Director, Principal Investigator

Director of Operations, UCLA Tarjan Center/Arts Specialist, NADC

Director of Training and Education Services

Director of Research

Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Director of Outreach and Dissemination at the UCLA Tarjan Center

Faculty and Staff

Postsecondary Education

Professor and Shapiro Family Endowed Chair in Developmental Disability Studies


Cerebral palsy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Physical Health

Professor of Human Development and Psychology
George Tarjan Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the Semel Institute ofNeuroscience and Human Behavior
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA


Kecia Weller

Tarjan Self-Advocate


Megan is a Clinical Psychology Intern in the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Assessment Track at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. As an intern, she is involved in the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®), and the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) Clinic. She is completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where her research focuses on leveraging wearable sensors to examine the dynamics of everyday, naturalistic interactions between children and caregivers. Megan's clinical and research interests are rooted in supporting neurodiverse individuals and their families by improving early ASD detection and access to evidence-based interventions.

Blake Warner is a Clinical Psychology Intern in the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Treatment Track at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of South Dakota, where he completed a two-year Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) traineeship. In addition to his work in the Tarjan Center at UCLA, Blake is involved with the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS™), the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic, and EMPWR. Blake is passionate for policy and advocacy, and his research revolves around advancing access to clinical interventions such as PEERS™ for marginalized populations, including those in rural areas and the LGBTQ+ community.

Juliette Lerner is an incoming first-year doctoral student in the UCLA Human Development and Psychology program and a graduate student researcher in the Lord Lab. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in disability studies from UCLA and has years of experience working with autistic and neurodiverse populations within various community, clinical, and research settings, including being a research assistant and behavioral coach at the UCLA PEERS® Clinic; being a research assistant within the UCLA Child OCD, Anxiety and Tic Disorders Clinic; and providing tailored services to autistic individuals within the non-profit organization IGNITE Collective, Inc. As a clinic coordinator for the UCLA PEERS® Clinic, she managed aspects of the PEERS® for Young Adults, PEERS® for Adolescents, and PEERS® for Preschoolers social skills interventions, and served as the research coordinator for the UCLA College to Career Randomized Controlled Trial. Juliette’s research interests include exploring the impact of family, caregivers, and social structures on the social-emotional and vocational development of transition-age autistic youth and adult populations.

Cherisse Watts PhD(c), RN, PHN

UCLA Nursing Doctoral Student
Fellow, Golisano Institute of Developmental Disability Nursing

Cherisse Watts is a doctoral student in the School of Nursing at University of California Los Angeles, and a graduate of Wellesley College and Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science. Her research interests include investigating health disparities and improving quality of care among Black and Latinx children. Her research efforts are concentrated on advocating for medically underserved and low-income families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and ensuring that they have access to resources needed to achieve optimal health.

Cherisse participates in IDD research with her advisor, Dr. Lauren Clark, Professor and Shapiro Endowed Chair for Developmental Disability Studies at UCLA. Projects and publication efforts include - reviewing the history of discrimination of people with disabilities and special health care needs; analysis of the awareness and quality of care individuals with disabilities receive from dentists; mandated reporting of child maltreatment for nurses and other healthcare professionals, specifically looking at the complexities involved when parents with disabilities are the subjects; and healthcare transition period for youth with special healthcare needs related to vaccination decision-making.

Dr. Nurit Benrey is a postdoctoral scholar in the Lord Lab. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology with a Health Emphasis from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. She has extensive experiencing working with neurodiverse youth and adults across a variety of clinical and research settings. In terms of research, Nurit has utilized single-channel VEP recordings to advance understanding of the neural differences in autism. Nurit is also passionate about contributing to the Tarjan Center’s mission of advancing the self-determination, inclusion, and quality of life of neurodiverse people and their families.

Giselle Salinas, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in the Program for Education Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) Clinic. Dr. Salinas earned her doctorate at UC Riverside in Special Education, where she studied the high school transition planning experiences of young adults with autism and/or intellectual disability (ID) and their parents. As a graduate student, Dr. Salinas worked closely with Spanish-speaking families at a free autism screening clinic, where she guided families in special education advocacy and autism assessments. Her research interests revolve around the transition to adulthood for young adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities, including the experiences of culturally diverse populations.

Yuriko Matsuo (Yuri) is a third-year doctoral student at the UCLA School of Nursing. She received her BSN and MSN from the University of Pennsylvania. She has experience working as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in a crisis service for pediatrics. Her research interests lie in the adulthood of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), with a special focus on Down syndrome and their family caregivers, in their mental health, Alzheimer’s disease dementia, and quality of life.

Yuri participates in IDD research with her advisor, Dr. Lauren Clark, Professor and Shapiro Endowed Chair for Developmental Disability Studies at UCLA. Projects include the family caregiver’s decision-making in non-mandatory vaccination for children with IDD.

Maya Ayoub, MD, EdM, is a fifth year Child Neurology Resident at UCLA. She studied neurobiology with a minor in global health and health policy at Harvard College for her undergraduate degree. Prior to joining the medical field, Maya worked as a Clinical Developmental Associate in an Intensive Outpatient Program for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities; from there, she focused her studies on the overlap between educational accommodations, neurodevelopment, and the healthcare system through a graduate degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She works closely with research advisor Dr. Rujuta Wilson, Director of Research at the Tarjan Center and PI of the Wilson Motor Lab; her research interests and work in medicine have focused on medical education innovations, deep phenotyping for neurodevelopmental disabilities, training around evidence-based behavior strategies for parents, and advocacy.

Nicole Rosen is a fifth-year doctoral student at UCLA working under the mentorship of Dr. Catherine Lord. Nicole has extensive experience working with neurodiverse youth and adults in both assessment and treatment capacities across a variety of clinical and research settings. Her research interests include examining the bidirectional relationship between autistic individuals and their siblings on development across the lifespan.

Dr. James Yang is a postdoctoral scholar at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in the Program for Education Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®) Clinic. He earned his doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies. As a graduate student, he studied the employment and post-secondary education attainment of high school students with autism in addition to training teachers to implement the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI). His research interests include further understanding the role of adaptive functioning skills and self-determination on employment and educational outcomes of neurodiverse individuals.

Ryan Villacrucis is a recent graduate from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He is currently pursuing the pre-med path. Over the years, he immersed himself in various roles in the disabled community. Notable experiences include being a caregiver for neurodiverse individuals, working at a clinic to provide healthcare services to patients with disabilities, and additionally working with various organizations as an advocate for disability justice and equity in education. These experiences helped him cultivate a passion for researching disparities, inaccessibility, and inequity that the community is faced with, and he is dedicated to translating this passion to the work that he does in the Lord Lab. Currently, he is involved in a project researching caregivers’ experiences with obtaining disability services such as SSI/SSDI and healthcare services through Medicare/Medicaid. As a trainee, he strives to continue to do work that’s committed to advocate for the livelihoods and well-being of individuals with disabilities and their respective caregivers.

Sereen is a new research associate in the Wilson Motor Lab pursuing a two-year post-undergraduate fellowship with the Autism Science Foundation. She recently graduated with a degree in Psychobiology and a Biomedical Research minor from UCLA, where she was involved in the CART Sigmon Scholars and the Undergraduate Research Scholars programs through the Wilson Lab. Her research centers around characterizing early motor trends in autism, particularly with object exploration and locomotion, and how they impact overall development.

Emma Burdekin is a second-year pediatric resident at UCLA. As an undergraduate she studied biology with a minor in Spanish at Pomona College. Prior to starting medical school, she worked in clinical research in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department at UCSF. She then completed her medical education at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and has continued her training in the UCLA Pediatric Residency Program. Throughout medical school and residency, she has worked under the mentorship of Dr. Rujuta Wilson on clinical research focused on motor impairments in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Sebiha Abdullahi, MD, is a third year Child Neurology Resident at UCLA. She studied Biochemistry at Wellesley College. Following her undergraduate studies, she spent two years as a research fellow at the Yale Translational Developmental Neuroscience Research where she developed her passion for working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and conducting research in the field. She has also collaborated with various autism centers in her home town, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to provide trainings to teachers and parents of children with autism. She attended the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and has been working with Dr. Rujuta Wilson, in the Wilson Motor Lab, to study motor differences in children at high risk for autism. Her research interest includes studying early signs of autism, developing diagnostic tools that are accessible and applicable in resource limited areas.

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