Executive Committee

Grace BaranekGrace Baranek, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA

Dr. Baranek is an adjunct professor at UNC and an associate dean, chair and professor at the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. As a part of PEARLS, she is the Principal Investigator of the Sensory Experiences Project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, as well as the Early Development Project, a treatment study for infants at-risk for various developmental concerns including autism. She is also 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. Her work demonstrates the importance of including sensory processing as well as social-communication risk factors for early identification of autism and related developmental disorders. She is a co-author of the First Year Inventory, a new screening tool for 12 month old infants. Dr. Baranek is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters, and is an internationally recognized expert in her field. She has served as a consultant with the AOTA Children and Youth ad hoc work group, and the National Academy of Science and National Institutes of Health to evaluate evidence-based practices for children with autism. She is also involved in various training and teaching activities with interdisciplinary students in master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral programs.

Linda WatsonLinda Watson, Ed.D., CCC-SLP

Dr. Linda Watson is on the faculty in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a part of PEARLS, Dr. Watson is the Principal Investigator of the Early Development Project-2, which is testing the efficacy of a parent-mediated intervention called Adapted Responsive Teaching for one-year-olds identified as being at-risk for autism or other developmental disabilities. She also serves as the site Principal Investigator for the Useful Speech Study, a longitudinal investigation of variables predicting speech and language outcomes for young children with autism who enter the study with few or no meaningful words. For approximately 17 years Dr. Watson 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. Dr. Watson also mentors graduate students with an interest in autism research, teaches an interdisciplinary autism research seminar, and provides continuing education presentations for professionals working with young children with autism at the local, state, and national levels. She is an author on a number of publications related to young children with autism and other disabilities.

Betsy CraisElizabeth Crais, Ph.D.

Dr. Elizabeth Crais is a Professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, NC. Dr. Crais has been active within early intervention for over 30 years as a speech-language pathologist, university professor, clinical supervisor, and researcher. As a part of PEARLS, Dr. Crais is an investigator on the Early Development Project (EDP), the FYI Normative Study, and the Joint Attention and Symbolic Play Project (JASP). Her research interests include gesture development in infants and toddlers with typical or atypical communication skills, early development of young children with autism, the implementation of family-centered services within assessment practices, and personnel preparation issues related to working with infants and toddlers. Dr. Crais’ current research includes two early intervention projects focused on young children with autism (one in infancy, one in preschool), work related to retrospective study of the early gestural development of young children later diagnosed with autism and a study looking at the development of communication repair strategies and play development in typically developing children. Dr. Crais has published a number of articles and book chapters and made numerous national and international presentations dealing with working with young children with special needs and their families. She is also the Director of the Master's Training Grant and the Doctoral Autism Leadership Grant.

Steve ReznickJ. Steven Reznick, Ph.D.  PEARLS Founding Member (deceased)

Dr. J. Steven Reznick was a Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for 18 years, an extraordinary developmental scientist, and a founding member of PEARLS. He was the lead investigator on the study to revise and expand the age norms for the First Years Inventory (FYI) --- a screening tool for infants at-risk for ASD. Dr. Reznick’s research covered a broad range of topics in infant cognitive development with far-reaching implications for children’s health and well-being. Dr. Reznick passed away on July 5,  2016, after living with ALS for 3 years. As we mourn the passing of our long-time colleague and dear friend, we take solace in his lasting legacy of courage and inspiration.

Steve Reznick

Lauren Turner Brown, Ph.D.

Dr. Turner-Brown is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and an Investigator with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. In July 2014, she took the position as Assistant Director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program. Her research focuses on children and adolescents with autism. Dr. Turner-Brown received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Vanderbilt University in 2005. She completed a predoctoral internship and post-doctoral fellowship with Division TEACCH and an NICHD funded fellowship in Neurodevelopmental Disorders at UNC. Dr. Turner-Brown’s research focuses on examining the efficacy of different methods of intervention for children with autism. She is involved in three intervention studies, including the Early Development Project, a study examining the efficacy of a TEACCH intervention program, and a group intervention for adolescents with autism. Dr. Turner-Brown is also interested in the early identification of autism, and is involved in research about the First Year Inventory, as an investigator with PEARLS. .