Occupational Therapy professor presents autism research in Iran

Dr. Laura Greiss Hess, Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, traveled to Iran in December to present her research and clinical experience focused on working with children diagnosed with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Hess was the occupational therapist on an interdisciplinary team of geneticists, pediatricians, psychologists, behaviorists, and speech language pathologists from a variety of universities, including UC Davis, Cal State Monterey Bay, and Emory University.

The visit was organized and sponsored through the Iran-based Charity Foundation for Special Diseases and Senses Cultural. Senses Cultural is a California-based nonprofit organization focused on promoting Iranian culture.

In Tehran, the team presented to an audience of more than 200 government officials, psychologists, behaviorists, therapists, special education teachers and families attending the Third International Autism Conference at the Presidential Club.

The first day of the conference was focused on scientific research and clinical interventions for an audience of professionals. The second day featured practical, day-to-day intervention recommendations from Dr. Hess, as well as a child psychologist, a behaviorist, a speech and a language pathologist. Both days of the conference featured lectures from scholars and clinicians from both the USA and Iran.

The audience, Hess recalls, was well informed about developments in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders.  Many questions focused on how to better integrate children into the greater community, especially as they age.

“We had heard that in Iran, there have been some good beginnings surrounding training for children with autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, but there is a strong demand for more training and more information,” she says. “The audience had many questions focused on issues around access for people with disabilities in the community.”

Prior to the Third International Autism Conference, Senses Cultural arranged for the team to present at a one-day conference for approximately 200 teachers and therapists entitled, Living with Autism:  A Training Workshop for Autism Teachers which was held at the Niavaran Cultural Center in Tehran.  Additionally, the team traveled to Isfahan and presented a one day conference for professionals at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences and Health Services, followed by a visit to the Isfahan Autism Center, a school for children with autism.

Hess, who brings more than 22 years to Dominican’s Department of Occupational Therapy of experience in clinical and research with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families, spoke about expertise specific to occupational therapists, including interventions for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and assistive technology (AT) applications.

“I presented on the collaboration between occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other educators and how to shape the learning day so that students are getting their therapy embedded into how they learn.  These are concepts we are still addressing here in the USA."

Before joining Dominican, Hess worked for 12 years at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She also taught in the classroom as a special education teacher and later practiced as an OT in the schools with certification in both sensory integration and assistive technology. She has collaborated on research publications and presented nationally and internationally on fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing, interdisciplinary team collaboration, imitation/motor development, school-based OT, and assistive technology.

Hess completed her PhD in Education at the University of California, Davis, her MS in Occupational Therapy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her BS in Special Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.


February 12, 2018