Professor Cheryl Dissanayake is Founder and Director of the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, and a Reader in Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychological Science. She has been an autism researcher since 1984 and has a strong national and international reputation in that field. She established and led an active research program in the School of Psychological Science since she joined it in 1996. Her specific research interests lie in the very early development of Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as in the social-cognitive and social-emotional development of children affected by these disorders. She is currently involved in evaluating the Early Start Denver Model at the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre: The Margot Prior Wing at La Trobe University. Cheryl served on the Professional Panel of Autism Victoria (trading as Amaze), and is co-founder and convenor of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Group of Autism Victoria, the Australasian Autism Research Alliance and the new Australasian Society for Autism Research. She is a Registered Psychologist in Australia, and a member of the International Society for Autism Research, the Society for Research in Child Development, the Australasian Human Development Association, and the American Association for Psychological Science.
Professor Margot Prior, AO, is the Chair of the OTARC Advisory Committee, and the Patron of Autism Victoria. She holds an Adjunct Professorship in the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University and is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Psychological Sciences at The University of Melbourne. She has been a researcher in the field of family and child development for more than thirty years, focusing particularly on autism and learning difficulties in children. She was a Chief Investigator in the 28 year longitudinal study of Australian children 'The Australian Temperament Project'. Professor Prior recently completed a major review of early intervention practices for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders for the Australian Federal Government Department of Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. (Prior, M., Roberts, J. Rodger, S., & Williams, K., 2011) entitled 'Autism: A Review of the Research to Identify the Most Effective Models of Practice in Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders'. With J. Roberts she was responsible for the booklet ‘Early Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: 'Guidelines for Good Practice' (2012) widely used across Australia. View Professor Prior's list of publications [PDF 148.02KB].
Dr Josephine Barbaro is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at OTARC. She completed her PhD on the prospective identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders in infancy and toddlerhood at OTARC in 2010, and has five papers published based on her PhD. Her research interests are in the early identification and diagnosis of infants and toddlers, as well as the education of primary health care professionals about the early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders and how to detect them in very young children. Josephine was a recipient of a Sir Robert Menzies Scholarship in the Allied Health Sciences in 2006, and was awarded the best clinical dissertation for 2011 by the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR). Josie also works in the Early Assessment Clinic associated with OTARC.
Dr Cherie Green completed her PhD studies at OTARC in 2013. She investigated physical growth patterns in boys with an Autism Spectrum Disorder under the supervision of Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Dr Danuta Loesch. She also holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Davis US. Before joining OTARC for her PhD studies, she worked at the UC Davis MIND Institute as a Research Assistant on the Autism Phenome Project. Cherie is now working with Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and Dr Josephine Barbaro on various research projects. She also works as an assessor in the Early Assessment Clinic associated with OTARC.
Dr Kristelle Hudry is a Lecturer in Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychological Science at La Trobe University. She recently returned to Australia following five years in London where she held research posts at Goldsmith’s, the Institute of Child Health, University College London, and at the Institute of Education, London, as a member of the newly-formed Centre for Research in Autism and Education. Kristelle maintains active collaboration within the Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT) and British Autism Study of Infant Siblings (BASIS) networks. Her research interests are broadly in the areas of early development in infants and toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorders or those at high risk of a later diagnosis. This includes investigations into language and communicative development, and patterns of interaction between parents and these young children. She also provides training in behavioural observation and diagnostic assessment for autism spectrum disorders (i.e. ADOS) to professionals and researchers.
Dr Elfriede Ihsen is a Research Fellow at OTARC. Prior to joining La Trobe University, Dr Ihsen was a senior lecturer and researcher in the School of Studies in Disability at Deakin University and in Psychology at Swinburne University of Technology. Her research interests are in the development of young children, especially those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, congenital blindness or other disabilities. At OTARC she assists the Director in various activities, including fund raising, writing for publication, liaising with Government, ASD-specific services and the larger community. She is also involved in various research projects at OTARC. View Dr Ihsen's profile [PDF 115 KB].
Associate Professor Amanda Richdale is Principal Research Fellow at OTARC. Amanda is particularly interested in the causes, impacts and intervention for sleep problems associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders and has published widely concerning sleep problems and their management in children with an ASD and other developmental disorders. Other research interests include social skills and friendships, educational supports for adolescents and adults with an ASD, and the impact of diet on behaviour. Amanda has written for the Raising Children Network Autism site, and gives seminars and workshops about ASDs and children’s sleep for parents and professionals. She also maintains a strong connection with the autism research community both in Australia and overseas.
Dr David Trembath, Postdoctoral Fellow, joined OTARC in February 2010. He is a speech pathologist, having completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Speech Pathology) at the University of Sydney in 2001, followed by a Master of Applied Science by Research (High Distinction) in 2005. During this time he worked in clinical education, and in research assistant roles aimed at supporting individuals with autism and other lifelong disabilities and their families. He commenced his first formal academic role at the University of Sydney in 2006, where he coordinated and taught subjects on communication and lifelong disability; augmentative and alternative communication; and professional development, and later coordinated the Graduate Entry Masters of Speech Language Pathology program. He was awarded his PhD in 2010. His interests include Autism Spectrum Disorders; cross-cultural and interdisciplinary practice in speech pathology; assistive technology; inclusive education; and participation across the lifespan. The focus of his current research is on developing and evaluating communication interventions for individuals with an ASD and evidence-based practice. He also works as an assessor in the Early Assessment Clinic associated with OTARC.
Dr Giacomo Vivanti is a Research Fellow at the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre: The Margot Prior Wing and OTARC. His previous work experience includes a clinical internship at the University Hospital of Siena, Italy, a research fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the MIND Institute, University of California at Davis, under the mentorship of Professor Sally Rogers. In 2009, he was the recipient of the INSAR (International Society for Autism Research) award for best behavioural dissertation on autism. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on clinical practice with children with autism in Italian, as well as empirical research papers published internationally in peer-reviewed journals. His current research is focused on investigating the cognitive processes underlying action understanding, imitation, and learning in autism and developing and implementing treatment strategies for young children on the autism spectrum. Dr Vivanti is a member of the Italian Ministry of Health Committee on Autism Treatment and a scientific consultant for numerous research institutes, treatment programs serving people with autism and non-profit associations for the rights of children with disability in several different countries.
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Other Clinical and Research staff
Ms Lindsay Pamment has an Honours degree in Psychological Science. She is working on a study into community service providers’ views and practices regarding language and Autism Spectrum Disorders and a second study into the early electrophysiological, eye-tracking and behavioural markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders in young infants with Dr Kristelle Hudry.
Ms Katherine Pye is a Speech Pathologist who completed a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology/Linguistics) at the University of Melbourne in 1999, followed by a Masters of Applied Science (Speech Pathology) at La Trobe University in 2001. She has since gained experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, communication delay/disorders, acquired brain injury and broader learning disabilities in Australia and the UK, as well as with voluntary organisations in Romania and the Caribbean. In other services she has revised diagnostic pathways for ASDs and established a dedicated, full-time speech therapy unit within a mainstream childcare setting. Katherine has a keen interest in working in transdisciplinary teams and passionately believes in coordinated, family-centred care for young children. She joined the OTARC team as an assessor in the Early Assessment Clinic and as a Speech Pathologist in the Victorian Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC), where the Early Start Denver Model is implemented.
Mr Lachlan Burnside volunteered his time in 2011 to streamline our databases. He is currently employed part-time to implement database transfer into the Salesforce platform, which will assist OTARC in all its operations, while also undertaking an undergraduate degree in Information Technology at RMIT.
Ms Carmela Germano is the Laboratory Manager and thus oversees and provides research support to OTARC staff and students. She has completed a Master of Behavioural Science (2008), and has several publications in various fields of psychological and occupational therapy research. She has worked previously on research projects with Associate Professor Cheryl Dissanayake and has co-authored a paper with her and Dr David Trembath on anxiety in adolescents with an ASD. View Ms Germano's LinkedIn profile
Mr Wojciech Nadachowski has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from La Trobe University (2001). Wojciech commenced as Senior Advisor – Operations and Projects, September 2011. His primarily responsibility is to create greater operational capacity at OTARC which involves:
- playing a key role in developing its strategic direction
- business analysis of current process and reengineering where necessary
- delivery of new IT systems to support overall operations and research projects
- management of strategic projects including community relations and fundraising.
Dr. Nancy Sadka is the Intake and Assessment Officer in the Early Assessment Clinic for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr Sadka is a Doctor of Education (Curriculum and Instruction in Cognitive Development), and also has a Master’s degree in Elementary Education, and a BA (Honors) in Human Development (Early Childhood Education). She is a firm supporter of the importance of research into early identification of signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is often engaged as a public speaker to educators, professionals, and parents as she offers a unique perspective on early intervention. Dr. Sadka advocates and understands the vital role early intervention plays in changing not only the life of the young child but of the family as a whole.
Ms Lisbeth Wilks is the Administrative Officer of OTARC. She has held this position since OTARC was established. Lisbeth has an adult son with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and an adult step-son with Down syndrome. She was one of the original members of the Autism Family Support Association (AFSA) and is a past President of that organisation. She has also been involved with Autism Victoria and has served on its committee and is involved in a number of disability-oriented organisations. In 2006 Lisbeth published a novel for junior teens about a sibling growing up in a family with two siblings with intellectual disabilities. View Ms Wilks' profile [PDF 416.40KB].
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Adjunct staff members
Dr Nusrat Yasmeen Ahmed is a physician and the Founder and Director of the Hope Autism Center, Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has a Master of Mental Health Sciences from Flinders University, South Australia and an MBBS from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has been working in the field of autism for the last seven years and previously worked as a family medical practitioner. She obtained Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) training from Monash University, Australia, advanced training in autism from India, USA and has attended various workshops on autism in Australia. She is currently conducting research in the areas of speech, diet and communication in children with autism. Dr Nusrat is involved in active advocacy for children with special needs. She has written a number of articles in Bangla and English on autism to increase the awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Bangladesh, and has presented papers on these disorders at international conferences.
Dr Naomi Bishop is the Head of the Cell Biology and Molecular Pathogenesis Laboratory in the Department of Microbiology at La Trobe University. The research in her laboratory focuses on understanding the cellular basis of various infectious and genetic diseases, including ASD. Naomi was a co-organiser of the inaugural BioAutism 2011 symposium, and continues to promote collaborative biological research into ASD in Australia. Dr Bishop has a long-standing background in cellular and molecular biology research. Her Honours work at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital was aimed at developing new therapies for chronic hepatitis B virus infection, while her PhD at the Burnet Institute, examined how cellular functions are affected during hepatitis A virus infection. Dr Bishop then obtained a Research Fellow position at the University of Cambridge. There, she carried out research in the field of gene therapy, developing viral vectors aimed at treating genetic disorders, as well as being involved in teaching undergraduate medical students. This was followed by a ten year period at the University of Manchester, where Naomi carried out research into fundamental aspects of human cell biology, identifying the role of many previously uncharacterised human genes implicated in neurological diseases and/or cancer. Dr Bishop now has a full-time faculty position and, in addition to supervising higher degree research students and carrying out her own research, she lectures undergraduate students reading medical science, biology, biotechnology, orthoptics, and nutrition science.
Dr Diane Jacobs completed her PhD in clinical psychology at RMIT in early 2009. This research investigated the language, literacy, and behavioural presentation of young children diagnosed with a high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder compared with children with a specific language impairment, specific reading disorder, and typically developing peers. In 2009 she also began her academic career as an Associate Lecturer in speech pathology at Charles Sturt University in 2009 and in November 2010, she commenced employment as a Lecturer in paediatric speech and language at La Trobe University. Prior to her academic career Diane was a practising speech pathologist for 19 years predominantly in the area of paediatrics and has worked for more than six years in the area of child and adolescent mental health. She is continuing to work clinically one day per week. Diane also has an interest in the varied approaches to university teaching and in 2011 completed a Graduate Certificate in University Teaching and Learning.Dr Cynthia Zierhut was Clinical Manager at the Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC) in the Margot Prior Wing of the La Trobe University Community Children’s Centre until May 2012. She continues to work with us on the training and supervision of staff at the ASELCC. She is a clinical and developmental psychologist with a PhD from UCLA under the supervision of Professor Marian Sigman, who is an eminent researcher in autism. After finishing her degree she worked at the MIND (Medical Investigation of Neuro-Developmental Disorders) Institute at UC Davis with Professor Sally Rogers on a wide range of projects within the field of autism, in particular on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), an early intervention program for very young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is trained in the ESDM as a therapist, a parent coach and a trainer.