Executive Team

Dr. Jonathan Lai
Executive Director

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Jonathan Lai (PhD) is the Executive Director at Autism Alliance of Canada. He also holds an Adjunct Faculty position in Health Services Research at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME) in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Previously, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at York University, examining predictors of changes in service use for people with developmental disabilities. He led a series of TEDx talks and other integrated knowledge translation projects. This was followed by a CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship at McGill University and the Centre for Innovation in Autism and Intellectual Disabilities, where he led the development of a program evaluation of a specialized medical-dental primary care clinic for people with developmental disabilities, led federal government engagement of evidence-use in policy dialogues, and reports at the United Nations Convention on research evidence used in rights-based approaches for children with disabilities in Canada.

His graduate training in Neuroscience at Guelph and McMaster focused on gene-environment influences on the developing brain, funded consecutively by Ontario Mental Health Foundation and a CIHR Vanier Scholarship.


Dr. Deepa Singal
Director of Scientific and Data Initiatives

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Dr. Singal is a Research Scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, a world renowned Centre for population-based research and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba.

Dr. Singal is a quantitative child and maternal health researcher working at the intersection of academia and policy. As a two-time Health System Impact Fellow at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and a CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research (CIHR-IHSPR) Rising Star, Dr. Singal has a breadth of experience working in multiple jurisdictions with senior level policy makers and key change makers in the health data science sector. She has a demonstrated history of leading multidisciplinary teams and her work has informed government policy and has been widely disseminated among media outlets throughout the country.


Franziska Morin
Executive Coordinator

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Franziska Morin, M. Sc., is the Executive Coordinator at Autism Alliance of Canada. Franziska completed her post-graduate studies in Marketing Management at La Trobe University Melbourne (Australia) and her graduate studies in Business Administration at the University of Applied Sciences in Worms (Germany).

Franziska has several years of experience working as an Executive Assistant for various multinational companies. During this time she gained extensive knowledge into developing and implementing successful strategic and marketing projects. As a newcomer to Autism Alliance of Canada who joined the team in November 2021 she is thrilled to help form the future of the organization.

In her free time Franziska loves doing all kinds of outdoor activities with her family, such as hiking, running and biking.


Rakhee Chowdhury
Communications Manager

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Rakhee Chowdhury, M. Sc., is the Communications Manager at Autism Alliance of Canada. Rakhee completed her graduate studies at l’Université de Montréal (Québec) in Psychology, where her research focused on the intersection of language and music processing in children on the spectrum.

Over the last years, Rakhee has been involved in a variety of projects alongside neurodivergent youth and their families. At the Centre for Innovation in Autism & Intellectual Disabilities, Rakhee coordinated EmploymentWorks, a pre-employment initiative for young adults, and provided parent coaching supports to families of pre-school children. At McGill University, Rakhee supported the operations of accommodated exams for students registered at the Office for Students with Disabilities and participated in the unit’s leadership team.

Outside of work, Rakhee loves creating pantry concoctions, watching international movies, and exploring the outdoors.



Dr. Mackenzie Salt
CIHR-Mitacs Health System Impact Fellows

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Mackenzie Salt (PhD) is an autistic autism researcher and a postdoctoral CIHR-Mitacs Health System Impact Fellow with Autism Alliance of Canada and the McMaster University Autism Research Team (MacART). His current project is creating a model for evaluating health services for autistic adults, using functional criteria, focusing on functional abilities rather than diagnostic labels, as put forth in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health. This model aims to be one that can be applied across Canada and will be informed by autistic adults, parents, experts, clinicians, and policymakers.

Previously, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship working with the Pathways in ASD study via MacART. He completed his PhD in Cognitive Science of Language in 2019 at McMaster University and has a background in qualitative linguistic research as well as research and study design involving autistic participants. He recently completed the Certificate course in Family Engagement in Research offered by the KBHN and CanChild and has been advocating for and working to improve research engagement with the autism community since. He has designed a number of research engagement projects and also service evaluation projects for autism service providers incorporating research engagement principles. He is also currently the Editor-in-Chief of the all-autistic editorial board of the Canadian Journal of Autism Equity.


Dr. Amber Rieder
Data-to-Policy Fellow

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Dr. Amber Rieder is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Strong Families Lab at the Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University under the mentorship of Dr. Andrea Gonzalez.

Amber recently completed a 3-year Postdoctoral Fellowship at Duke University, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Autism and Brain Sciences under the mentorship of Dr.’s Geraldine Dawson and Lauren Franz, where she worked on improving accessibility of supports and services for autistic children in the United States and in the Global South. Amber’s research interests lie at the intersection of equitable and accessible assessment and intervention using task-sharing approaches (e.g. community- and family-mediated interventions, technology-assisted reach, and the use of non-expert providers).

Amber is thrilled to participate in the Data-to-Policy Fellowship and is looking forward to growing her Canadian research community through authentic and engaged teamwork and collaboration.


Alisha Stubbs
Data-to-Policy Fellow

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Alisha Stubbs (she/her) is a PhD(c) in the Faculty of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. Her dissertation research will focus on autism, gender, education, and the role of school social workers.

Alisha’s research experience has included work with the Laurier Autism Research Consortium, as well as working on other research projects that have included learning disabilities, and neurodiverse hiring practices. Alisha’s motivation for working in the world of autism is personal. When professional and personal experiences converged was when Alisha’s passion emerged.

Alisha is excited to engage in data collection and analysis and to foster professional connections.


Grant Bruno
Data-to-Policy Fellow

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Grant Bruno is nehiyawak (Plains Cree) and a registered member of nipsihkopahk (Samson Cree Nation), one of the reserves that makes up maskwacis (Bear Hills), Alberta.

He is a PhD in Medical Sciences – Pediatrics student at the University of Alberta. Grant Bruno is a father, two of his children are on the autism spectrum. His PhD research will explore redefining autism from a nehiyaw lens, gathering stories with families and individuals who have experiences with autism using a strength-based approach, as well as gathering data on the perspectives of autism in Maskwacis. 


Dr. Margherita Cameranesi
Data-to-Policy Fellow

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Dr. Margherita Cameranesi has a background in clinical and developmental psychology and a PhD in Applied Health Sciences from the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB, Canada).

The overarching goal of Dr. Cameranesi’s program of research is to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable, marginalized, and underserved children, youth, families, and communities nationally and internationally by fostering their resilience to chronic stress. Dr. Cameranesi has substantial experience in conducting applied, interdisciplinary, strength-based mixed methods research with Manitobans with neurodevelopmental disabilities aimed at promoting their resilience and wellbeing by reducing the health inequalities and barriers to accessing healthcare that they face.

It is Dr. Cameranesi’s belief that the Autism Alliance Canada Data-to-Policy fellowship will provide her with the opportunity to broaden her research nationally by connecting with a network of Canadian researchers, clinicians, and organizations in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities, and use her research skills to study Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders at the national level.

Angela MacDonald-Prégent
Data-to-Policy Fellow

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Angela MacDonald-Prégent is a Doctoral Candidate in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University.

Having worked over ten years as a speech therapist supporting autistic children who have language difficulties, she developed an interest in nonspeaking children on the autism spectrum. Noticing that the scarcity of research for this subgroup, she returned to school to complete her doctoral degree where she has led and participated in a variety of autism-specific research projects. Her dissertation examines the efficacy of teaching methods for nonspeaking autistic children when learning to use a non-spoken communication system.

As a fellow for the Autism Alliance of Canada’s Data-To-Policy Fellowship, she is looking forward to sharpening her ability to engage in a “bottom up” approach where key stakeholders, including autistic people, drive initiatives.


Core Team

Kelly Ntale
Communications & Social Media Specialist

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Kelly Ntale brings a youthful viewpoint to the team with a background in Graphic Design, Public Relations, and Communications. Her current Public Relations studies, along with her natural flair for social media interaction, have allowed her to explore and improve talents such as branding, graphic design, and crisis management.

Kelly hopes to become a Public Relations professional and hopes to use her abilities to help the community’s youth.


Urwa Ghazi
Communications and Membership Specialist

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Urwa Ghazi started at Autism Alliance of Canada in the beginning of 2021 as a student assisting in the initial stages of the Canadian Autism Data Network project. Currently, she holds the position of Communications and Membership Specialist working to assist in Autism Alliance of Canada’s communication strategies and membership engagement.

In her free time, you can find her camping in a forest, biking up trails or watching UFC.

Simone Daniels 
Research Assistant

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Simone Daniels, M.Sc., is a research intern at Autism Alliance of Canada She recently obtained her Master’s degree in Kinesiology from York University.

She previously worked for Autism Alliance of Canada in 2018 as a communications coordinator, where she reviewed autism advocacy- and policy-related materials. She looks forward to working for Autism Alliance of Canada again and conducting research to help persons on the autism spectrum reach their full potential.

In her spare time, you could find Simone reading, listening to music, exercising, walking her dog or enjoying the biggest and fastest roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland.

Danielle Pearlston
Research Coordinator

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Danielle Pearlston, B.H.Sc., is the Research Coordinator at Autism Alliance of Canada. Danielle completed her undergraduate studies at McMaster University (Hamilton) in Health Sciences and specialized in Child Health, where she honed in on her desire to work in the sector of Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

Danielle found her way to Autism Alliance of Canada in December 2020 as a student volunteer assisting on a wide range of projects, and since September 2021 has taken on the position of Research Coordinator where she coordinates Autism Alliance of Canada’s research and data initiatives. Having grown up in a neurodiverse family, Danielle is driven to help families receive the care they deserve by conducting research and advocating for evidence-based systemic change.

Outside of Autism Alliance of Canada, she loves learning to cook new recipes, budget-friendly interior design, and doing outdoor activities with family and friends.

Marina Schor, MSPH, is the Research Coordinator at Autism Alliance of Canada. Marina was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil, before moving to Vancouver to complete their Bachelor of Science in Applied Biology at the University of British Columbia. They then continued on to pursue their graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where they completed their Master of Science in Public Health.

Marina has an extensive research background, primarily focusing on qualitative methods. She is passionate about health equity and justice and aims to continually push for structural change in her practice, which is what brought her to the Alliance. She is thrilled to continue to help make a difference for Autistic Canadians and their families and is excited to do so alongside such a kind and powerful team.

Focused Projects Team

Courtney Weaver
Project Coordinator

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Courtney Weaver, M.A., is the Project Coordinator for “Navigating Working from Home for Autistic Employees” at Autism Alliance of Canada, a project that seeks to highlight the challenges and best practices of working from home for neurodivergent employees in order to better inform employers. The hope is that this will help them in their efforts to employ and retain neurodivergent talent as well as create and maintain workplaces where such talent can thrive.

Courtney obtained her Master of Arts in Critical Disability Studies from York University and since then she has been, and is, involved in a variety of autism and disability roles. These include Program Support Officer for the Accessibility, Accommodation & Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT) Program, office assistant to MP Mike Lake, and self-advocate advisor to the Autism Mental Health Literacy and Housing Through an Autism Lens Projects (AMHeLP and HAL).

In her spare time, Courtney loves to do a variety of activities including reading, writing, taking long walks and bike rides and making up her own pun jokes just to name a few!


Megan Krasnodembski
Research Support Officer

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Toney Lieu
Intern, Policy

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Toney Lieu (he/him) is a fourth-year student at McMaster University where he is currently completing his Bachelor of Health Sciences in the Child Health Specialization. Through his formal education and commitment to working with neurodivergent youth in his community, Toney hopes to improve the holistic lived experience of youth with exceptionalities.

Toney began with Autism Alliance of Canada as a practicum student in January 2022, and has since continued to support the organization as a Policy Intern where some of his focuses include the Housing through an Autism Lens policy brief and the Policy Development Working Groups.

On his free time, Toney enjoys going on nature walks, engaging in musical explorations, as well as spending quality time with friends and family.

Stephen Gentles

Research and Policy Consultant

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