Health Hero Awardees

Interview with Dr. Zaheer

How long have you been working in healthcare? How about this specific office? I have been working in healthcare for 20 years now; In this office, I have been working for 15 years. I fell in love with this patient population [recent immigrants - documented and undocumented, refugees, individuals and families with low socioeconomic status] during my residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a community health center dedicated to reaching underserved patient populations.

How long have you been working with the UCSD Autism Center’s Early Detection Program? Five to seven years.

Do you know anyone who has ASD? Was there a particular reason you were interested in participating in our program? The UCSD Early Detection Program falls in line with my overarching goal as a physician.That goal is to emphasize prevention by advancing literacy and identifying problems as early as possible. 

Did this program raise awareness about developmental  delays, such as autism, at your clinic? Yes. Parents, especially those who already face cultural, economic, and linguistic barriers, might say “Oh, none of my kids were talking until age four,” brushing aside concerns of a language delay. The early screening tool is giving parents the opportunity to think about their child’s development relative to a broader population of children at the same stage of development. The population of infants and toddlers that I treat are not necessarily talking and learning to read at the same age and rate that we see in higher-SES communities. As such, a language delay may be seen as “normal” within the context of this community. I want to upgrade that normal so that it matches what you would see in more privileged communities. 

What impact does this program have on your patients and their families? Referral to the UCSD Autism Center for evaluation allows me to put families on a direct path toward getting specialized treatment and school services for their child as early as possible. 

How has participating in this program changed your perception of autism? What have you learned from this program? Participating in the Early Detection Program has further solidified my understanding of autism as a dynamic condition. The evolution of ASD symptoms can vary dramatically as a function of the family’s level of access to treatment and support.  When I was starting out as a physician, autism was still thought of as a very static condition. Now we understand the degree to which early intervention can influence outcomes.

Photo of Dr. Zaheer and his medical team at SDFC

Community Partners

We work closely with professionals and organizations to share information, establish best practices, and gain research knowledge.

NFAR is a not-for-profit organization based in San Diego. The organization was started by Juan and Sharon Leon, parents of a child with autism. NFAR understands the impact autism has on children, families and their communities and dedicates its efforts to promoting the development of innovative treatment programs and options that improve the quality of life for children with autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Get NFAR's brochure: What You Need to Know about Autism (PDF): English  Spanish