Home > Staff > Marisa Viljoen

Marisa Viljoen

Name: Marisa Viljoen

Qualification: B Occupational Therapy

Position: MSc (Neuroscience) scholar, Project coordinator (ESDM Project)





Title: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder in Context: a comparison of family perceptions in a high income and low/middle-income country


Problem: Due to very little ASD-related research from low- and middle-income countries we have a limited understanding of the impact of contextual factors on the functioning of individuals with ASD. Knowledge about the role of social and cultural factors on functioning in ASD will help us understand the relationship between genetic and environmental factors better and ultimately enable us to develop and adjust clinical tools and strategies for low-resource settings to better support the majority of individuals living with ASD.


Project: This project will explore the impact of context/environmental factors on the functioning of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in two obviously different socio-economic settings as seen from a family perspective. Perspectives from Sweden as an example of a high-income country (HIC) and South Africa as an example of a low-middle income country (LMIC) will be compared in order to identify similarities and differences between functional themes presented by families in these two obviously different socio-economic settings.


Title: Pilot Study to Improve Access to Early Intervention for Autism in Africa


Problem: About 1 percent of the world population has autism and very limited access to treatment and support. There are global efforts underway to increase capacity for autism services and help families gain access to evidence-based treatment.


Project: With the support of an early career development award from the National Institute of Mental Health, the team aims to adapt and implement the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) intervention for children with autism and their families in South Africa. ESDM is an early intervention with a strong developmental focus that can be used in children 12 to 60 months of age. It is a model that can be delivered in multiple ways: one-on-one with a therapist, through parent coaching, in a group preschool setting, and through telehealth. ESDM strategies increase child motivation for social engagement and sensitize adult caregivers to child communication attempts. ESDM can promote the child’s social, cognitive, and language development.