, building upon screening and diagnostic markers, clinical epidemiology; the role of culture in the parental experience of autism, and development of parent empowerment programs.

Dr Singhal is recognized as an expert on autism by the Indian statutory body responsible for training professionals in India. Her experience with working with hundreds of families gives her an astute grasp on the movement of autism in India.

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Rachel Brezis, PhD

FPR Postdoctoral Fellow, Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture and Neuroscience, UCLA

More about Rachel Brezis...

r.brezisRachel S. Brezis, PhD, is a developmental psychologist specializing in autism – at the nexus of biological, psychological and cultural constraints. Dr. Brezis received her PhD in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago in 2011, and her BA in Psychology and Amirim Interdisciplinary Honors Program from the Hebrew University, Jerusalem in 2006. Her main research interest focuses on autism as a case study for understanding the neuropsychological bases of cultural development. Her dissertation work examined the development of social and non-social memory in children and adolescents with autism, using qualitative interviews, clinical assessments and fMRI. Her MA work examined the relation between Theory of Mind and religious development in Jewish children and adolescents with autism in Israel.

Dr. Brezis currently holds the Foundation for Psychocultural Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture and Neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. In this capacity, she is working with Tom Weisner and Tamara Daley (co-PI’s) as the project director for a series of studies on autism in India – in collaboration with Action for Autism, India. The project’s first study is an evaluation of an Indian parent-training program for parents of children with autism; the second study will be a study of adults with autism in India. Together, these studies will provide an important lens onto the interaction of culture, brain, development and mental health.

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