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.
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 Community Health program.
Dr. Janet McLaughlin is an Associate Professor of Community Health 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. After strongly advocating for reform in the wake of provincial funding changes, in 2019 she served on the Ontario Autism Advisory Panel to provide recommendations to reshape the Ontario Autism Program.
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. 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.
Zehranur Sasal is a second year M.Sc. student in Cognitive and Behavioural Neurosciences at Wilfrid Laurier University and an ABA therapist. Her research focuses on prosody detection in speech with background noise in individuals with autism. Zehra is also a mom of two; a little boy and a cat, and loves drinking tea.
Sarah Southey is a social worker (MSW) and is currently in the first year of her Ph.D. 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 (MSW) and is currently in her second year of her Ph.D. in the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier. Alisha's connection to autism began in 2018 when her daughter received a formal ASD diagnosis, which prompted her to also embrace her own neurodiversity. Combining her personal and professional interests and passions has been an incredibly fulfilling journey so far. Her research interest is exploring the role of the school social worker in non-academic support needs for autistic girls in school. Alisha can often be found outside camping or exploring with her two young children, husband, and their dogs.
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.
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.
Christian Awad is a fourth-year Health Sciences undergraduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Christian has been passionate about autism-related research since his second year at Laurier, in which he started the Laurier Autism Awareness Society (LAAS) club, which aims to give students at Laurier a better understanding of autism. He started volunteering with LARC as a chance to learn more and use his skills and experience to help out with projects.
Maya Canham is a fourth-year Health Sciences Student minoring in Biology and Chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University. She was introduced to the LARC during Dr. McLaughlin’s course on Individual and Social issues related to Autism and immediately wanted to get involved with the project. 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 pursue a career in rehabilitation therapy, as either a physiotherapist or occupational therapist. In her free time, Maya enjoys the outdoors, spending quality time with friends and family, and baking.
Mikayla Girdler is a fourth year Health Sciences student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Mikayla became involved with LARC through a course taught by Janet McLaughlin exploring various aspects of autism. Through this course, she developed a great interest in learning about autism and wished to merge this with her interest in research. In particular, she is interested in the mental health of caregivers during COVID. In Mikayla’s free time, she is a cheerleader on the Laurier Varsity Cheerleading team, but she can also be found running and playing with her dogs.
Christian Hecimovic is a fourth-year Health Sciences student at Wilfrid Laurier University looking to pursue a career in medicine. He wanted to get involved in a research project that was relevant in the world and interesting. He enjoys learning new skills while advancing his knowledge in topics that he is not familiar with. Sharing his ideas and suggestions while working with everyone at LARC has been the highlight of the experience so far. Christian is often at the gym, playing sports and watching movies in his personal life.
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!
Mary Makhlouf has recently graduated from her studies in Kinesiology and Physical Education at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has always had an interest in advocacy and research, and this prompted her to complete an undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Schneider. In partnership with Adults in Motion (AIM), a local disability service organization, her thesis explored differing societal perceptions surrounding culture and disability and how these may be used to inform the design of welcoming, inclusive service environments. She has recently been awarded a USRA from the Faculty of Science to work under the supervision of Dr. Schneider as a summer research assistant for LARC. Mary is also excited to use all of this newfound knowledge in her pursuit of a physiotherapy degree at McMaster University this coming fall. In Mary’s spare time, she loves spending time with her family & friends and spending time in nature with her dog.
Courtney Massey is a fourth-year Psychology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has always had a huge passion for helping others, specifically children and adults with special needs. Courtney worked at a camp for individuals with developmental disabilities for four years, where she gained an in-depth understanding of how individuals with disabilities conduct their daily lives. She is looking forward to completing her masters in Applied Disability Studies and becoming an autism therapist. In Courtney’s spare time she loves to travel, volunteer, spend time with her dog Milo, as well as visiting her friends and family.
Liliana Scatozza is a fourth-year Health Sciences student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Before her involvement with LARC, she grew increasingly interested in furthering her knowledge on autism and began conducting a thesis project encompassing children with ASD. This project influenced her to take the autism course taught by Dr. Janet McLaughlin. Her interest in research and her advocacy for the autistic community has led her to the LARC, which she is enthusiastic to be able to contribute to while furthering her own skills. Liliana is the captain of Laurier's Competitive Dance Team and is often found practicing with her team.
Farah Wahib is a fourth-year Health Sciences student at Wilfrid Laurier University. Prior to working on the LARC project, Farah was a researcher and advocate for the language, literacy, and well-being of Syrian refugees. Following the ASD diagnosis of two family members, she was motivated to understand and advocate for the autistic community. Since January 2020, she has co-founded the Laurier Autism Awareness Society, completed volunteer research for Autism Canada, and most recently started to work on the LARC project, to further develop her skills and understanding. One day, Farah hopes to utilize these skills in the community and implement them into the healthcare system as a physician.
Marina Youssef is a third year Health Sciences student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has previously volunteered with Dr. McLaughlin, and took interest in her work with migrant workers. Since then, she has continued to be interested in volunteering with Dr. McLaughlin, including at LARC. Marina has been interested in exploring and volunteering in regards to helping groups of people who are often vulnerable. She loves animals, friends and dessert.
Zack Zaidener is a second-year Psychology student at Wilfrid Laurier University. While he is new to the team, he is eager to work with everyone. What piqued his interest was when he noticed Dr. McLaughlin’s involvement with children with autism in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. He found it fascinating how she was exploring the school closure’s impacts on those with autism. He believes this is a very underserved topic of discussion, and he too wanted to explore this subject with Dr. McLaughlin and her team!
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