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UCLA Campus Report: A Communication Breakthrough for Children w Autism, More

This week’s post includes a study regarding communication with children with autism, good news for California’s commercial real estate sector, news of a pop star who recorded a performance in Royce Hall and a look at Real Madrid’s annual visit to campus.

Student Center
Student Center

An occasional report from around campus that recognizes that UCLA is a school with a world-class reputation for research and innovation and whose people make real impact on the real world:

This week’s post includes a study regarding communication with children with autism, good news for California’s commercial real estate sector, news of a pop star who recorded a performance in Royce Hall and a look at Real Madrid’s annual visit to campus.

UCLA-led study finds personalized approach enhances communication skills in children with autism

Computer tablets play key role in the blended therapy

A UCLA-led study has found that the communication skills of minimally verbal children with autism can be greatly improved through personalized interventions that are combined with the use of computer tablets.

The three-year study examined different approaches to improving communication abilities among children with autism spectrum disorder and minimal verbal skills. Approximately 30 percent of children with ASD overall remain minimally verbal even after years of intervention.

UCLA professor Connie Kasari, the paper's senior author, worked with researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. They found that children's language skills greatly improved when spoken- and social-communication therapy was tailored based on their individual progress and delivered using computer tablets.

The trial involved 61 children with ASD, ages 5 to 8. For six months, each child received communication therapy focusing on social communication gestures, such as pointing, as well as play skills and spoken language.

Half of the children were randomly selected to also use speech-generating applications on computer tablets for at least half of the time during their sessions. The tablets were programmed with audio clips of words the children were learning about during their therapy sessions and images of the corresponding objects. Working with a therapist, the child could tap a picture of a block, for example, and the tablet would play audio of the word "block."

The researchers found that children who had access to the tablets during therapy were more likely to use language spontaneously and socially than the children who received the communication intervention alone — and that incorporating the tablets at the beginning of the treatment was more effective than introducing it later in the therapy.

"It was remarkable how well the tablet worked in providing access to communication for these children," said Kasari, professor of human development and psychology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and professor of psychiatry at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. "Children who received the behavioral intervention along with the tablet to support their communication attempts made much faster progress in learning to communicate, and especially in using spoken language."

Researchers also conducted follow-up visits with the children three months after the initial study period and found that their improvement had been maintained during that time.

California is building once again, according to commercial real estate survey

Allen Matkins/UCLA Anderson Forecast study finds steady recovery reflected in new construction in all markets

New commercial space is expected to increase through 2017 across most California real estate markets, thanks in part to job growth and goods moving through the state’s ports. The outlook is based on the recent Allen Matkins/UCLA Anderson Forecast Commercial Real Estate Survey, a leading indicator of future commercial construction in California that analyzes the three-year outlook for real estate development activity and provides insights into new, not yet on the radar, building projects.

The survey is available for free download (registration required), and a brief video presents highlights of the study.

"The optimism about 2017 in the surveys, broad-based across all markets, is an important indicator of both the probability of new additions to stock being started over the next two years and of opportunities for new investment in multi-family, office and industrial space," says Jerry Nickelsburg, adjunct professor of economics at UCLA Anderson School of Management and senior economist with UCLA Anderson Forecast. "This optimism, supported by job and income growth on the demand side and a lack of sufficient building on the supply side, reflects what we expect to be another good run of building in the California non-residential space, activity that should continue through the next phase of the economic recovery."

Office development to remain steady

Previously, uncertainty about the effects of the "fiscal cliff" and weakened vacancy rates in 2012 and 2013 caused office market developers in the Bay Area to view the existing stock as well as new construction in the pipeline to be sufficient to meet demand. In the latest survey, one-half of the panel planned to start one or more new projects in this market within the next 12 months, showing an expectation of improving markets.

Developers in the San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles markets are viewing 2016 and 2017 positively and expect office markets in Southern California to be better in both rental and occupancy rates. However, developers in all three markets are cautious about new office space development, as demand catches up with supply. Fewer than 30 percent of the panel surveyed indicated plans to develop new office space by mid-2015.

Multi-family sector poised for activity

Multi-family housing development continues to climb in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley areas as economic growth results in new household formation. Forty-four percent of the Bay Area panel stated that they will be starting one or more new multi-family projects in the coming year, the same percentage of previously surveyed panelists who started one or more projects last year. This is further evidence that the Bay Area is leading the way in new multi-family housing construction.

In Los Angeles, where little multi-family housing has been built since 2006, a healthier job market and income growth are driving greater demand for rental housing. The latest survey indicates that developers see this trend continuing for the next three years and are engaging in new multi-family housing projects.

Industrial sector remains confident

There is a renewed sense that the rapid pace of growth in coastal California and the steady increase in imported goods will continue to create more industrial space requirements in the coming three years. This bright outlook in the Bay Area, Inland Empire, Los Angeles and Orange County markets will engender new construction to support the California industries, exports to Asia and Mexico and imported consumer goods.

Sentiment across markets in this sector has remained consistent for the past six months. Since mid-2013, one half of the panel of developers started a project and fully 70 percent will begin one or more industrial space projects in the coming 12 months.

Royce Hall: A creative den for artists on the rise

Singer Jason Mraz chose UCLA's historic theater for a recently recorded special performance because of how it inspires the young artists who perform there

Stepping into a performance space with as long and august a legacy as UCLA’s Royce Hall can mark a profound experience for a young performer or mid-career artist.

Recently, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who honed his craft in San Diego coffeehouses before releasing his first album in 2002, made his own mark on Royce Hall, taking over the venue for a concert event filmed as part of the PBS program "Live from the Artists Den." Now in its eighth season, the TV series is a production of The Artists Den, an innovative music platform best-known for presenting concerts by extraordinary artists in non-traditional or historic settings.

Mraz’s Royce Hall segment airs at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 27 on PBS SoCal. A short feature video "Inside the Den" that delves into the history and importance of Royce Hall is posted on the Artists Den website.

"‘Live from the Artists Den’ is all about creating a once-in-a-lifetime connection between an artist and a special place," said creator and executive producer Mark Lieberman. "The decision to film in a certain location is always the result of repeated conversations with the artist — is there a spot or a city that they have a connection to? What kind of vibe or feel are they going for? Are there any special interests or causes they'd like to highlight? Do they want the audience to be standing or seated?"

In Mraz’s case, Royce Hall was an easy fit because his band, Raining Jane, includes three UCLA alumni — Chaska Potter, Mona Tavakoli (who also held a two-year stint as UCLA mascot Josephine Bruin) and Becky Gebhardt. Band member Mai Bloomfield is a Santa Monica native. The group also took home the coveted top ranking at the 2000 UCLA Spring Sing, UCLA's oldest and greatest musical tradition.

"Jason is also very passionate about the environment, and having him do a short acoustic set on the terrace earlier in the day for a few fans allowed us to take advantage of the natural beauty of UCLA's campus," Lieberman said.

Mraz has performed in Royce Hall before, opening for Willie Nelson in 2003, but his Artists Den headlining appearance took a turn in Bruin pride, said Royce Hall rental events manager John Henson, who worked for nearly a year with producers to make the concert and filming happen.

Loyal soccer fans brave the heat to see Real Madrid stars at UCLA

The week of practices once again attracts fans hoping for a chance to get an autograph from — or a picture with — an international soccer superstar

The sun was out at UCLA on July 23 and so were Real Madrid fans. Using the club’s unmistakable white jerseys as makeshift shields against the sun’s 90 degree heat, the fans lined the fences for hundreds of feet leading up to UCLA’s North Athletic Field, pens, notebooks and jerseys in hand, hoping to get a signature from one of their soccer heroes.

Since 2010, UCLA has been hosting the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid for a week as the players train for their upcoming season in Spain’s La Liga. The club won the Champions League earlier this year — the most prestigious title in European soccer — and is currently considered the best team on the planet. Fans flock to campus for the chance to see the legendary players in real-life — and so do a few celebrities. David Beckham has been known to drop by, and NBA star Carmelo Anthony kicked a ball around with the players earlier this week. Real Madrid began their training on July 22 and will practice at UCLA through July 28.

One of the fans in the crowd, Daniel Noji, comes to this event every year. A Real Madrid fan for the past 10 years, Noji stood by the barricades holding a soccer ball with more than 15 signatures on it — all of past and present Real players. He’s been adding names at these practices for the last five years.

"I haven’t gotten Gareth Bale’s signature yet," Noji, 27, said. Bale, a Welsh winger, is a recent addition to the team having joined last year. "That’s one of my goals today."

Noji works at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA as a programmer, and keeps the signature-covered ball on his desk.

"I haven’t missed a Real game in 6 years," he said. "And this event is the perfect opportunity to see the best footballers in the world. I see them on TV every weekend, and it’s amazing to see them up close."

The practices are closed to the public, so on the soccer pitch, it is a much different scene than the pandemonium outside.

Inside the brick wall surrounding the field, the sounds of the media hung in the air. Camera clicks, Spanish whispers and British accents buzzed along the sideline as videographers, photographers and reporters scrambled to get their stories, whereas the smell of sunscreen permeated the noise from the other side of the sideline. The Real Madrid assistant coaches were applying generous swaths of sunscreen, to protect against the intensity of the Southern California sun.

The team went through its strength training and fitness exercises, culminating in a half-field scrimmage. Stars like Bale, whom Noji wanted to get an autograph from, and the Portuguese defender Pepe were clad in the team’s Adidas gear that bears "Fly Emirates" on the chest.

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti watched the team vigilantly, periodically yelling things like, "Ayudalo!"("Help him!") and "No perder, no perder!" (Don’t lose it, don’t lose it!). Practice was competitive, but relatively tranquil. That would change when the players faced the fans.

The moment a player stepped outside and within view of the fans, they erupted in screams. When Xabi Alonso walked out to one of the many golf carts waiting to take team members back and forth from the locker room, the sea of fans formed a tidal wave of yearning.

"Xabi! Xabi!" "Please, please," "Over here, Xabi!" thundered people in the crowd, their arms outstretched for a handshake or an autograph. So many fans were toppling over themselves to get to him that the fence holding them back nearly fell over. The midfielder signed a few autographs, took a few photos, and hopped into the golf cart. His teammate Pepe, who was similarly mauled by fans, joined him and the two were driven away by security. When the players were out of sight, the fans fell back into a lull, anxiously awaiting the next opportunity to glimpse a star.

To pass time between player sightings, fans passed soccer balls to each other. Others found some rare splashes of shade and took brief respites from the heat. But many fans remained pressed up against the fences, standing at the ready, focused on their goal: meeting a player.

Some of Real’s most popular players will not attend the practices at UCLA, including Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Marcelo. When asked what he thought about Ronaldo’s absence, Noji didn’t have a chance to respond. His female friend, who had been hanging on the barricade, turned around and playfully interjected, "I came here to see Ronaldo," she said. "I don’t know why I’m even here now."

They shared a laugh.

Another fan a couple of feet away overheard their conversation and squeezed through the crowd to share his opinion on Ronaldo’s absence. He and Noji got to talking and found out that they both hailed from the same town, Hanford (about three hours north of L.A.), and even went to the same high school. They embraced, and Noji quickly turned and said, "See here? Real Madrid is bringing people together."

Judging by the hordes of fans crowding together to see the team in spite of the sweltering heat, Noji, who ultimately achieved his goal of adding Bale's signature to his soccer ball and a jersey, couldn’t have been more right.