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UHCL alumna brings autism services to Saudi Arabia

November 9, 2018 | UHCL Staff

UHCL alumna brings autism services to Saudi Arabia

University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities is highly acclaimed for its success in supporting families and children who have an autism spectrum diagnosis. CADD Research Associate Loukia Tsami provides telehealth autism services to families of children with autism in Texas and internationally. Tsami has been working with UHCL alumna Sarah Al-Saleh, who completed her master’s in psychology in 2016. Al-Saleh is currently employed at the Prince Mohammad Bin Sultan Military Medical City in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she works with children on the autism spectrum.

“I’m working with people in the Medical City who don’t know much about autism,” said Al-Saleh, a Saudi Arabian citizen. “Families are coming to the clinic to ask about their child’s symptoms and want answers about why they are doing these behaviors. We are helping to identify the function of their problem behaviors, and we are seeing a lot of changes and improvement.”

In the last three years, seven centers for autism treatment have opened in Saudi Arabia Al-Saleh said. “Previous to three years, there were no services. Now, Prince Sultan is working to modernize the country. He is encouraging us to accept and help children with autism and their families and offer them free services,” she said.

Tsami said that in the U.S., there has been extensive research on autism and an array of services is available for families. “Here, it’s estimated that one child in 59 has autism, but in Saudi Arabia, there are no exact statistics yet,” she said. “We feel as though we are pioneering something new in the Medical City. So far, Sarah and one other person have training in this area. We are working to expand that.”

Al-Saleh, under regular supervision by Tsami, had worked previously as an interpreter for Tsami who offered guidance to Saudi families via teleconferencing. “Now Sarah is trained and experienced enough herself that she doesn’t need to interpret. I can step back and let her do more independent work,” Tsami said. “Sarah is taking the role of doing the assessments herself. I can fade myself out because she has mastered the needed skills. We are spreading the knowledge that we have further and further. This is a new era for families of children with autism in Saudi Arabia.”

“I’m interested in working with children who are exhibiting problem behaviors,” Al-Saleh said. “They need the expertise from someone who knows how to handle this. My UHCL training helps me do this.”

“(Professor of Psychology and CADD Director) Dorothea Lerman is behind all our work,” Tsami said. “She is always available to consult with us, especially with difficult cases. She’s one of the most respected researchers in the field and we are lucky to have her guidance.”

Al-Saleh said that although the number of clients in her caseload changes, she is currently seeing three children between the ages of 4-7 years. “They cannot attend school as the services for children with autism are not yet developed here,” she said. “They attend sessions with me.”

Al-Saleh is currently working toward becoming a board certified behavior analyst—one of only a very few in Saudi Arabia. “I have dreams of returning to the U.S. and getting my doctorate in psychology,” she said.

“We think it would be wonderful to have her back,” Tsami said. “This has been one of the many ways we support students and collaborate with them professionally, even after they have graduated. We continue to help them develop. There is no end to the relationship. There is so much the university has to offer.”

For more information about CADD services, visit

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