Alumni Profile: Liliana Mayo, special education psychologist

Graduate’s center for people with different abilities in Peru inspires internationally

Liliana Mayo and a student of the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru
Liliana Mayo and a student of the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru

After spending a few minutes in Liliana Mayo’s welcoming presence, it comes as no surprise that she has dedicated herself to working for all people to be accepted and appreciated.

Mayo founded and runs the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru (CASP) in Lima. Operating since 1979, the center provides education and vocational services to students with developmental disabilities. The center focuses on what its students excel at and finds job opportunities that take advantage of their skills.

If you ask her for whom her center operates, she will tell you it is for people with different abilities, in contrast to the phrase “people with disabilities” or “disabled people.” This includes students with autism, retardation, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Exceeding expectations

Mayo received her master’s and doctoral degrees in human development and family life (now the Department of Applied Behavioral Science) at KU and serves as an adjunct professor in the department. Mayo returns to the University of Kansas each year as part of the partnership between KU and the Centro Ann Sullivan. For her work to improve the lives of people with different abilities, she received the Distinguished Service Award in 2003, the highest award given by the University of Kansas.

On a February 2013 visit, Mayo looked out at the crowded room of about 35 professors, students and community members interested in her international work concerning special education. She began her presentation with the personal success stories of four students of Centro Ann Sullivan, each finding their place in the workforce to help support their families.

The students and staff of the center have a guiding principle: independiente, productivo, feliz. Independent, productive, happy. The education students receive, starting as young as age 4, focuses on their abilities and how those abilities can translate into a future job.

Liliana Mayo poses with students in front of the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru

“In Peru, they don’t hire for charity,” Mayo said. “They hire for quality.”

And quality is what employers receive from the students of her center. The center has a reputation for hardworking, loyal, productive students. A Harvard study Mayo cited during her presentation showed that some departments of businesses that hire CASP students have productivity improve by 20 percent.

Mayo says the curriculum prepares students for life, while treating them as a person with high expectations from childhood through adulthood. Many CASP students become the main financial support for their family, improving the family’s housing and living conditions.

Transforming a community

The education at CASP encompasses families of the students as well. Not only do the students have individualized education plans (IEPs), but also the students’ guardians have IEPs to help their education in supporting and teaching the students. The parents receive training in how to be constant educators for their children.

Education does not end with the family. Mayo wants to change the culture surrounding people with different abilities. According to Mayo, each time CASP appears in the media it educates the public. She said the program transforms communities, demonstrating the talents and potential of people with different abilities.

Growth and change

Mayo began the program 34 years ago, teaching eight students in the garage of her parents’ home. CASP now has 450 students and continues expanding. The supported employment program began 17 years ago with six students, and today there are 100 CASP workers in jobs in the best businesses in Peru.

CASP’s philosophy and teaching methods have made it a leader in special education. Other countries have looked to CASP to institute their own such programs. In 2012, the government of Panama opened the doors to the Centro Ann Sullivan de Panamá, expanding the education model of CASP abroad.

With improvements in technology, expansion of programs and continued success, the program relies upon volunteers and teachers. Mayo said the center welcomes talented and dedicated volunteers and interns from KU with an interest in education, journalism, business or applied behavioral science. For more information on the program, visit or email

The international success and growth of the program lives up to CASP’s motto: “Juntos hacemos possible, lo imposible.”

“Together we make possible, the impossible.”