Frist Center members include the affiliates and fellows who applied and were accepted into membership.
An affiliate is a VU/VUMC faculty or staff member who has a relevant interest in the activities of the Center, including—but not limited to—developing a strengths-based understanding of neurodiverse abilities; studying novel employment arrangements and workplace practices that leverage these capabilities; inventing new technologies that enable individuals with autism to achieve their potential; and exploring innovative approaches inspired by neurodiversity. Affiliates are eligible for benefits such as access to resource staff, postdoctoral fellows, and the ability to apply for mini-grants. Fellows are affiliates who are willing to contribute time and effort toward the Center’s initiatives, ranging from participating on committees, mentoring students, mentoring postdocs, hosting speakers, planning symposia, leading white papers, conducting studies, etc. Fellows are eligible for additional benefits, such as administrative support for working groups, prioritized access to resource staff and Center workspace, and the ability to propose projects with significant Center support.
James W. Bodfish
- Professor & Vice Chair of Research, Department of Hearing & Speech Sciences
- In the Autism Brain, Behavior & Intervention Lab (ABBIL), Dr. Bodfish and his team conduct and disseminate research studies designed to examine how behavioral and neural function may be linked in the context of autism and, in turn, how this information can be applied to help guide the development and evaluation of novel types of services. One focus of their work is trying to understand and develop ways to measure how a person’s unique pattern of interests impacts how they process information and how this can shape they ways they prefer to interact with the world around them. A second focus is on subgroups that tend to be under-represented in research (e.g. those who are minimally verbal, those with challenging behavior, and / or comorbid psychiatric or medical conditions). A third focus is their collaboration with tech companies that develop technologies to facilitate auditory processing.
- Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
- The Cascio lab is the Laboratory for Affective Sensory Research (LASR) and focuses on sensation, perception, and emotion in individuals on the autism spectrum and the neural basis of differences in these phenomena. Our lab focuses heavily on the somatic senses–touch, proprioception, and interoception.
- Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
- The SENSE lab is interested in social and emotional functioning, pubertal development and stress, which is being being studied in a comprehensive longitudinal study of youth with and without ASD using neuropsychological, physiological, hormonal and behavioral measures. Additionally, the team conducts randomized clinical trials of novel interventions to enhance social competence to include a multisite trial utilizing SENSE Theatre, a peer-mediated, theatre-based program developed by Dr. Corbett.
- Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences
- Suzana Herculano-Houzel is interested in brain diversity from the individual to the species level.
- Community Engagement Specialist, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation; Director, Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD); and Senior Associate in Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences & Special Education
- In addition to his role at Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, Pablo is Director of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders. His work focuses on addressing systematic needs for comprehensive information, high-quality support, and innovative interventions and research for individuals with disabilities, their caregivers and families, educators, medical and community providers, and all other aspects of systematic support. Of interest is developing mechanisms for better providing workplace readiness and retention of people with disabilities.
- Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Computer Engineering
- The AIVAS Lab, under the direction of Dr. Maithilee Kunda, does research at the intersection of artificial intelligence and cognitive science, in the area of computational cognitive systems. Most of their research involves studying how visual mental imagery contributes to learning and intelligent behavior, both in humans and in AI systems, with a focus on applications for individuals on the autism spectrum. Many of the lab’s research directions are heavily inspired by Dr. Temple Grandin and other individuals on the spectrum who show strengths in visuospatial cognitive abilities.
- Burry Chair in Cognitive Childhood Development and Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics
- Dr. Malow is interested in the interface of health and employment and other aspects of quality of life in individuals on the autism spectrum. Her research focuses on developing tools to help teens and adults on the autism spectrum set self-determined goals, and exploring novel ways to coach these individuals so that they can meet their full potential.
- Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Co-Director, Scientific Computing
- visual cognition, modeling individual differences, model-based cognitive neuroscience, cognitive and deep learning models of visual cognition
- Deputy Director of Technology, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation and Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering
- Dr. Sarkar works on the design of intelligent systems for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
Keivan G. Stassun
- Director, Frist Center for Autism & Innovation and Stevenson Professor of Physics & Astronomy
- Professor Stassun is an astrophysicist and father of a son on the autism spectrum. His research includes data science approaches such as data visualization methods, as well as involvement of neurodiverse students and postdocs in small satellites research and in the Neurodiversity Inspired Science & Engineering (NISE) graduate certificate program.
- Associate Professor of Pediatrics
- The goal of Dr. Taylor’s research program is to understand how to promote positive outcomes in adulthood for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities and their families. Much of her current work focuses on the transition to adulthood for youth on the autism spectrum. Current projects include: (a) developing and testing a parent advocacy training to improve service access and post-school outcomes as youth on the autism spectrum transition from school-based to adult services: (b) understanding the implications of employment and other day-to-day experiences for mental health and quality of life; (c) examining unique vulnerabilities of women on the autism spectrum, as well as vulnerabilities common across sex/gender; and (d) investigating the role of language development during the transition to adulthood for youth with fragile X syndrome.
- Centennial Professor, Department of Psychology
- Proffessor Tong is interested in understanding the visual, spatial and cognitive abilities of people, and the ways in which they can vary from person to person. He also works on computational models and deep learning models of human visual processing. He is very interested in supporting researchers who wish to understand the bases of exceptional visual-spatial abilities and why certain individuals along the spectrum excel at visual-spatial tasks.
- Deputy Director for Organizational Research and Interventions, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation and Brownlee O. Currey, Jr. Professor of Management
- The goal of Dr. Vogus’ research program is to understand how to create and sustain inclusive organizational cultures that allow neurodiverse talent to thrive. His current projects include: (a) developing and testing a virtual reality interview system that creates better interview performance by autistic individuals and reshaped employment interviews to be more inclusive of candidates on the autism spectrum; (b) understanding the lived experience of autistic employees in the workplace; (c) examining how organizational and relational factors in the workplace enhance or undermine performance by individuals on the autism spectrum at work.
- Research Assistant II, Mechanical Engineering
- Joshua Wade is both a research associate at the School of Engineering at Vanderbilt University and the co-founder and CEO of a Nashville-based technology startup called Adaptive Technology Consulting. In both of these roles, his work is focused on the development of technologies that aim to provide supports for neurodiverse people and their families and to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of neurodiverse people in the broader society. As such, Wade’s work spans a wide range of technological development, including tools for both young children (e.g., early screening for ASD in toddlers) and adults (e.g., driving a vehicle and transition to employment).
- Dean of the Graduate School
- Dr. Wallace’s lab is interested in better understanding differences in sensory processing and perception in individuals with autism, and how these sensory differences relate to domains such as social communication. Their work is structured to examine brain and behavior relationships. To address these broad questions, they employ a host of contemporary neuroscience approaches including behavioral and cognitive testing, computational modeling, neuroimaging and neurophysiology.
- Deputy Director, Frist Center for Autism and Innovation and Executive Director, TRIAD
- Dr. Warren is the executive director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s (VKC) Treatment and Research Institute on Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). His current research focuses on early detection and intervention for ASD as well as in the development of technological applications for potential intervention.
- Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center TRIAD
- Amy Weitlauf’s research focuses on the etiology and early identification of autism spectrum disorder and the application of technology to support individuals with ASD, their families, and their care providers.
- Assistant Professor, Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Vanderbilt Brain Institute
- Dr. Woynaroski directs the Biobehavioral Approaches in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (BAND) Laboratory in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences in VUMC. Her research program focuses on the identification of brain and behavioral factors that (a) explain heterogeneity in symptomatology, (b) predict growth and response to treatment, and (c) evaluate how/why treatment works in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) across the lifespan. One line of this research has focused on the development and validation of novel biobehavioral approaches (e.g., eye tracking, automated vocal analysis, and a broad range of other neurophysiological approaches) with an eye towards leveraging such technologies to optimize the long-term social, academic, and vocational outcomes of autistic individuals.
Robert J. Barnett
- Associate professor of the Practice, ME, Mechanical Engineering Dept.
- Manager of Digital Media Strategies, Peabody College
- Co-Director, Data Science Institute
- The Data Science Institute at Vanderbilt aims to accelerate data-driven research, promote collaboration, and train future leaders. The DSI and Frist center can collaborate on several areas, such as internships or collaboration on data-related projects.
- Research Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Dr. Camp’s research and consulting work involves utilizing tools such as GIS to address today’s challenging issues related to infrastructure and transform the results into information and tools to help inform the public and decision makers. GIS involves spatial thinking and is a growing field that cross-cuts across disciplines. Dr. Camp is passionate about outreach to the community and in K12 education.
Laurie E. Cutting
- Associate Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor
- Dr. Cutting studies the cognitive and neurological correlates of academic development and learning.
- Senior Lecturer in Organizational Leadership
- Dr. Doyle is interested in organizational strategies that improve the diversity of the workforce and the inclusivity of work groups. While researchers and employers are paying increased attention to some aspects of diversity, Dr. Doyle feels that we know too little about those who are differently abled. She believes that the Frist Center’s focus on a neurodiverse workforce has the potential to yield insight that will improve employer diversity and inclusion broadly.
- Professor of Physics, Vanderbilt University and Adjunct Professor, Fisk University
- Dr. Ernst works with particle/nuclear physics with a focus on neutrino oscillations and the possible existence of a fourth neutrino. His work involves computational modeling and calibrating the models of contemporary experiments.
- David K. Wilson Professor of Psychology
- Dr. Gauthier’s lab studies individual differences in domain-general visual abilities as well as the effects of experience in specific domains. Their approach includes psychophysics, functional and structural MRI.
Deborah E. Grant
- Executive Director, Human Resources
- As a human resources leader, Deborah Grant believes strongly that a diverse workforce is a stronger workforce and that an important part of diversity is neurodiversity. Organizations and teams are most effective when the talents and abilities of each employee are fully engaged and utilized. She also recognizes that diversity brings difference and organizations benefit from leaders skilled in leading teams through new experiences and being open to diverse communication and work styles. This requires intention, skills and resources and Grant is interested in exploring how to educate employees and leaders to be successful in a neurodiverse work environment.
- TRIAD Educational Consultant
- Katie Gregory is an Educational Consultant and Behavior Analyst with The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD).
- TRIAD Educational Consultant and Assistant in Pediatrics
- Aislynn Kiser is a Behavior Analyst and Educational Consultant with The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). In addition to her role with TRIAD, she coordinates the online learning platform development for VKC. Current work and interests include projects for distance learning and coaching, as well as programming for individuals transitioning to the workforce.
- Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology and Director, Music Cognition Lab
- The Music Cognition Lab investigates music, rhythm, and social engagement. This includes studying the rhythm and timing of social interactions, modulating emotions/arousal via music, and using music to support social engagement.
- TRIAD Educational Consultant
- Kelly Luo has been collaborating with the Frist Center in the development of online tools to support educators and professionals in their work with individuals with ASD as they prepare to enter the workforce. She looks forward to continuing this collaboration, as well as developing new initiatives that are in line with the Frist Center mission.
- Associate Director of Volunteer Outreach, Owen Graduate School of Management, Office of Annual Giving
- Chandler MacDonald works with Nashville community groups that provide resources and opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities. MacDonald would like to use her professional background and social interest in bridging the disabilities employment divide to engage in the areas of research, policy, and community coordination. She aligns with the Center’s goal of being a community that makes things happen and gets things done so that this area of research and development can grow in the Nashville area and expand into other communities.
T A McDonald
- Faculty Research Instructor in the Department of Neurology, VUMC
- T A M. McDonald’s work is directly related to improving the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum by examining factors, and designing interventions and programs, that optimize the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of adults on the autism spectrum. Her work on identity, self-determination, and health factors, such as sleep, are all focused on improving the quality of life of autistic adults. She believes in inclusive research and my past and current projects explicitly include self-advocates in the research process from inception to completion. And finally, she has a strong interest in codifying neurodiversity-sensitive training for mentors, counselors, coaches, teachers/professors, and managers working with autistic adults.
Elise D McMillan
- Co-Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and Senior Associate, VUMC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
- Elise McMillan is Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, one of Tennessee’s two federally designated Centers of Excellence in Disabilities. She holds leadership positions with TennesseeWorks, Next Steps at Vanderbilt, the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance and Tennessee Disability Pathfinder.
- Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, School of Engineering
- Dr. Neema’s current research interests include: “Heterogeneous Simulation Integration”; “Hardware-in-the-loop Simulation”; “Cyber-Physical Systems”; and “Machine Learning”. His current projects include: “CPS Simulation Integration Framework” sponsored by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that resulted in an ‘open-source’ platform called Universal CPS Environment for Federation (UCEF) and has been transitioned to NIST; “Science of Security CPS Lablet” project sponsored by the US National Security Agency Research Directorate where the focus is on developing foundational cybersecurity science that is needed to mature the cybersecurity discipline and to underpin advances in cyberdefense; and “Performance Impact of Securing Industrial Control Systems” sponsored by NIST that focuses on creating HIL testbeds for analyzing cybersecurity implications in the railway transportation domain.
- Professor of Surgery, School of Medicine
- As a research scientist and clinician in the medical center, Dr. Pearson is witness to how innovation benefits healthcare and hopes to bring his insight to the Frist Center in ways that could help those with autism.
- Educational Consultant, Department of Special Education
- Over the past 10 years, Ben Schwartzman has had the pleasure of working with individuals with autism of all ages, with a specific focus on transition to adulthood, access to higher education, and improving employment outcomes. Currently, in his role as an Educational Consultant with Dr. Erik Carter in Vanderbilt’s Department of Special Education, he is helping to develop vocational skill training modules for neurodivergent high school age special education students. In addition, he is working part-time with the Next Steps Program at Vanderbilt, which provides an inclusive college experience for neurodivergent students.
- Executive Director, Vanderbilt Child and Family Center
- Knowing that play is the most efficacious method of learning and applying social-constructivist thinking theories, the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center (VCFC) seeks to explore how the physical learning environment can support and even transform child and adult relationships to effect meaningful engagement that delivers an experience of empowering community.
- Program Coordinator, Project SPARK, Dept. of Special Education and Founder, IEP Guru
- Mallory Whitmore is interested in helping to improve the IEP and transition planning processes so that students with autism are both expected to and empowered to work after high school.
- MD/PhD student, Neuroscience Graduate Program
- Zack is an MD/PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, co-mentored by Carissa Cascio (Psychiatry) and Tiffany Woynaroski (Hearing & Speech). His research is primarily concerned with developing better measurements of sensory reactivity in adults with autism, with a particular interest in decreased tolerance to sounds (hyperacusis). By studying the subjective experiences and underlying physiology of sensory reactivity, he hopes to work towards developing effective treatments and workplace accommodations that would make noisy environments more accessible to autistic adults.
- Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, VUMC
- Dr. Williamson is the director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship program and serves as the Faculty Head of Hank Ingram House.