Founded by Drs. Janet McLaughlin and Margaret Schneider, the Laurier Autism Research Consortium (LARC) is a passionate group of professors, research assistants and students, working alongside various autism organizations, clinical experts, parent advocates, families and autistic individuals. Through conducting and sharing socially engaged research with policymakers and the public, our collective goal is to improve service access and quality of life for all autistic people and their families.
Stay tuned for upcoming research projects and opportunities.
To join our mailing list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in doing graduate or postdoctoral research with us, get in touch to discuss possibilities. If you are interested in undergraduate study in the area of autism, consider the Autism Stream in Laurier’s Health Studies program.
Dr. Janet McLaughlin is an Associate Professor of Health Studies and co-founder and co-director of the Laurier Autism Research Consortium (LARC) at Wilfrid Laurier University. After her son was diagnosed with autism in 2012, she developed an interest in the needs and experiences of caregivers, including the impacts of services on their well-being. Along with Dr. Schneider, she has since led two major province-wide surveys of autism family caregivers and is now conducting interviews with Indigenous and newcomer families to understand the additional challenges they face. She previously served on the Ontario Autism Advisory Panel.
Dr. Margaret Schneider is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education, with an emphasis on adapted physical activity for children and adults with chronic illness and disability. Alongside Dr. Janet McLaughlin, she is also a co-founder and co-director of the Laurier Autism Research Consortium (LARC) at Wilfrid Laurier University. She brings expertise on research ethics, qualitative methods, and 20 years of autism family research and support. Drs. McLaughlin and Schneider have recently conducted two large, province-wide surveys of autism family caregivers, investigating the many challenges they face as they navigate services. The current focus of their research is to investigate how these challenges may differ for newcomer and Indigenous caregivers of children with autism.
Dr. James A. LeClair is an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health at the Brantford campus of Wilfrid Laurier University. He received his PhD from the University of Victoria, where he specialized in Medical Geography. His interest in the mental health and developmental well-being of children and adolescents began with his undergraduate research, and extends to the present day. He’s especially interested in the role that neighbourhood characteristics play in mediating children’s mental health.
Dr. Nichole (Nikki) Scheerer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology where she studies how differences in sensory processing influence speech, movement, and social abilities, among other things. She is also interested in factors that impact the mental health of autistic children and their families, such as autism stigma, the language used to describe autism, and barriers encountered when obtaining an autism diagnosis.
Dr. Vanessa Fong is a Research Associate at LARC and Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia. She recently completed her PhD in Developmental Psychology at Simon Fraser University where her dissertation used a community-engaged approach to explore service navigation and quality of life in Korean families of autistic children in British Columbia. Her research aims to better understand the service needs and priorities of underserved communities to improve policy and practice that directly impact them.
Dr. Stephen Gentles was employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow with Drs. Janet McLaughlin and Margaret Schneider at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2021, and now serves as a research partner and consultant, working to advance the LARC program of research. He has a background in health information and clinical epidemiology, and his program of research is aimed at promoting caregiver perspectives and developing knowledge and tools to support the important roles caregivers play in navigating and directing care for their child(ren) with a neurodevelopmental condition. He completed his PhD in the Health Research Methodology Program at McMaster University, and recently completed a postdoctoral CIHR Health System Impact fellowship with Margaret Spoelstra at Autism Ontario, and Dr. Stelios Georgiades at the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University.
Sarah Southey is a social worker (MSW) and is currently in the first year of her PhD in the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier. Sarah has been working with autistic individuals across the life-span since 2009. Sarah has worked at Autism Ontario and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. Sarah works in private practice in affiliation with the Redpath Centre providing therapy to autistic adults. Sarah is focusing her research on experiences of autistic professionals in employment. Sarah enjoys hiking, yoga, tea and most importantly spending time with her family.
Alisha Stubbs is a social worker and is currently in her third year of her PhD in the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier. Having a deep personal connection to autism, Alisha has found that embracing that and engaging in a similar professional direction has been fulfilling in many ways. Alisha's dissertation research involves non-academic support for autistic students in Ontario and the role of school social workers. Alisha can often be found outside camping or exploring with her two young children, husband, and their dogs.
AJ is a second year MSW student at WLU and joined the LARC team in Summer 2023. Hailing from Chicago, she comes to the social work field from a 25-year career in theatre and performance. In Toronto, she has worked at her local food bank, as a coordinator for native pollinator gardens, and in community outreach promoting knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights. She completed her foundational placement as a counselor with 360° Kids, and is pursuing her advanced placement at Central Toronto Youth Services Families in TRANSition. AJ is thrilled to be working as a LARC RA and learning from Drs. McLaughlin and Schneider to support this important research.
Ariel Berwick is an Indigenous woman from Wahta Mohawk Territory who holds Honours BAs in Criminology/Criminal Justice and Law. Ms. Berwick currently works for Indigenous Services Canada as a policy analyst and volunteers with Wahta Mohawk and the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Youth Councils. She works as an RA with LARC, conducting interviews with Indigenous parents of children with autism and providing strategic input on projects with Indigenous caregivers.
Lina Casale is a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier’s Community Health program with a concentration in Autism and Behavioural Science. In her fourth year she completed a research project titled Caregiver Perceptions on the Educational Experiences of their Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder under the supervision of Dr. Janet McLaughlin and in partnership with the Ontario Autism Coalition, the results of which were presented as a research poster at the Geneva Centre for Autism’s Virtual Symposium in 2020. Her passion for this field of study continues to grow through her position as a research assistant for Dr. Janet McLaughlin, as well as her work as an educational assistant at Oak Bridge Academy. She plans on pursuing her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy.
Asmaa Elbadawy brings social science research experience from a different field. With the autism diagnosis of a family member, she became personally interested in learning about autism-related research. She also completed a graduate certificate in Autism Behavioural Science from Humber College. Her interest in autism led her to know about the research Dr. McLaughlin and colleagues were conducting through LARC, and she approached her to join the research team. Asmaa is delighted to join LARC as an RA and participate in helping members of the autism community have their voices heard. She hopes involvement in this project will further her knowledge about autism and give her more direction as she explores next steps in her professional journey. In her free time, Asmaa enjoys spending quality time with family and friends, as well as hiking and being outdoors.
Leeann Shimoda, RSSW is a mother of 3, grandmother of 8, and great-grandmother of 5. She is a member of Saugeen First Nation and belongs to the Eagle Clan. Leeann has worked for Independent First Nations as a Jordan’s Principle Navigator/Coordinator since Feb 2017. Prior to that she worked for Saugeen First Nation in Child and Youth Mental Health for 10 years and has worked in the Friendship Centre movement as Executive Director for several years. She is Registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers and has diplomas in Social Work, Business Administration, Accounting, Nursing, and Addictions. She is passionate about reconciliation, youth, and sharing her life’s journey with others.
Lauren Tristani is the Research and Evaluation Specialist at Autism Ontario. Prior to obtaining this position she completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Dr. Rebecca Bassett-Gunter and the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability. While Lauren’s research has ranged from understanding physical literacy within school settings to physical activity messaging, the main focus of her PhD research was to identify psychosocial predictors that facilitate physical activity and health behaviours for individuals with a disability. Lauren has a particular interest in health promotion and behaviour change for individuals with disabilities.
Maya Canham is a fourth-year Health Sciences Student minoring in Biology and Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was introduced to the LARC in 2022 during Dr. McLaughlin’s course on Individual and Social issues Related to Autism and has been involved ever since. In particular, Maya wanted to learn more about the importance of physical activity for individuals on the autism spectrum and the effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on autistic individuals. Maya aims to complete a Master of Health Science Degree and pursue a career in research and academia. In her free time, Maya enjoys the outdoors, spending quality time with friends and family, and baking.
Talia Kendal is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Kinesiology and minoring in Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was introduced to LARC by Dr. Schneider and immediately wanted to become involved. Talia’s older sister has autism and this has fostered Talia's interest in the area. She is specifically interested in learning more about barriers to service access for people with autism and their families. Talia plans to hone her research skills in the lab, which she will then use in her future career in healthcare. In her free time, Talia enjoys spending time volunteering, spending time with family and friends, as well as going to the gym and being active.
Philip Lerner was diagnosed with autism before he was 2 years old. He has now completed his third year of the BMath Honours Statistics Co-op program at the University of Waterloo. Philip is currently on his fourth work term at Statistics Canada as a Junior Statistician-Mathematician. Philip has been serving on the Ontario Autism Coalition Board of Directors for the last 2 years, and has co-founded the OAC Autistic Advisory Group. He has been interviewed by major news sources, most recently Sirius XM radio, regarding issues that face autistic individuals and their families. Philip works as an RA with LARC, assisting with statistical analyses of survey responses. Outside of the world of autism, Philip is a huge Toronto sports fan and a massive foodie!
Sophie Richard is a third-year psychology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She became involved with LARC through Dr. McLaughlin’s class on autism advocacy, policy, and practice. She found the content in this course to be extremely interesting, and that is what inspired her to get involved with this project. In particular, she wants to learn more about the path to receiving an autism diagnosis, and the school supports available for students with autism. Her goal is to pursue a career in either educational psychology or speech-language pathology, as she has always had an interest in working with children. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, and watching Netflix!
Khushi Sheth is a 4th-year health sciences student who was introduced to LARC by Dr. Janet McLaughlin when she applied for an RA position. Khushi always wanted to work in the field of rehabilitative sciences, particularly as a Speech Language Pathologist. By volunteering with a non-profit organization - March of Dimes, she worked with adults with aphasia, apraxia and dysarthria to help them communicate and facilitate conversations. This solidified her decision to become a Speech Language Pathologist. In her free time, Khushi likes watching movies, hiking and spending time with her family and friends.
Grace VanHooydonk is a third-year research specialist psychology student, minoring in human relations at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was first introduced to LARC through Dr. McLaughlin’s course on autism advocacy and practice. She was specifically interested in a study relating to newcomer and Indigenous caregiver experiences while accessing autism services in Ontario. Grace aims to pursue a career in clinical psychology, and plans to receive her BCBA certification along the way, to be able to provide therapy to autistic youth. In Grace’s spare time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, being active while participating in dance classes, or relaxing with a book or movie.
Marissa Vella is in her fourth year of an undergraduate degree in Psychology with a specialization in research. For over a year now, she has been volunteering at Adults in Motion (AIM), an organization that supports adults with disabilities. This experience has made her realize how much she loves working with individuals with diverse needs. When the opportunity to be a research assistant with LARC arose, she knew it was another volunteer opportunity she wanted to take on. Next year, she will be taking a year off to backpack through Australia, Thailand, and Cambodia, in order to learn more about and immerse herself in different cultures around the world. After her travels, she plans to complete a master's degree in counselling psychology.
Lesley Zosky is going into her third year of her undergraduate degree majoring in Health Sciences at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is currently looking to pursue a career in medicine and wanted to get involved in research that is relevant in today’s society and interesting. She was introduced to LARC in Dr. McLaughlin’s class exploring the different aspects about Autism and was very interested in helping with research in these areas. In her free time, Lesley likes spending time with her friends, enjoying the outdoors, baking and playing with her dog.
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