Assistant Clinical Professor, UCLA Semel Institute Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences
She teaches the science of making friends.
Many people with autism have difficulty reading expressions or body language or picking up the social cues the rest of us take for granted. These individuals simply don’t have the instincts for social interaction that other people do. But clinical psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson believes that social skills can be learned, in much the same way we can learn a foreign language. Laugeson teaches autistic children and young adults how to engage others in conversation, make friends, date, handle bullying and even get a job. And her work is altering pathways to the brain. Laugeson honed her approach at UCLA, where she is an assistant clinical professor in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. And she is the founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, a training program for developmentally challenged youth that she launched at UCLA in 2005 and has since expanded to locations across the U.S. and around the world. “This is actually a set of skills that can be learned,” Laugeson says. “You don’t have to be born with them.”