ASF Mourns the Loss of Autism Scientist Li-Ching Lee

It is with extreme sadness that we share the news that our dear colleague Dr. Li-Ching Lee died Thursday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Dr. Lee was an exceptional researcher, mentor, instructor, and friend. Her work on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence, measurement, and epidemiology made a huge impact on the field, addressing critical issues in the U.S. and across the globe, particularly in Taiwan, China, and Bangladesh.

During her research career, she authored over 100 journal publications with colleagues and students around the world. Her work was featured in the JHSPH Public Health magazine’s Summer 2017 issue: “Li-Ching Lee Reaches Out”. She was the long-standing leader of the Maryland site of the national CDC ASD surveillance study, Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, responsible for new national autism prevalence reports every two years. She also led an NIH-funded R01 studying the impact of air quality on risk for ASD and neurodevelopmental disorders in China, working with other WKC members to develop and implement measurement, screening, and epidemiological analyses while also integrating genetic and epigenetic measures to understand risk. She was a fantastic co-investigator on the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), another long-standing national epidemiologic study, where she led multiple data analyses, data quality control and data acquisition with our community partners at the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health.  Recently, she was also a critical investigator in the Environmental influences on Children’s Health Outcomes Data Analysis Center (ECHO DAC), located at the Bloomberg School. In this role, Li-Ching worked to coordinate and harmonize data and analyses on neurodevelopmental traits and outcomes across over 50 cohorts throughout the U.S. 

In addition to her research contributions, Li-Ching was an extraordinary teacher and mentor who shaped the careers of many students over the past two decades. Her excellence in teaching epidemiology and mental health courses was recognized annually. She also received the Bloomberg School’s prestigious Advising, Mentoring & Teaching Recognition Award (AMTRA) from the Student Assembly for her caring and expert advising.  She made a lasting contribution to the Center and School’s educational mission through the development of the first ever Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Public Health course, which we have offered as a Summer Institute course since 2014 and a full term course since 2016.  This course, primarily due to Li-Ching’s excellence in teaching, received excellence recognition via student evaluations in nearly every offering so far, and has taught students in multiple programs of the Bloomberg School as well as students across the world via online offerings.

Dr. Lee was born in Taichung, Taiwan and completed her undergraduate education at Kaohsiung Medical University.  She received her Master of Science degree from the Department of Mental Health here at the Bloomberg School and her PhD from the Department of Maternal and Child Health at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  She joined the Departments of Epidemiology and Mental Health in 2003 and was named Associate Director for Global Autism Research in the Center in 2015. 

She is survived by her father, four siblings, and 20 nieces and nephews.  The Wendy Klag Center plans to host a celebration of her life and accomplishments later in 2021.  Details of the event will be available soon and on the WKC website.