2016-2017 Presenters

Artha Gillis portrait

Mirella Dapretto, Ph.D.









Artha Gillis portraitArtha Gillis, MD, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She received an MD from the University of California Davis School of Medicine and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Texas A&M University. She completed residency training in Adult Psychiatry at the University of California Davis and is currently completing fellowship training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UCLA. Her research interests include health care disparities in the juvenile justice system, including disparities for individuals with developmental, mental and intellectual disabilities.




Melina Melgoza portraitMelina Melgoza is a student at UCLA and a Tarjan Center Diversity Fellow. As a student at UCLA, Ms. Melgoza has promoted higher education to address educational disparities in underrepresented and marginalized communities in the Los Angeles region. She worked as the Parent and Community Outreach Coordinator for Xinachtli, a community access and outreach project, where she worked with continuation students, undocumented students, English language learners, and previously incarcerated youth to address their personal and academic needs. Melina has also taught public health to students in Ekumfi-Srafa Aboano, Ghana, Africa, and English to students in Mexico and Japan. Her future research interests are focused on education.




Violeta Chavez portraitMy name is Violeta Chavez I am currently a student at UCLA working on a major in Sociology and a double minor in Global Health and Disabilities studies. I am interested in becoming a Doctor in Occupational Therapy and pursing a master's in Public Health. One of my main research interests is traditional medicine and disability at a global scale, specifically how it is perceived and how individuals with disabilities are treated by health care professionals along with the services available to them. Most of all I would like to raise awareness in the Latino communities on anxiety, depression, mental health and developmental disabilities. During my time at UCLA I have been a member of a Latina based academic organization that focuses on the advancement of all women in higher education. Through this organization I have helped raise awareness and more than $3,000 for St. Jude Children Research hospital. I have also worked mentoring and tutoring high school students in Inglewood through a program called C.A.M.B.I.O. I have been able to start my own mentorship program for current students in my previous high school in Sylmar called G.U.I.D.E. I currently work for UCLA Center X: AP Readiness helping provide preparation courses for students currently taking Advanced Placement courses. I have also interned at CARECEN an organization that provides legal advice for current immigrants and focuses on fostering community activism in immigration policy, education reform and workers’ rights.


Olivia Raynor portraitOlivia Raynor, Ph.D.

Dr. Raynor is the P.I. and Director of the Tarjan Center, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (DD), and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Semel Institute, UCLA. Her career spans over 40 years of experience in management, analysis, evaluation, training and public policy at the individual and system levels that support individuals with disabilities participation in inclusive postsecondary education, integrated competitive employment, the arts, and civic engagement. Dr. Raynor is the P.I. and Director of CECY, The California Employment Consortium for Youth with DD, an alliance of 25 local and state agencies, associations, organizations, families, and self-advocates. CECY’s purpose is to build capacity and partnerships that foster meaningful sustainable changes in the systems that support youth and young adults to achieve employment. She is the founding and current director of the National Arts and Disability Center. Dr. Raynor also serves as the developmental disabilities consultant to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and community college system. Dr. Raynor previously served as President of the Association for University Centers of Excellence in Disabilities and currently serves on the Board. She is a Governor appointed member of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Raynor holds degrees from Boston University and USC in Occupational Therapy and a doctorate from UCLA in Educational Psychology.


Stephanny Freeman portraitStephanny F.N. Freeman, Ph.D.

Dr. Stephanny F.N. Freeman is an Clinical Professor in the Department of Child Psychiatry at UCLA and a licensed clinical psychologist. She Co-Directs the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization (ECPHP) Program at UCLA. Research interests included the social (peers and friendship) and emotional (recognition, empathy, and problem solving) development of children with developmental disabilities. Dr. Freeman also investigates and has published research-based intervention procedures on core deficits for preschool and young children with autism, best practice interdisciplinary interventions for children with autism, and play/social skills development in autism. As director of ECPHP, Dr. Freeman oversees the day-to-day activities of therapists and specialists. She coordinates the evaluation, treatment, and development of appropriate multidisciplinary programs for school-aged children and severely impaired children with autism. She assists parents in developing appropriate educational programs and school-based modifications, behavior education and training, cognitive development, and social/emotional/play development. Along with scholarly publications, Dr. Freeman has published classroom curriculums for children with autism.


Shafali Jeste photoShafali Spurling Jeste, M.D.

Dr. Jeste is a behavioral child neurologist specializing in autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is an Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Neurology in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and a lead investigator within UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART). After earning a BA in philosophy from Yale University in 1997 and her MD from Harvard Medical School in 2002, Dr. Jeste completed a residency in child neurology and a fellowship in behavioral child neurology at Children’s Hospital, Boston. She then pursued post-doctoral training in developmental cognitive neuroscience with Dr. Charles Nelson at Harvard Medical School, where she gained expertise in the use of high-density electroencephalography (EEG) to characterize functional brain development in infancy and early childhood, particularly as it informs atypical development.  She was recruited to UCLA CART in 2010 as the director of its electrophysiology core. CART has played a leading role nationally and internationally in developing an improved understanding of the biological and psychosocial basis of autism and is the only center to be awarded an NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) grant twice, first in 2007 and then in 2012. Dr. Jeste’s research is focused on the use of novel electrophysiological biomarkers to better define early predictors of autism and to define more homogeneous, brain-based subgroups within the autism spectrum in order to inform treatment targets. Within this framework, she has been investigating and treating infants and children with neurogenetic syndromes associated with autism. As the lead investigator on a large study of development in infants with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), Dr. Jeste has designed innovative studies in early predictors of autism to focus on the integration of biomarkers with behavior to define atypical development prior to the onset of clinical symptoms of autism. In the last two years she has begun to study and treat children with Dup15q syndrome, and last year she established a Dup15q clinic at UCLA, through which she has already evaluated and/or treated more than 20 children. This research in Dup15q syndrome will now be supported by a new Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) grant, led by Dr. Susan Bookheimer. Dr. Jeste has been the recipient of the Child Neurology Foundation’s Researcher-in-Training Award and the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Clinical Researcher-in-Training Award. She also was selected in 2014 as a member of the AAN Emerging Leaders Forum. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Child Neurology Foundation and the AAN Science Committee. Her research is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, an NIMH K23, an NICHD Autism Center of Excellence grant, an NIMH Autism Center of Excellence Network grant, the Department of Defense and the Dup15q Alliance.

Arianna AndersonAriana Anderson, Ph.D. 

Dr. Ariana Anderson is an Assistant Research Statistician in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. She received her B.S. in Mathematics and her Ph.D. in Statistics followed by a post-doctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. Her research is focused on creating measurements of neuropsychiatric disorders to improve both diagnosis and treatment, spanning data from behavioral assessments, speech, and neuroimaging.

She is a recipient of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface, as well as a Career Award from the NIA. Her baby monitor for Deaf parents, ChatterBaby, was awarded first prize in MHealth Apps in UCLA's 2016 Code for the Mission competition. She was a featured speaker at IMFAR on optimizing social networks for children with autism spectrum disorder, and the Institute of Medicine on how to address the placebo response in drug studies, and has worked with Dr. Karl Friston at University College, London on approaches to relaxing Bayesian priors in Dynamic Causal Models. She has served as a reviewer for both the NIH and the NSF, and has published on a broad range of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Shula Green portraitShulamite Green, Ph.D.

Dr. Shulamite Green is a licensed clinical psychologist and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute. Dr. Green received a doctoral degree in clinical psychology at UCLA and has been involved in research and clinical work related to autism for over a decade, including training at Boston University’s Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART), Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), and UCLA’s Autism Center of Excellence. Dr. Green is currently working at the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center with Dr. Mirella Dapretto and Dr. Susan Bookheimer, researching the neurobiological bases of sensory over-responsivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Dr. Green conducted some of the first fMRI work demonstrating brain differences in children with ASD specifically related to sensory over-responsivity, and she has continued to build on this work to identify how certain brain areas contribute to these difficulties and interfere with attention and social functioning. In the near future, she will be expanding her research to examine sensory processing difficulties in other groups, including children with anxiety and children adopted from foster care, with the ultimate goal of improving identification and treatment of sensory issues across multiple populations.

Elizabeth LaugesonElizabeth Laugeson, PsyD

Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute and is a licensed clinical psychologist.  Dr. Laugeson is the Founder and Director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic, which is an outpatient hospital-based program providing parent-assisted social skills training for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other social impairments from preschool to adulthood. She is also the Training Director for the UCLA Tarjan Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) and Director of The Help Group – UCLA Autism Research Alliance, which is a collaborative research initiative dedicated to developing and expanding applied clinical research in the treatment of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.  Having trained thousands of mental health professionals, educators, and families in the PEERS method, Dr. Laugeson is dedicated to developing and testing evidence-based treatments to improve social skills across the lifespan, and disseminating these empirically supported programs across the globe.