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Grace Baranek, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA

Dr. Baranek is an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Medicine and an associate dean, chair and professor at the University of Southern California Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. As a part of PEARLS, she is the Principal Investigator of the Sensory Experiences Project, the Early Development Project, and Parents and Infants Engaged. 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. Dr. Baranek is also involved in various training and teaching activities with interdisciplinary students in master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral programs.

Linda Watson, EdD, CCC-SLP

Dr. Linda Watson is a professor on the faculty in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine. As a part of PEARLS, Dr. Watson is the Principal Investigator of Parents and Infants Engaged as well as the Early Development Project-2, which are both testing the efficacy of a parent-mediated interventions for infants identified as being at-risk for autism or other developmental disabilities. 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.

Elizabeth Crais, PhD, CCC-SLP

Dr. Elizabeth Crais is a professor in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine. Dr. Crais has been active within early intervention for more than 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 is also the Director of the Master’s Training Grant and the Doctoral Autism Leadership Grant.

Lauren Turner Brown, PhD

Dr. Turner-Brown is the assistant director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program. Her research focuses on children and adolescents with autism. Dr. Turner-Brown received her PhD 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.




J. 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 three 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.