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Wendy Klag Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities

Taiwan Autism Study

Taiwan Autism Study

“Autism can affect everyone – no matter what country you live in,” says Li-Ching Lee, PhD, ScM, an associate scientist, faculty member and researcher with the Wendy Klag Center. Lee’s work with the Departments of Epidemiology and Mental Health frequently takes her many time zones away from her office at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, to other areas of the globe.

In Taiwan, Lee works on two projects which combine her interests in autism, global health, and underserved populations. The Taiwan Autism Study is an epidemiologic study that involves multiple steps. It first developed Chinese-Mandarin versions of well-known ASD screening and diagnostic instruments, including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). After the initial translation into Mandarin, the researchers consulted with instrument authors and modified the Chinese versions to make them more culturally appropriate. The next phase was to train Taiwanese clinicians to reliably administer the instruments. In the final phase, Lee’s team conducted population-based ASD screening among first- and second graders in Pingtung County, Taiwan. Children who screened positive for higher ASD risk were invited for a clinic visit where the Chinese-Mandarin versions of the ADOS and ADI-R were administered, and clinical judgment was also provided by local expert child psychiatrists.

Another of Lee’s Taiwanese projects is to train parents of children with ASD. Working with local colleagues in Taiwan, Lee and the team are developing, implementing, and evaluating a comprehensive, parent-mediated and culturally sensitive ASD intervention that will be carried out in homes by parents. Training parents to act as therapists at home can reduce barriers to access services, especially for underserved families. If successful, the program could become a model for populations in other regions of Taiwan, or other Asian countries that share a similar cultural background.

Lee also is an investigator for an ASD epidemiological study in Bangladesh, a recently funded project led by Parul Christian, DrPH, MSc, International Health. The study aims to screen, diagnose and estimate the prevalence of ASD among 10,000 children ages 7-9 in a rural area in northwest Bangladesh.