James Li

A. A. Alexander Associate Professor of Psychology

Social Science | Department of Psychology

Hometown: Torrance, CA

Dr. Li is a clinical psychological scientist with expertise in child mental health, quantitative methods (i.e., longitudinal models, factor analysis, structural equational modeling), and psychiatric genetics. He focuses his research on childhood neurodevelopmental and externalizing behaviors, including ADHD, autism, conduct and substance use behaviors. His research combines rigorous measures of the psychosocial environment with state-of-the-art genomic methods to study the origins and developmental pathways of child psychopathology. He is also interested in addressing issues pertaining to diversity and equity in genetics research and in the clinical psychological sciences more broadly.Dr. Li received his B.A. in Psychological and Brain Sciences from Johns Hopkins University and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UCLA (minor in Quantitative Psychology). He completed an APA-accredited clinical internship at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a two-year NIH T32 postdoctoral fellowship in Psychiatric and Statistical Genetics at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics (VIPBG).


The Spectrum of Mental Health

Clinicians and scientists have long-recognized many limitations stemming from our traditional nosologies for mental disorders, such as the DSM or ICD. For instance, these systems typically employ arbitrary boundaries or symptom thresholds to distinguish between psychopathology from typical development. Yet, many individuals who fail to meet our diagnostic thresholds still demonstrate significant functional impairments. Additionally, some conditions like ADHD and autism tend co-occur at rates well beyond what would be expected by chance. High levels of co-occurrence may not only be a reflection of shared causal factors, but may also reflect an artifact of the DSM (i.e., symptom overlap between conditions). This talk will introduce the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP), an emerging clinical science framework that shows how mental disorders are more reflective of clinical reality when they are defined and measured as part of broad dimensions that vary person-to-person, rather than as discrete diagnostic categories that people “have” or “don’t have”.

Autism and ADHD: Scientific Advancements and Best Practices in Diagnosis and Treatment

Autistic children are at a 22-fold higher risk of having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to non-autistic children. Yet, there is very little known about how to effectively treat autistic children with ADHD, considering that it was not until DSM-5 (published in 2013) that these two conditions were allowed be simultaneously diagnosed in the same individual. For example, the combination of autism and ADHD often presents with more functional and behavioral impairments (e.g., learning, behavioral disinhibition, impulsivity) than for children with either condition alone, such that these children tend to be more likely to be prescribed powerful psychotropic medications to manage their impairments. Yet, there has been no compelling evidence that autistic children with ADHD respond well to these medications. In fact, one study showed that autistic children responded especially poorly to medications that were originally designed for children with ADHD (see Handen et al., 2015). There is a dire need for a better standard of care when it comes to treating autistic individuals struggling with ADHD and other mental health conditions.This session will first cover the latest cutting-edge research findings on the co-occurrence of childhood autism and ADHD, including emerging discoveries from genetics, brain imaging, and from motor, cognitive and behavioral measures. These findings will be integrated into discussions about diagnostic considerations for autism and ADHD from an emerging mental health framework that eschews the largely inflexible and often arbitrarily defined nosologies of the DSM for one that is more accepting of people’s differences (over deficits) and incorporates the inherent dimensionality of mental health (rather than considering mental health as being a black-or-white thing). The session will conclude with current best practices for treating co-occurring ADHD in autistic individuals from a neurodiversity perspective.