Our History

UCLA has been at the forefront of innovative research in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for over 50 years, with the research and treatment conducted at UCLA setting the standard for many of the models currently used today. In 2003, the Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART) was founded in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. Led by Dr. Marian Sigman and Dr. Daniel Geschwind, the newly formed interdisciplinary center brought together experts in genetics, brain imaging, pharmacology, and behavioral intervention, and now includes faculty from the UCLA departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Neurology, Human Genetics, Pediatrics, Biostatistics, and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. This strong, collaborative environment for basic and clinical research allows CART scientists and clinicians to apply the most innovative scientific methods to understand the biological basis of ASD so that precise diagnoses can be made and effective, targeted treatments can be developed; to provide education and outreach to individuals with ASD and their families in order to bridge the gap between leading-edge science and the community; and to advance the scope and effectiveness of interventions through new research for individuals with ASD across the lifespan.

Since our establishment, CART has earned numerous funding awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including substantial support from the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program. For three consecutive awards totaling 15 years to date, NIH has supported the research of CART investigators as a strong collaborative group able to work synergistically to study autism. Simultaneously, CART investigators have also received multiple ACE Network grants, enabling collaboration with major autism centers from other universities around the country. Check out the timeline below to learn more about the innovative and cutting-edge work at CART.

 UCLA CART milestones        External milestones

  • Dr. Ivar Lovaas establishes behavior modification as the first effective treatment for autism, finding that children make remarkable progress when they received intensive intervention based on applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA continues to demonstrate efficacy through rigorous clinical trials.
  • Dr. Edward Ritvo and Dr. Edward Ornitz describe the first EEG-based studies used to investigate the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying autism. They are the first to recognize sensory processing abnormalities in autism.
  • Dr. Marian Sigman creates one of the first well-articulated developmental programs of research that uncoveres many of the characteristics that are now considered core deficits of ASD. These core deficit areas include social communication, joint attention, social motivation and social orienting; they remain central to CART’s research program.

    Dr. Marian Sigman
  • Dr. BJ Freeman establishes the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP), recently renamed KidsConnect and currently directed by Dr. Stephanny Freeman and Dr. Tanya Paparella. This unique, effective day-treatment program is for young children who have been diagnosed with, or may have, autism, developmental disabilities, and behavior disorders.
  • 1997: Dr. Daniel Geschwind and Cure Autism Now Foundation establish the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE). At this time, AGRE is the largest, private, open-access repository of clinical and genetic information dedicated to autism research.
  • 1997: Dr. Marian Sigman and colleagues are recognized as a Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) by the NIH. The CPEA network is the first of its kind to address unique research topics at each center. This 5-year program enables researchers to focus on the neurobiology and genetics of autism. Dr. Marian Sigman and colleagues examine the bases for communication and social deficits in children with autism. Read more here.
  • 2003: Dr. Marian Sigman and Dr. Daniel Geschwind establish the Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART) in the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA bringing together experts at UCLA in genetics, brain imaging, pharmacology, and behavioral intervention.

    Dr. Marian Sigman and Dr. Daniel Geschwind
  • 2003: Dr. Marian Sigman leads Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) at UCLA. Funded by the NIH, STAART is a five year program enabling sites to conduct individual and collaborative projects to learn more about the causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatment of autism.
  • 2004: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson and Dr. Fred Frankel develop the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) intervention for adolescents at UCLA. This intervention provides evidence-based social skills for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.
  • 2008: Dr. Daniel Geschwind and colleagues identify the gene CNTNAP2 as a risk factor for ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
  • 2007: CART is named an NIH Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) to support an interdisciplinary, multi-level, and fully translational research program with strong collaborations between laboratories. CART researchers seek to understand how ASD affects the ability to communicate, examining clues to language-related communication problems by looking at genes, behavior, brain structure and function. Researchers also examine the relationship between ASD and mirror neurons. The ACE Center is led by principal investigator, Dr. Marion Sigman.
  • 2007: Dr. Shafali Jeste joins CART faculty and creates the Electrophysiology Core laboratory to enhance autism research for infants and minimally verbal young children.
  • 2007: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson develops the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) intervention for young adults. This intervention provides evidence-based social skills for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.
  • 2008: Dr. Connie Kasari and colleagues from autism centers around the country form the Autism Intervention Research Network (AIR-B). The goal of AIR-B is to deploy effective and sustainable evidence-based practices that will serve a broad community base and improve outcomes for all children with ASD. Researchers focus on novel interventions delivered to underserved and under-represented community settings to reduce core deficits of children with ASD.
  • 2008: Dr. Daniel Geschwind begins studying genetic susceptibility for autism in families of African-American descent in collaboration with Dr. John Constantino at Washington University in St. Louis. With a goal of increasing racial diversity in autism research and understanding health disparities underlying different rates of autism diagnosis in African-Americans compared to Caucasians, this was the first and remains the only study of its kind.
  • 2008: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson develops the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) intervention for preschoolers. This intervention provides evidence-based social skills for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.
  • 2010: Dr. Susan Bookheimer, Dr. Mirella Dapretto, and Dr. Daniel Geschwind and colleagues use functional brain imaging to examine the relationship between genetic variants in CNTNAP2, a gene recognized as contributing to ASD risk, and connectivity between different brain regions. This multi-disciplinary study finds that ASD susceptibility variants (or changes in the sequence of the gene that increase a person’s risk for having ASD) identified in CNTNAP2 through prior genetic studies correlate with changes in brain connectivity observed in individuals with ASD, thus suggest a mechanism through which CNTNAP2 variants act to cause ASD. Read more here.
  • 2010: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson establishes the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) Clinic at UCLA. This clinic provides evidence-based social skills to preschoolers, adolescents, and young adults with ASD, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems. She also publishes Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders: The PEERS® Treatment Manual, focused on the topic of social skills training for people with ASD and other social challenges. This book has been translated into numerous languages across the globe.

    Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson
  • 2010: Dr. Connie Kasari’s research on her JASPER behavioral intervention is named a “2010 Top Ten Autism Research Achievement” by Autism Speaks. JASPER (Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement, and Regulation) is a treatment approach that targets the foundations of social communication (joint attention, imitation, play) and uses naturalistic strategies to increase the rate and complexity of social communication.
  • 2011: Led by Dr. Connie Kasari, the Autism Intervention in Research Network is renewed (AIR-B II). AIR-B II expands to include additional sites and a new partnership with Healthy African American Families (HAAF), led by Dr. Loretta Jones, founder and CEO of HAAF and assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. HAAF works to improve the health outcomes of the African American, Latino, and Korean communities in Los Angeles County. This partnership implements Community Partnered Participatory Research (CPPR), enabling people in the community to ensure that researchers understand community needs and concerns.

    Dr. Loretta Jones and Dr. Connie Kasari
  • 2012: CART is again named an NIH Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) and is the only previously funded center to receive the grant a second time. The ACE Center grant enables CART’s research to integrates genetic and biological markers of autism with behavioral approaches. Researchers utilize brain imaging technology to chart brain development among individuals having genes suspected of contributing to ASD and examine the link between genetic variants to distinct patters of brain development, structure and function in ASD. Researchers also focus on investigating treatments to improve social behavior and attention in infants and acquisitions of language in older children with ASD. The second ACE Center is led by principal investigator, Dr. Susan Bookheimer.
  • 2012: CART researchers receive two Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network grants from the NIH.

    Dr. Connie Kasari, lead principal investigator, along with collaborators from sites around the country, compare two types of intensive, daily instruction for children with ASD who use only minimal verbal communication.

    Dr. Susan Bookheimer and Dr. Mirella Dapretto, along with collaborators from sites around the country, investigate the poorly understood nature of ASD in females, with plans to recruit the largest group of girls with ASD studied to date.


    Dr. Susan Bookheimer and Dr. Mirella Dapretto
  • 2012: Dr. Connie Kasari’s landmark research on peer training is recognized as a “Top 10 Research Advance of 2012” by Autism Speaks. Her study findings suggest training classmates on how to interact with children who have social challenges produces greater gains in social inclusion than even one-on-one training between therapist and child. Read more here.
  • 2013: DSM-5 is released and condenses several sub-diagnoses under the single umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is defined as having impaired social communication ability and the presence of restricted and/or repetitive behaviors.
  • 2013: Dr. Daniel Geschwind and colleagues receive a second five-year Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network grant from the NIH to continue their research on the genetic causes of ASD in African Americans and to examine health disparities contributing to racial differences in ASD diagnosis. Watch an NBC LA news segment about this research.
  • 2013: Dr. Amanda Gulsrud is named Clinical Director of the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic. The CAN Clinic provides multidisciplinary assessments and evidence-based treatment for children, adolescents, and adults with neurodevelopmental conditions and social development impairments related to ASD, developmental delays, and genetic conditions. The CAN Clinic is the behavioral phenotyping core of CART.

    Dr. Amanda Gulsrud
  • 2013: Dr. James McCracken and colleagues are awarded a $9 million contract by the NIH for an ambitious effort to rapidly study promising new drugs that may restore normal development and brain function in children with ASD. Read more here.
  • 2013: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson publishes The Science of Making Friends, focused on the topic of social skills training for people with ASD and other social challenges. This book has been translated into numerous languages across the globe.
  • 2014: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ASD.
  • 2014: Dr. Daniel Geschwind and his Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network partner with the Special Needs Network (SNN) to enhance participation in genetic research for African American families with autism. Founded by Areva Martin, Esq, the mission of the SNN is to raise public awareness of developmental disabilities and to impact public policy, while providing education and resources to underserved families.
  • 2014: Dr. Connie Kasari’s research suggests that at-home caregiver training can significantly improve social communication in children with ASD from low-resourced families. The study reports that low-income and minority families are poorly represented in randomized control trials of these types of interventions. Read more here.
  • 2014: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson publishes The PEERS Curriculum for School-Based Professionals: Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder, focused on the topic of social skills training for people with ASD and other social challenges. This book has been translated into numerous languages across the globe.
  • 2015: CART joins the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials in efforts to identify reliable and objective measures of social impairment. This multi-center study of preschool and school-aged children with ASD aims to identify non-invasive markers that could help physicians diagnose and track the disorder as well as assess treatments in individuals with ASD. Dr. Shafali Jeste leads CART’s effort. Read more here.
  • 2015: Dr. Connie Kasari’s Autism Intervention in Research network is awarded a third time (AIR-B III), continuing its partnership with Healthy African American Families (HAAF). By partnering with local community organizations, the five-year study aims to reduce service disparities for underserved and under-represented communities through developing new and sustainable interventions that match community need. AIR-B III and HAAF also launch the first Autism Conference held in South Los Angeles to help researchers understand from the community’s perspective what the barriers are to accessing services in South Los Angeles and allowing researchers to share their knowledge and information about ASD with community members. Read more here.
  • 2015: Dr. Daniel Geschwind’s Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network, focused on the genetics of autism for African American families and on increasing diversity in research, establishes a community advisory board with its community partners and representatives. Members include Congresswoman Karen Bass, U.S. Representative for California’s 37th congressional district, and Areva Martin, Esq, the president and co-founder of the Special Needs Network.
  • 2015: Dr. Shafali Jeste establishes Care and Research in Neurogenetics Clinic or CARING Clinic at UCLA. This multidisciplinary clinic evaluates and treats children and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders and known genetic syndrome or variant. The clinic is established to address disparities in the care of complex neurodevelopmental disorders and provide precision medicine services for these patients.

    The CARING Clinic
  • 2015: Dr. James McCracken is the 2015 recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s highest honor for research in child and adolescent psychiatry. The Blanche F. Ittleson Award recognizes outstanding published research in child and adolescent psychiatry that has resulted in or promises to lead to, a significant advance in promoting the mental health of children. Read more here.
  • 2016: UCLA CAN REACH Program is created, with support from the Kaplan & Rothstein Fund, to improve the translation of evidence-based treatments from the university to the community by offering training workshops and educational lectures to community providers and families.
  • 2016: Dr. James McCracken is honored by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with the George Tarjan, MD Award for Contributions in Developmental Disabilities. The award recognizes psychiatrists who treat children and adolescents who have made significant contributions in a lifetime career or a single seminal work to the understanding or care in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Read more here.

    Dr. James McCracken
  • 2016: Dr. Daniel Geschwind’s groundbreaking Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network focused on the genetics of African Americans, with collaborators recruiting patients at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, Washington University, and Yale University, achieves a recruitment milestone of over 500 families with autism.
  • 2017: For the third consecutive time, CART is named an NIH Autism Center of Excellence due to our team’s highly collaborative studies in early detection and experimental intervention for autism, as well as the biological basis for the condition. CART researchers are examining individual variation, or heterogeneity, in the symptoms of ASD. Researchers are looking for clues that may help determine which children will develop autism, which genetic factors contribute to autism, and which treatments are most effective for different children. The third ACE Center is led by principal investigator, Dr. Susan Bookheimer. Read more here.
  • 2017: Dr. Susan Bookheimer, Dr. Mirella Dapretto, and Dr. Daniel Geschwind’s Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network grant, led by Dr. Kevin Pelphrey now at the University of Virginia, is funded for an additional five years. This study investigates why girls are diagnosed with ASD much less frequently than boys and uses imaging techniques such as MRI to understand how the brain develops differently in children with ASD.
  • 2017: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson publishes PEERS® for Young Adults: Social Skills Training for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Social Challenges, focused on the topic of social skills training for people with ASD and other social challenges. This book has been translated into numerous languages across the globe.
  • 2018: Dr. Daniel Geschwind’s Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network focused on the genetics of African Americans receives its third consecutive five-year award from NIH to continue their research on the genetic causes of ASD in African Americans and to examine health disparities contributing to racial differences in ASD diagnosis. Dr. Geschwind continues to partner with the Special Needs Network on this crucial project to better understand and meet the needs of African Americans with autism.
  • 2018: Dr. Catherine Lord joins CART as Professor of Human Development and Psychology and the George Tarjan Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and the David Geffen School of Medicine. Dr. Lord is a key contributor in the development of the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), a standardized diagnostic instrument for ASD, and the ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised), a parent interview considered the gold standard for research diagnoses used all over the world.

    Dr. Catherine Lord
  • 2018: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson develops the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) for Careers, an intervention for young adults in their transition from an education to employment setting. This innovative intervention provides evidence-based social skills for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.
  • 2018: Dr. Susan Bookheimer receives the 2018 Glass Brain Award from the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, and is its first female honoree. Established in 2014, the award recognizes lifetime achievement in the use of neuroimaging to advance understanding of the brain. Dr. Bookheimer was honored for her work developing brain imaging techniques to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, brain tumors and epilepsy. Read more here.

    Dr. Susan Bookheimer
  • 2018: CART researchers score 3 of top 10 autism studies in 2018 by Autism Speaks in an annual listing of notable autism research.

    Dr. Connie Kasari and colleagues examined how a UCLA-developed approach to personalized autism intervention, known as SMART, can be used by researchers to improve how they evaluate new treatments.

    Dr. Catherine Lord and colleagues provided important information about the highly variable development of autism symptoms and the severity among very young children.

    Dr. Michael Gandal, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, and colleagues found significant overlap in gene-expression patterns in the brains of people with autism, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

    Dr. Michael Gandal and Dr. Daniel Geschwind
  • 2019: CART forms an advisory board with prominent and engaged members of our local Los Angeles community. This board allows CART to continue to engage with our community and work together to better carry out our mission.
  • 2019: Dr. Amanda Gulsrud and Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson establish the UCLA College to Career Transition Program through initial funding from Chau Le, John Klemm, and Northwestern Mutual. This innovative offering provides undergraduate and graduate students with ASD or suspected ASD practical skills for a successful transition from education to employment.
  • 2019: Dr. Xinshu (Grace) Xiao, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, and colleagues conduct the first comprehensive study of RNA editing in ASD. The researchers examined RNA from 69 people, about half of whom had ASD, and discovered reduced editing in the individuals with ASD compared to the typically developing individuals. Click here to learn more.
  • 2019: Dr. Shafali Jeste is awarded the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for her “exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.” PECASE is the federal government’s highest honor recognizing scientist for their contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. It also recognizes community service as demonstrated by scientific leadership, public education, and community outreach.

    Dr. Shafali Jeste
  • 2019: The CARING Clinic, directed by Dr. Shafali Jeste, joins the Angelman Syndrome Clinic Network to better provide individuals with Angelman Syndrome the comprehensive medical care needed throughout their lifetimes.
  • 2019: Dr. Daniel Geschwind, together with Dr. Dennis Wall of Stanford University, publishes the iHART study, which identifies 69 genes that increase the risk for ASD. Funded by the Hartwell foundation, the iHART team performed whole-genome sequencing in families containing two or more individuals with autism. This is the first large-scale study of inherited genetic factors contributing to autism. Autism Speaks names this study one of its “Top 10“ studies for 2019. Click here to read the full article from the UCLA Newsroom. Click here to view the segment on CBSN.
  • 2020: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 54 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with ASD. (Note: provided for context)
  • 2020: Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson develops the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) intervention for Dating for young adults. This intervention provides evidence-based social skills for individuals with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, and other socio-emotional problems.
  • 2020: Dr. Connie Kasari’s Autism Intervention in Research network is renewed a fourth time (AIR-B IV), continuing its partnership with Healthy African American Families (HAAF) and local community organizations in Los Angeles focusing on underserved and under-represented communities. AIR-B IV will test three implemented and tested studies to check the efficacy by using a strategy called UNITED. AIR-B IV will continue to host the annual Autism Conference in South Los Angeles to help researchers understand from the community’s perspective what the barriers are to accessing services in South Los Angeles and allowing researchers to share their knowledge and information about ASD with community members.