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There's silence, and then Peter, the class jokester, quips: "Cricket, cricket."Most of the class titters nervously, but Breanna cracks up. There's a saying familiar to autism researchers: If you meet one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. The students are, by any rubric, a diverse lot: black, white and Latino; male and female; some who have finished high school and others who are working on graduate degrees.
Some, such as 26-year-old Monica Romero, found out only recently that they were on the spectrum; others, such as Breanna, were diagnosed at a very young age.
Standing in front of a conference room table on the UCLA campus, Albert Miranda fixes a wide smile on his face and stares at Elina Veytsman, giving her the once-over. The students around the table giggle as the tension rises. Elina, the program's coordinator, and Albert, a Ph D student trainee from the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, then act out a slightly more successful scenario: Albert glances up with a brief smile, and looks away. Elina, charmed, returns the eye contact and smiles. Laugeson, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, laughs and turns to the whiteboard to go through the dos and don'ts of "flirting with your eyes:" Don't smile with teeth; don't stare.
Then Elizabeth Laugeson steps in."What was that like for Elina? Glance up briefly — but repeat the process a few times.
Many people with autism struggle with issues of personal space and physical touch. After several rounds of tests and seeing specialists, Joey and his parents were sent to this same building at UCLA, where he finally received a diagnosis: autism.“But I think what PEERS has established is that this is actually a set of skills that can be learned, that you don’t have to be born with them.” (Lawrence K.Ho / Los Angeles Times)Autism is often thought of as a childhood disease, Laugeson says, and very little research has focused on adults.In all likelihood, they were told, Joey would probably not learn how to speak.His father, Jose, an engineer, approached Joey's education methodically.