Houston professor helps families with autistic children all over the world

A Houston educator is being recognized for work she’s doing with autistic kids all over the world.

University of Houston Clear Lake Behavior Analyst Loukia Tsami is putting in time, sweat, and tears but "work" typically implies you’re being paid to do it and she’s not. Tsami is helping families with autistic children out of the goodness of her heart.         

"We have helped 54 families in 24 countries," Tsami explains. The Behavior Analyst is giving families around the world a priceless gift, absolutely free of charge. "From Africa, Asia, Middle East, Europe, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia," she rattles off, listing some of the regions where she’s helped families. "We want to see them, their families and the children improve their lives, have a better quality of life." She visits those places via her desktop. 

In front of her computer with a tiny camera connecting her face to face to families far away, this Houston Professor works with moms and dads who have children that are autistic and acting out, to help them correct and understand their child’s behavior. One of her first clients was non-verbal.

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"She was engaging in aggression against her mother and property destruction. She would break everything in the room," Tsami explains.

Now that little girl is saying some words, attending school and Tsami says, like most of the families she assists, the kiddo simply needed help communicating.

"It is very common to see that if a child does not have a way to communicate, problem behavior becomes their way to communicate."

She says in certain parts of the world they're severely punishing, over-medicating these children and some have told her they actually thought their child was cursed.

"Sometimes they’re not aware their child has a disability. Some believe they’re being punished by God. Some are told to institutionalize their child," says Tsami.

"She has made it her mission, particularly in those areas of the world that have very few resources regarding this problem to educate and assist these families," says Dr. Dorothea Lerman Professor of Behavior Analysis Director of UHCL Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Lerman is Tsami’s boss.

"For me, Loukia is just awe-inspiring."

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Tsami calls her volunteer work the TeleHealth Applied Behavior Analyst Project.

She meets her clients when it's convenient for them. So if a family in Greece can meet at 11:00 a.m., remember Houston is eight hours behind.

"Sometimes I have to wake up at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning," Tsami says.

Tsami has been doing this volunteer TeleHealth work since 2015. She spends months online with each family, assessing the children and coming up with solutions.

"There’s no one in the world doing this. This is extremely unique. One day when we can all go traveling again and I go traveling to other countries I think I’m going to see a statue of Loukia because she’s famous. She’s actually world-famous because of what she’s doing," smiles Lerman.