About the Presenters
Elizabeth Laugeson, Psy.D
Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. 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 preschoolers, adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other social impairments. She also serves as the Training Director for the UCLA Tarjan Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD).
Dr. Laugeson has been a principal investigator and collaborator on a number of studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigating social skills training for youth with developmental disabilities from preschool to early adulthood and is the co-developer of an evidence-based social skills intervention for teens and young adults known as PEERS®. She was the two-time recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the NIH from 2004-2007, recipient of the Semel Scholar Award for Junior Faculty Career Development in 2008, and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Pepperdine University in 2010. Dr. Laugeson has presented her research at international conferences throughout the world including the U.S., Canada, England, Italy, Australia, and Finland. Her groundbreaking work has been featured on national and international media outlets such as People Magazine, USA Today, the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, CBS, NBC, and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom.
Amanda Gulsrud, Ph.D
Dr. Amanda Gulsrud is Assistant Professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in autism and the development of early interventions. She is the clinical director of the multidisciplinary, which focuses on the evaluation and treatment of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across the lifespan. Dr. Gulsrud’s primary research and clinical efforts focus on the early identification and treatment of infants and toddlers with ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders utilizing the JASPER intervention, a naturalistic developmental behavioral approach developed at UCLA. In the UCLA Autism Center of Excellence, she is a co-investigator examining developmental trajectories and early treatment response of children ages 12-21 months at risk for ASD. Dr. Gulsrud co-leads an Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative, developing and delivering treatments in the low-resourced community of South Los Angeles. She also leads UCLA’s participation in the SPARK study, a Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative to build the largest autism genetic research cohort in the United States. Dr. Gulsrud was awarded the Autism Speaks 10 most significant research achievements in 2010 and again in 2012 for her work, in collaboration with Dr. Connie Kasari, on parent-mediated early intervention and peer-mediated intervention in schools.
Catherine Lord, Ph.D.
Dr. Catherine Lord is the George Tarjan Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She is a practicing clinical psychologist whose primary focus is autism and related disorders across the lifespan from toddlers through adulthood. Her research and clinical work are aimed at improving methods of identifying strengths and difficulties in individuals with possible ASD and working with families and individuals to maximize independence and well-being for all concerned. This has involved the development of diagnostic instruments (the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule - ADOS, the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised – ADI-R, and the Social Communication Questionnaire-SCQ) that describe individual profiles of skills and weaknesses and carrying out longitudinal studies from age 15 months up to 30 years with the goal of identifying protective and risk factors that influence milestones of progress over the years. A current priority is to develop better ways of measuring changes in social behavior and communication over short periods of time that can be used to monitor progress without bias. Another priority has been to participate in large scale studies where researchers share data about both behavior and neurobiology; this has included the Simons Simplex Collection (a genetics consortium led by geneticists and researchers through the Simons Foundation), ABIDE (an imaging open science group originated out of NYU), and the Healthy Brain Network through the Child Mind Institute as well as numerous clinical trials of different interventions. She is also very interested in graduate training for psychologists and other clinical researchers in ASD and related fields. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Association of Arts and Sciences, as well as a former chair of a National Academy of Sciences committee on the effectiveness of early intervention in ASD, a co-chair of the New York Board of Health committee on ASD and a member of the DSM 5 American Psychiatry Association’s neurodevelopmental disorders committee. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Autism Research. She has over 300 referred journal publications and has been funded by NIH, Autism Speaks, and the Simons Foundation for numerous research grants.
Patricia Renno, Ph.D.
Dr. Renno is a Clinical Psychologist at the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic (CAN) Clinic and a Clinical Instructor in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division at UCLA. She is also the Associate Director of the UCLA CAN REACH Training Program which provides free workshops and lectures on autism spectrum disorder for families and community providers. Dr. Renno specializes in the assessment and treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents. After completing her doctoral degree in Psychological Studies in Education at UCLA, she received postdoctoral training at UCLA’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART). She has worked on several clinical trials examining the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety and related social difficulties in children and youth with ASD. Her research has focused on the co-occurrence of anxiety in autism spectrum disorders and developing effective treatments for anxiety and social difficulties in school-age children with ASD.
Brandon Ito, MD, MPH
Dr. Brandon Ito, MD, MPH completed his undergraduate degree in Human Development with minors in Psychology and Healthcare & Social Issues from the University of California, San Diego. He completed his medical training at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and obtained a masters degree from the Harvard University School of Public Health. Dr. Ito completed his adult psychiatry training at the University of California, San Francisco, where he was a Global Health Clinical Scholar and graduated with an Area of Distinction in LGBT mental health. He completed his Child & Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship at New York University/Bellevue Hospital, where he served as Chief Fellow.
Dr. Ito is interested in medical education and teaching, LGBTQ+ mental health, and reducing health care disparities. He is completing his second year as a UCLA Medical Education Fellow and serves as the Psychiatry Clerkship Chair in the UCLA School of Medicine. His clinical roles include being a supervisor in the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, Behavioral Wellness Center, and the UCLA Gender Health Program.
Benjamin Schneider, Ph.D.
Dr. Schneider attended Stanford University where he studied biology and philosphy before attending medical school at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He then came to UCLA in 2008 where he completed both residency training in General Psychiatry and fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. He now serves as the Associate Director of the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic and as Medical Director of the UCLA Achievement, Behavior and Cognition Partial Hospitalization Program. Dr. Schneider has special expertise in the treatment of children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related conditions.
Charlotte DiStefano, Ph.D.
Dr. Charlotte DiStefano is a clinical psychologist with expertise in autism spectrum disorder and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is a Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. After receiving a B.S. in Special Education from New York University and an Ed.M. in Mind Brain and Education from Harvard University, Dr. Charlotte Distefano received her Ph.D. in Psychological Studies in Education from UCLA. She completed her postdoctoral training at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and under the mentorships of Drs. Connie Kasari and Shafali Jeste. Before earning her Ph.D., Dr. DiStefano worked as a special education teacher with children with ASD, in both New York City and Los Angeles.
Clinically, Dr. DiStefano sees patients in the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, and the Developmental Neurogenetics Clinic. She provides assessment and evaluation of children with ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as treatment consultations regarding language and communication development.
Dr. DiStefano’s primary research interests are language development and minimally verbal children with ASD. She was awarded a Meixner Postoctoral Fellowship in Translational Research from Autism Speaks to identify EEG biomarkers related to language and literacy abilities in minimally verbal children with ASD, with the eventual goal of informing treatment decisions. Currently, serves as the UCLA site clinical coordinator for a multisite National Institutes of Health Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials research study.
Caroline J. Grantz, Ph.D.
Dr. Caroline Grantz is a pediatric neuropsychologist with expertise in Autism Spectrum Disorder and related areas of difficulty. Originally from California, Dr. Grantz went to graduate school at the University of Miami in Florida. She completed Internship at Rush University Medical School in Chicago and Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, Oregon. Throughout her education, she received specialized training in neuropsychology, and is pursuing Board Certification as a Clinical Neuropsychologist. In 2016, Dr. Grantz was delighted to move back to California, where she worked for two years at CHOC Children’s helping to build Autism Spectrum Disorder assessment and treatment services in partnership with the UCI Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders before joining the UCLA Semel Institute Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic.
Dr. Grantz has worked across the lifespan with individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, with the goals of supporting daily functioning and helping families plan for the future. She is passionate about helping individuals on the Autism Spectrum understand themselves better, access the resources and services available to support development and functioning, and build full, satisfying lives. Dr. Grantz is excited to be part of the team at the CAN Clinic, where she is developing young adult assessment and intervention services to support the transition to adulthood for individuals on the autism spectrum. She will be working clinically and in research to support young adults on the autism spectrum as they transition from high school to college and into the work force. Dr. Grantz is excited to build community partnerships to support our families and learn more about the opportunities available to individuals on the autism spectrum in Los Angeles. In her free time, Dr. Grantz enjoys hiking, exploring Los Angeles, and finding new adventures for her very energetic dog.
Leila Glass, Ph.D.
Leila Glass, Ph.D. is a neuropsychology postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in the lifespan track at the Medical Psychological Assessment Center (MPAC). Leila received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and previously worked at the NIH as a trainee. She completed her doctorate at the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in San Diego and completed her internship at UCLA in the pediatric neuropsychology track. Leila’s research has focused on the academic, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes associated with prenatal alcohol exposure and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Her primary interests lie in understanding the neurobehavioral profiles associated with developmental disabilities to inform targeted intervention.
Alissa J. Ellis, Ph.D.
Dr. Ellis is a clinical neuropsychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Neuropsychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. She first came to UCLA in 2011 for her pre-doctoral internship in Pediatric Neuropsychology. She then received a T32 post-doctoral fellowship in neuropsychology and child and adolescent mood disorders at UCLA. She is now an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry. In addition to being the Director and creator of the thinkSMARTâ program, she works as an attending psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Mood Disorders Program (CHAMP). Dr. Ellis is also a prolific researcher who was awarded a K23 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to examine how neural response patterns of frustration and reward are associated with symptoms of depression and mania over time in youth with significant mood difficulties.
Ruth Ellingsen, Ph.D.
Ruth Ellingsen is a post-doctoral scholar in the Nathanson Family Resilience Center at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Ruth obtained her Ph.D. in clinical psychology and completed her internship at UCLA, where she received specialized clinical and research training in developmental disabilities and in the prevention and treatment of traumatic stress in children and families. As part of her postdoctoral training, Ruth provides clinical services to children and families exposed to various challenges, including medical, community, and family traumas, as well as conducts program development and evaluation to better serve trauma-exposed families. Ruth is also a clinical instructor in the UCLA PEERS® Clinic and facilitates social skills intervention groups for teens with autism spectrum disorder and other social impairments, and additionally trains other mental health professionals and educators in the PEERS® method. Her research focuses on factors that influence positive parenting of children at risk.
Rujuta Bhatt, M.D.
Dr. Rujuta Bhatt specializes in behavioral neurology, with specific focus on autism spectrum disorders, and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is an Assistant Professor in Pediatric Neurology and Psychiatry. She is also a faculty member in the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART).
After completing a combined BA/MD program at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Bhatt completed residency in pediatrics and child neurology at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. Dr. Bhatt was then the recipient of the Savant Behavioral Neurology Fellowship and she completed this training in the Jeste Lab and CART.
Dr. Bhatt’s research interests are focused on understanding motor abnormalities in ASD, related genetic syndromes, defining the nature of, and sequelae of these motor deficits and developing new interventions to improve motor function. Dr. Bhatt utilizes quantitative measures of motor function to better evaluate specific and subtle motor impairments in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Clinically, Dr. Bhatt sees patients in the Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Clinic, The Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, and The Developmental Neurogenetics Clinic. Conditions evaluated in these clinics include, autism spectrum disorder, other neurodevelopmental disorders, Tics/Tourette Syndrome, and Neurogenetic conditions.
Dr. Bhatt also has a longstanding commitment to medical education. She currently serves as the Associate Program Director of the Child Neurology Residency and is the Pediatric Neurology Training Director of the UC-LEND program. Nationally, Dr. Bhatt is an active member of the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society.
Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD
Dr. Elizabeth Laugeson is an Associate 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 Program Director for Dissemination, Outreach, and Education at the prestigious UCLA Autism Center of Excellence. 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. As one of the only empirically supported social skills programs for youth with autism, her program is currently in over 35 countries and has been translated into over a dozen languages.
Vindia G. Fernandez, Ph.D.
Dr. Fernandez obtained her undergraduate degree at Yale University and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Houston, where she completed her graduate research on cerebellar structure and cortico-cerebellar white matter integrity in children with dyslexia. She completed her internship and postdoctoral training in neuropsychology at the UCLA Semel Institute and Cultural Neuropsychology Initiative. As a recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Health, Dr. Fernandez studied language and neurocognitive functioning in young adults with schizophrenia. She is currently a faculty member in the pision of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, where she is an attending clinician in the UCLA PEERS Clinic, and at Cal State Northridge in the Department of Education, where she teaches advanced assessment in the Educational Therapy program. Dr. Fernandez conducts neuropsychological assessments and inpidual social-skills training in private practice. She specializes in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments for bilingual, Spanish-speaking children and young adults.
Nastassia Hajal, Ph.D.
Dr. Hajal received her PhD in Child Clinical Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University. She completed her pre-doctoral clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine & Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, with an emphasis on the prevention and treatment of child and family traumatic stress.
She is currently a clinical researcher and attending psychologist in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Her primary interests are in parenting and young children’s emotional development in the context of stress, trauma, and developmental challenges. Her research, housed within the Nathanson Family Resilience Center, focuses on parent and family processes that hinder or promote child resilience in the face of stress. She is also involved in translation of these basic science findings to inform interventions for children and families. She has a particular interest in studying parental emotional processes using novel methodology, including intensive and ecologically valid techniques (such as experience sampling methodology) and affective neuroscience (such as EEG).
Dr. Hajal is a licensed clinical psychologist who supervises clinical psychology and child psychiatry trainees in two UCLA clinics: the PEERS for Preschoolers Program, which provides parent-assisted social skills training for preschool-aged children with developmental disabilities and social challenges, and the Family STAR (Stress, Trauma, and Resilience) Clinic, which focuses on the prevention and treatment of traumatic stress in children ages 0-18 and their families.
Emily Moulton, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Clinical Psychology Fellow
Emily Moulton, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Clinical Psychology Fellow with the UCLA PEERS clinic and the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic. Dr. Moulton earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Connecticut, specializing in the early detection of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and developmental trajectories following early diagnosis. She completed her Predoctoral Psychology Internship at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior within the Pediatric Neuropsychology track. In addition to a background in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dr. Moulton has experience working with individuals with other neurodevelopmental, neurological and psychiatric disorders through assessment, intervention and research programs.
Deanna Dow, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Clinical Psychology Fellow
Deanna Dow, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Clinical Psychology Fellow at UCLA with the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic and the PEERS® Clinic. Dr. Dow earned her B.S. in Psychology at the University of Michigan and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Florida State University. She completed her Predoctoral Psychology Internship at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior within the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders track. Dr. Dow has been working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for 15 years in a variety of clinical and research contexts. Her primary interests are related to ASDspecific screening, early diagnosis, and parent-implemented treatment of toddlers and young children with autism spectrum disorder.