Elizabeth Crais, PhD

Phone: (919)-966-9458
Fax: (919)-966-0100
Email: bcrais@med.unc.edu


  • PhD, University of Wisconsin 1987
  • MS, Vanderbilt University 1974
  • BS, University of Alabama 1972

Personal Statement

I joined the DSHS faculty in 1986 as a visiting assistant professor while finishing my dissertation. In 1987, I was fortunate enough to be selected to fill the position full-time. Currently, I am a professor, mother, wife, sister, faculty advisor for the student Autism Speaks U chapter at UNC-CH, and active in my neighborhood association. I am an avid reader, who loves the beach and the mountains and so am very happy to live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina which is mid-way between the mountains and the beaches. I encourage you to visit (or better yet live) here in this Tar Heel side of heaven. Life is very good here.

Teaching Philosophy

Years ago, I encountered and was intrigued by the following quotation: "In teaching, it is the method and not the content that is the message... the drawing out, not the pumping in," (Montague, 1990). I agree with Montague in that I believe strongly that the method is a primary element in teaching any content and that it is the "drawing out" that should be one of our primary goals. Thus, my own teaching attempts include as many adult learning principles as I can accommodate in my classes throughout the class activities, readings, assignments, and evaluation methods. Fortunately, there is a growing body of literature regarding how best to promote self-directed learning and the transfer of information. Our challenge as educators is to utilize those principles and methods in our classes, workshops, and clinical supervision. Returning to Montague's quotation regarding content, this is an area where we disagree. Although according to Montague, content may be secondary to method in teaching, I do not dismiss the importance of the content itself to the retention of what is learned and how it is applied. Within any academic area that also has a clinical or applied component (e.g., my own area focuses on the identification and assessment of and intervention with young children with communication disorders, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder, ASD), the need is great to provide content and skills that are both relevant and applicable to working with children and their families. Moreover, in valuing both content and method, a major part of our teaching mission becomes helping students and practitioners integrate new information with their existing knowledge base and challenging them to see the relevance and application of the material to life. In this way, as students and practitioners encounter new content, they will have strategies to explore and master that content. As Pearl S. Buck once wrote: "The secret of joy is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it." I enjoy both my work and my life and I hope that there is some excellence in both.

Courses Currently Taught:

  • SPHS 864 Seminar in Language (MS level)
  • EDUC 862 (co-teach) Teaching and Personnel Development (Doctoral level)
  • SPHS 802 Doctoral Seminar in Prelinguisitic and Early Linguistic Communication Behavior (Doctoral level)

Research Interests:

The kinds of research activities that I engage in are those that have direct application to providing services to young children with special needs and their families. Over the years, I have been part of a research team called the Program for Early Autism Research, Leadership, and Service (PEARLS) that has included Drs. Linda Watson, Grace Baranek, our late colleague Steve Reznick, and Lauren Turner-Brown. We collectively developed a parent-report tool, the First Year Inventory (FYI), focused on identifying 12-month-old children who are at risk for ASD and other communicative disorders. We have piloted the tool with more than 1,100 families and have followed those children at three years of age to identify the sensitivity and specificity of the tool (Turner-Brown et al., 2012). In addition, we are currently working on an expansion of the FYI to screen children 10 to 16 months of age and have already collected normative data on thousands of children, Further, there are other researchers in and outside of the U.S. who are using the FYI with additional sets of children. Our ultimate goal is for physicians and other front-line providers who see children and families in the first two years of life to use it to screen all children for ASD.

We have recently finished a pilot study (Baranek et al., 2015) and then completed a randomized control trial intervention study with 87 young children identified as at high risk on the FYI to examine the effects of early intervention begun at 14 months. The intervention is home-based and parent-mediated to improve the social communication and sensory skills of these young children. A few manuscripts detailing the study are in press or preparation. Early ones have examined the parents’ responsivity to their children (Kinard et al., in press) and early vocalizations (Garrido et al., in press), In addition, another project led by Drs. Brian Boyd and Linda Watson has examined the effectiveness of a preschool intervention developed by our team for young preschool children with ASD across four sites. The intervention is focused on facilitating joint attention and symbolic play skills in these young children within their preschool environments through working with their teachers and related service providers (Dykstra et al. 2012, 2015). The current extension of this study is to now develop a mobile application for parents and teachers to communicate around the intervention to extend school goals and progress to home settings.

We have also continued our work in looking retrospectively at the gesture development (Watson et al. 2012), and play development (Wilson et al., in press) of young children (9 to 12 and 15 to 18 months of age) who have been diagnosed with ASD, have developmental disabilities, or who are typically developing. We have used videotapes collected of the children when they were in the first year of life and identified the type and function of the gestures used by the children in communication with their parents.

With a group of interdisciplinary professionals as part of the Autism State Implementation grant, we have conducted eight focus groups with families of children birth to age eight diagnosed with ASD (four English speaking, two Spanish speaking, and two American Indian) and completed a survey with moe than 400 North Carolina families of young children with ASD. These efforts have been aimed at identifying the facilitators and barriers to early identification, diagnosis and entry into early intervention for these children.

Finally, related to service activities and given the gap in early identification of underrepresented children, we have developed a faith-based initiative. The project includes Dr. Pretzel at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and Maureen Morrell with the Autism Society of North Carolina. We utilize faith communities to reach underrepresented children at risk for ASD and their families. We work with faith leaders and members to introduce them to early signs of ASD as well as help them gain strategies for including people with ASD in their faith communities. We are also currently introducing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Learn the Signs. Act Early." materials to raise awareness about development milestones and red flags for ASD to professionals and families in rural areas in North Carolina.

Training Grants

I am also the Co-PI on three PhD level grants funded by the Department of Education to help prepare students in specialty areas. The PhD grants have focused on ASD, translational research, and closing the research to practice gap and all three have been interdisciplinary (Speech-Language Pathology, Occupational Science/Therapy, and Early Childhood Special Education). We also currently have a PhD level grant under review that would begin in the fall 2018. The process to be eligible to participate in these grants is to first be accepted into one of the three participating PhD programs. 

Recent Publications (current or former students indicated with *):

*Wilson, K., Weiner, H., *DeRamus, M., Bulluck, J., Carter, M., Watson, L, Crais, E., & Baranek, G. (in press). Object play in infants with autism spectrum disorder: A longitudinal retrospective video analysis. Autism and Developmental Language Impairments.

Garrido, D., Watson, L., Carballo, G., Garcia-Retamero, R., Crais, E. (in press). Infants at-risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Patterns of vocalizations at 14 months. Autism Research.

* Kinard, J., Sideris, J., Watson, L.R., Baranek, G.T., Crais, E.R., *Wakeford, L., & Turner-Brown, L. (2017). Predictors of parent responsiveness to 1-year-olds at-risk for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(1), 172 – 186. doi:10.1007/s10803-016-2944-9

*Mendez, L., Crais, E., Castro, D., & *Kainz, K. (2015). A culturally and linguistically responsive vocabulary approach for young latino dual-language learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58, 93-106.

*Dykstra, J., R., Watson, L. R., Boyd, B. A., *Wilson, K., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., *Flippin, M. & Flagler, S. (2015). Developing feasible and effective school-based interventions for children with ASD: A case study of the iterative development process. Journal of Early Intervention, 37(1), 23–43.

Baranek, G., Watson, L., Turner-Brown, L., Field, S., Crais, E., *Wakeford, L., *Little, L. & Reznick, J.S. (2015). Preliminary efficacy of Adapted Responsive Teaching for infants at-risk for autism spectrum disorder in a community sample. Autism Research and Treatment, vol. 2015, Article ID 386951, 16 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/386951. 

Siller, M., Morgan, L., Turner-Brown, L., Baggett, K. M., Baranek, G. T., Brian, J., Bryson,S., Carter, A., Crais, E., Estes,A., Kasari, C., Landa, R., Lord, C., Messinger, D., Mundy, P., Odom,S., Reznick, S., Roberts, W., Rogers, S., Schertz, H., Smith, I., Stone, W., Watson, L., Wetherby, A.,   Yoder, P. & Zwaigenbaum, L. (2014). Designing studies to evaluate parent-mediated interventions for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Early Intervention. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1053815114542507.

Crais, E.R., *McComish, C.S., *Humphreys, B.P., Watson, L.R., Baranek, G.T., Reznick, J.S., Christian, R.B., & Earls, M. (2014). Pediatric Healthcare Professionals’ Views on Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening at 12-18 Months. Journal of Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, Volume 44 (9), 2311-2328. 

Crais, E. & Watson, L., (2014). Challenges and opportunities in early identification and intervention for children at-risk for autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 16(1): 23–29. 

*Abraham, L.M., Crais, E.R., Vernon-Feagans, L., Cox, M., Blair, C., Burchinal, M., Keith Crnic,K., Crouter, A., Garrett-Peters, P., Greenberg, M., Lanza, S., Mills-Koonce,R., Werner, E., Willoughby, M., and the Family Life Project Phase 1 Key Investigators (2013). Early Maternal Language during Book Sharing in Families from Low Income Environments. American Journal of Speech, Language Pathology, Vol. 22, 71–83.

*Freuler, A., Baranek, G.T., Tashjian, C., Watson, L.R., Crais, E. & Turner-Brown, L. (2013). Parental reflections of experiences of participating in a randomized control trial of a behavioral intervention for infants at-risk for ASD. Autism, The International Journal of Research and Practices. Published online 8 October 2013, DOI: 10.1177/1362361313483928.

Turner-Brown, L. M., Baranek, G. T. Reznick, J. S., Watson, L. R. & Crais, E. R. (2013). The First Year Inventory:  A longitudinal follow-up of 12-month-olds to 3 years of age. Autism: The International Journal of Research & Practice, 17(5), 527-540.

Watson, L.R., Crais, E.R., Baranek, G.T., *Dykstra, K. & *Wilson, K. (2012). Communicative gesture use in infants with and without autism: A retrospective home video study. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, published 30 July 2012, 10.1044/1058-0360(2012/11-0145.

*Wilson, K., *Dykstra, J., Watson, L., Boyd, B., & Crais, E. (in press). Coaching in Early Education Classrooms Serving Children with Autism: A Pilot Study. Early Childhood Education Journal.

*Dykstra, J, Boyd, BA, Watson, LR, Crais, E. R., Baranek, GT (2012). The impact of the Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP) intervention on preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practices, Volume 16 (1), 27-44.

Crais, E. (2011). Testing and Beyond: Strategies and Tools for Evaluation and Assessment of Infants and Toddlers. Language, Speech, Hearing in Schools, 42, 341-346.

*Flippin, M., & Crais, E. (2011). The Need for Effective Father Involvement in Early Autism Intervention: A Systematic Review and Recommendations. Journal of Early Intervention, 33 (1), 24-50.

*Abraham, L.M., Crais, E.R., Vernon-Feagans, L. (in press). Predictors of Maternal Language Use in Families from Low Income and Rural Environments during Book Sharing Interactions. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

Crais, E. (2010). The Bayley-III language scale. In L.G. Weiss, T. Oakland, G. P. Ayland (Eds.), Bayley-III Clinical Use and Interpretation (47-75). New York, NY: Elsevier.

*Hollingsworth, H. L., Boone, H. A., & Crais, E. R. (2009). Individualized inclusion plans at work in early childhood classrooms. Young Exceptional Children, 13(1), 19-35.

Crais, E., Watson, L., & Baranek, G. (2009) Use of Gesture Development in Profiling Children's Prelinguistic Communication Skills. AJSLP, 18, 95-108.

Crais, E. (2008). Working with Families of Young Children with Communication and Language Impairments: Identification and Assessment. In N. Watts Pappas & S. McLeod’s (Eds.) Working with Families in Pediatric Speech-Language Pathology (pp. 111-130). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing. 

Reznick, J. S., Baranek, G. T., *Reavis, S., Watson, L. R. & Crais, E. R. (2007). A parent report instrument for identifying one-year-olds at risk for an eventual diagnosis of autism: The First Year Inventory. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1691-1710.

Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., Reznick, J. S., *Dykstra, J. & *Perryman, T. (2007). The First Year Inventory: Retrospective parent responses to a questionnaire designed to identify one-year-olds at risk for autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 49-61.