Project Staff


OS_Baranek.jpgGrace Baranek, PhD, OTR/L - SEP Principal Investigator - Professor and Associate Chair for Research in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Early Development Project, a treatment study for infants at-risk for various developmental concerns including autism, as well as an investigator on several other grants, centers, and networks, and a fellow with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Her program of research aims to unravel the nature of sensory processing impairments in young children and the effects of these impairments on social engagement and daily activities. This interdisciplinary translational research connects novel scientific discoveries to practical applications for clinical assessment and intervention.

Linda Watson, EdD, CCC/SLP - SEP Co-Investigator - At SEP, she investigates early sensory predictors of autism and their relationship to social communication. Dr. Watson is on the faculty in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For approximately 17 years she was primarily involved in educational or clinical services for children with autism and their families, and these experiences serve as the foundation for her current research interests and activities. She is involved with a number of collaborative research projects with other PEARLS researchers to study early development, screening, and intervention with children with autism.

OS_Boyd.jpgBrian Boyd, PhD - SEP Co-Investigator -Dr. Brian Boyd is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and an investigator at the FPG Child Development Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill. At SEP, he directs the Home Observational Study (Study 3). He is co-principal investigator on two grants funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, Department of Education to investigate the efficacy of behavioral interventions for preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorders.

Virginia DickieVirginia Dickie, Ph.D., OTR/L - SEP Co-Investigator - Dr. Dickie uses her anthropology training and experience in ethnography to study everyday and creative occupations. At SEP, she directs the Qualitative portion of Study 3, focusing on the relationship of sensory experiences to the everyday occupations of children and their families, particularly with respect to children with autism and developmental disabilities.

Aysenil BelgerAysenil Belger, PhD - SEP Co-Investigator -

Dr. Aysenil Belger is the Director of Neuroimaging Research in Psychiatry, as well as Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Radiology Dept at Duke University and the Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis Center. Her research focuses on studies of the cortical circuits underlying attention and executive function in the human brain, as well as the breakdown in these functions in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopment disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. At SEP, she directs the EEG Study (Study 4)

Franc DonkersFranc Donkers, Ph.D. - is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the electrophysiology component of the Carolina Center for Developmental Disabilities Neuroimaging Core. His research interests focus on the neurobiological underpinnings of human information processing in both healthy and clinical populations. Dr. Donkers combines non-invasive brain imaging techniques (i.e. (f)MRI, EEG, fNIR) with behavioral assessments to examine attentional, executive and affective functions as they develop from early infancy to adolescence into adulthood. He is particularly devoted to a better understanding of the nature of disorders such as autism and schizophrenia in which attentional, executive and affective processes develop atypically. At SEP's he coordinates the electrophysiological research studies (Study 4).

UNC Bell Tower

Karla Ausderau, Ph.D, OTR/L - is an Adjunct Professor and Co-Investigator with the Sensory Experiences Project. At SEP, she directs Study 5, Sensory Experiences in Children with Autism. Dr. Ausderau recently completed her studies in Occupational Science at University of Southern California where her emphasis was the experience of mothers with children with gastrostomy tubes. Previously, Dr. Ausderau was the director of an interdisciplinary feeding clinic in Pasadena California where she focused her work on children with autism and children with medical fragility.

John Bulluck

John Bulluck - Research Systems Analyst - John coordinates the process of data management and works with the various technologies used in the study to design, gather, record, capture and manage data. John did his undergraduate in Psychology at East Carolina University with a special interest in research and statistics, and post-graduate studies at UNC CH in Clinical Informatics. John has worked with children and families with autism, as well as with HIV patients within the State Department of Public Health as well as other public health agencies. John also worked in private sector database design and software development and uses this experience to enhance the research activities at SEP.


Anne KirbyAnne V. Kirby is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science. She received a BS/MS degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of New Hampshire. As a research assistant for the Sensory Experiences Project, she is looking at sensory experiences in the home environment as well as children’s perceptions of their experiences (SEP Study 3). Her research interests are focused on occupational engagement of children with autism and other special needs, as well as on bridging research and practice.