UHCL behavior analyst uses telehealth for global autism outreach
August 20, 2018 | UHCL Staff
Research Associate Loukia Tsami spends her workday providing telehealth services to
families of children with autism in Texas as part of a grant-funded project at the
University of Houston Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.
But during the evenings and on weekends, she could be ‘virtually’ anywhere –in up
to 14 countries– as part of her efforts to bring critical services to families around
“This work is my passion, it’s my obsession,” said Tsami, a native-born Greek who
has a master’s in psychology and is a licensed and board-certified behavior analyst.
“Some people have nothing. They feel totally on their own. But if they have access
to the internet and a computer or smart phone with a camera, I can help.” Many countries
only have one or perhaps not a single board certified behavior analyst in the entire
country. “We began in Turkey and Greece, and moved to Russia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia,
Pakistan, Mexico, Costa Rica, China, Ghana, Liberia, Cameroon – and I had to find
interpreters,” said Tsami.
Tsami observes parents with their children by establishing a two-way interactive video
connection between her computer and the parents’ device, coaching them to interact
with their children in ways that will help her understand why the children are engaging
in problem behavior, such as aggression, self-injury, and property destruction. She
then coaches the parents to implement behavioral treatments that focus on reducing
the behavior and increasing language skills. Tsami overcomes language barriers by
recruiting interpreters to communicate with the parent during the appointments.
“I can say with confidence that no one in the entire world is doing what Loukia is
doing, on this scale,” said Dorothea Lerman, Professor of Psychology and Director
of CADD. “She is breaking barriers. And our research is showing that this therapy
is effective with families from a variety of cultures, regardless of whether we need
to use interpreters.”
Tsami created a Facebook page entitled, “Telehealth ABA World Project,” to reach families
with children with autism and offer free behavior analysis services online, regardless
of location, language, race, religion or socioeconomic status. Families around the
world often rely on ineffective treatments for problem behavior, such as medication
and harsh discipline. “I am trying to offer parents other tools besides punishment
and pills, because those things don’t help. People do not realize their kids are still
teachable,” said Tsami, who use evidence-based techniques that faculty are teaching
and refining at UHCL.
In addition to language and cultural barriers, Tsami has to overcome numerous other
challenges as she moves forward with her clients. For example, in some countries,
families do not have access to reliable internet service or transportation to facilities
that have the equipment needed for the appointments. “In Africa, we are holding fundraisers
to pay for the internet, equipment, generators, and gasoline to ensure that families
can get help,” Tsami explained.
For particularly difficult cases, Tsami said she consults with Lerman. “Having a boss
like Dr. Lerman, who can see the possibility, and the end result, and has faith in
me, is wonderful,” she said. “This work means everything to me.”
Learn more about the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at www.uhcl.edu/autism-center.