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Elizabeth Crais, PhD

Professor, Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences

Associate Chair, Office of Research and Scholarship
Phone: (919)-966-9458
Fax: (919)-966-0100


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

Interim Associate Chair of OORS

  • Leads DAHS strategic research initiatives
  • Cultivates culture of interdisciplinary research and scholarship
  • Promotes awareness of DAHS research
  • Chairs Research Advisory Committee (RAC) & Research Course Curriculum Committee (RCCC)
  • Induction into the UNC School of Medicine Academy of Educators (2018)

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 (PhD level)
  • SPHS 802 Doctoral Seminar in Prelinguisitic and Early Linguistic Communication Behavior (PhD level)
  • AHSC 913 Survey Design (PhD 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 piloted the tool with more than 1,100 families and 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 (First Years Inventory) 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 (Watson et al., 2017). 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., 2017) and early vocalizations (Garrido et al., 2017), 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., 2017) 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 (Crais et al, in press; Martinez, et al., 2018)..

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 14 rural counties in North Carolina.

Training Grants

I am also the Co-Director (along with Dr. Harriet Able in Applied Developmental Science and Special Education, and Dr. Nancy Bagatell in Occupational Science/Occupational Therapy) of three PhD level grants funded by the Office of Special Education from the U.S. Department of Education. All three grants focus on preparing PhD students in specialty areas such as ASD, translational and community engaged research, closing the research to practice gap, and developing meaningful outcomes for children with disabilities and their parents. All three grants support PhD level students from the three represented programs. The process to be eligible to participate in these grants is to first be accepted into one of the three participating PhD programs.


(*current and former students):

1. Crais, E. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorder. In M. Ball & J. Damico (Eds.), SAGE Encyclopedia of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2. Stephens, R., Watson, L., Crais, E., & Reznick, S. (2018). Infant quantitative risk for autism spectrum disorder predicts executive function in early childhood. Autism Research, 11 (11), 1532-1541.

3. *Méndez, L. I., Crais, E., & *Kainz, K. (2018). The Impact of Individual Differences on a Bilingual Vocabulary Approach for Latino Preschoolers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research (Advance online publication]), 1-13. doi:doi: 10.1044/2018_JSLHR-L-17-0186.

4. Crais, C., Lister, J., Tellis, G., & Nunez, L. (2018). Recruiting, Retaining, and Graduating PhD Students: Practical Ideas from 73 CSD PhD Program Coordinators. Perspectives. SIG 10, Vol. 3(Part 1), 4-10.

5. Fanin, D., Barbarin, O., & Crais, E. (2018). Communicative function use of preschoolers and mothers from differing racial and socioeconomic groups. Language, Speech Hearing Services in the Schools,

6. Martinez, M., Thomas, K., Williams, C., Christian, R., Crais, E., Pretzel, R., & Hooper, S. (2018), Family Experiences with the Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder: System barriers and facilitators of efficient diagnosis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Feb 16. doi: 10.1007/s10803-018-3493-1. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29453706

7. *Eshghi, M., Dorry, J., Vivaldi, D., Crais, E., Vallino, L. D., Baylis, A., Preisser, J., & Zajac, D. (2017). 202. Development of Early Sounds And Words In Children With And Without Repaired Cleft Palate. The Cleft Palate-craniofacial Journal, 54(3), e41.

8. *Kasambira Fanin, D., Barbarin, O., & Crais, E. (2017). Effects of mothers’ and preschoolers’ communicative function use and demographics on concurrent language and social skills. Journal of the National Black Association for Speech-Language and Hearing, 12(2), 79-99.*

9. Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., Baranek, G. T., Turner-Brown, L., Sideris J., *Wakeford, L., *Kinard, J., Reznick, J. S., *Martin, K. L., & *Nowell, S. W. (2017). Parent-mediated intervention for one-year-olds screened as at-risk for autism spectrum disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 47(11), 3520-3540.

10. Baranek, G., *Woynaroski, T., *Nowell, S., Turner Brown, L., *DuBay, M., Crais, E., & Watson, L.R. (2017). Cascading Effects of Attention Disengagement and Sensory Seeking on Social Symptoms in a Community Sample of Infants At-risk for a Future Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

11. *Dalton, J., Crais, E., & Velleman, S. (2017). Joint Attention and Oromotor Abilities in Young Children With and Without Autism Spectrum, Journal of Communication Disorders, 69, 27-43.

12. *Belardi, K., Watson, L. R., Faldowski, R. A., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., Patten, E., Oller, D. K., Hazlett, H., & McComish, C. (2017). A retrospective video analysis of canonical babbling and volubility in infants with fragile X syndrome at 9 -12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 1193-1206.

13. *Wilson, K., Weiner, H., *DeRamus, M., Bulluck, J., Carter, M., Watson, L, Crais, E., & Baranek, G. (2017). Object play in infants with autism spectrum disorder: A longitudinal retrospective video analysis. Autism and Developmental Language Impairments, 2. 1-12.

14. Garrido, D., Watson, L., Carballo, G., Garcia-Retamero, R., Crais, E. (2017). Infants at-risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Patterns of vocalizations at 14 months. Autism Research, 10(8), 1372-1383.

15. 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.

16. *Belardi, K., Watson, L. R., Faldowski, R. A., Baranek, G. T., Crais, E. R., *Patten, E., Oller, D. K., Hazlett, H., & *McComish, C. (2017). A retrospective video analysis of canonical babbling and volubility in infants with fragile X syndrome at 9 -12 months of age. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 1193-1206.

17. *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.

18. *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.

19. 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.

Elizabeth Crais