SARRC Research Department

SARRC Research Faculty


Christopher J. Smith, Ph.D.

Christopher J. Smith, Ph.D.
Chief Science Officer

Dr. Christopher J. Smith is an experimental psychologist with expertise in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder and measuring associated traits. Dr. Smith oversees all diagnostic evaluations and assessments for our clients while also directing all internal and external research projects. Prior to joining us at SARRC, he worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he still maintains a faculty position. Originally drawn to study autism because of the complexity of the disorder, here at SARRC, Dr. Smith values the ability to work with clients across all age groups and engage in out-of-the-box research endeavors. Originally from New York, when he's not doing science, he enjoys running, biking, hiking, and being active with his family.

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Nicole Matthews, Ph.D.

Nicole Matthews, Ph.D.
Director of Research

Dr. Matthews’ research program includes multiple lines of research with a broad goal of improving quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Her recent research includes: (1) development and testing of adaptive functioning and social skills interventions for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder; (2) the development of novel methods for improving access to autism screening and evaluation, and (3) evaluation of original SARRC programs. Dr. Matthews is also the supervisor of the PEERS program at SARRC and is a certified PEERS provider.

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Raun Melmed, MD

Raun Melmed, M.D.
Medical Director and SARRC Co-Founder

Raun D. Melmed, MD, co-founder and medical director of SARRC, is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and is director of the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is an Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Translational Genomics Institute in Phoenix and on faculty at Arizona State University. Dr. Melmed earned his medical degree at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, and completed a fellowship at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, where he was an Instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Melmed is a member of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and the Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He is board-certified in Pediatrics as well as in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The author or co-author of more than 70 publications, he has set up nationally recognized physician training programs for the early identification of infants and toddlers with developmental and behavioral concerns and authored a program geared toward the early screening for autism spectrum disorders. He is the co-author of Succeeding with Difficult Children and Autism: Early Intervention. Dr. Melmed is currently a principal investigator of novel psychopharmacological agents in the treatment of autism, Fragile X and ADHD and collaborates on studies of tools used in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.

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Joshua Anbar, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.

Joshua Anbar, Dr.P.H., M.P.H.
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Dr. Anbar's research interests include a focus on autistic youth and how they transition into adulthood as well as the use of telehealth technologies to improve the diagnostic evaluation process for autism. Currently, Dr. Anbar is coordinating a study to evaluate the use of a telehealth tool to speed up the time to diagnosis for autism. He is also coordinating a study to evaluate the validity of telehealth procedures adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal of which is to expand telehealth use into regular practice

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Research Staff


Abby Nasternak, MPAS, PA-C

Abby Nasternak, MPAS, PA-C
Clinical Research Practitioner

Abby is an experienced Physician Assistant who supports clinical research studies for SARRC'S research team. She performs evaluations for study protocols and provides input on the health and well-being of research participants. She also works as a research coordinator for several ongoing studies at SARRC. She has a son with autism and is very passionate about furthering treatments for autism spectrum disorder. Abby enjoys traveling, baking, reading, and doing yoga when she is not working as a Physician Assistant.


Amanda Malligo

Amanda Malligo
Research Training Manager

Amanda is the primary psychometrist for SARRC'S research team. She administers a variety of diagnostic assessments for research studies and other SARRC-wide programs, and trains other staff to administer these tools. She has experience working with infants as young as six-months old, toddlers, and young children, but teens and adults are her favorite population. After spending many sessions as the PEERS Teen Instructor, Amanda is currently the Parent Group Leader for the PEERS program. In her free time, she can be found creating in her studio, reading, spending time with her menagerie of cats, rockhounding, and cooking.


Ashley Johns

Ashley Johns
Research Coordinator II

Ashley oversees recruitment for clinical trials, conducts assessments, and collaborates with the research department on various projects. Currently, Ashley is working alongside SARRC's clinical team on an initiative sponsored by the National Science Foundation to make museums and STEM learning environments more inclusive for individuals with ASD. On the weekends, you might find Ashley creating art, traveling to new places, or grabbing a bite to eat with her dog, Sadie.


Cheyanne Schulz

Cheyanne Schulz
Research Associate

Cheyanne recruits participants for various research studies, assists with data management, and helps administer evaluations for research participants. In her free time, Cheyanne enjoys riding her two horses, Stevie and Lakota, and hiking with her husband and two dogs, Piper and Kinsel.


Jasem Alkazi

Jasem Alkazi
Research Associate

Jasem is responsible for recruiting and assessing participants for the SPARK for Autism study. He is interested in learning more about neurodevelopmental disorders and their underlying genetic factors. In his free time, Jasem enjoys spending time with his family and friends as well as playing video games and sleeping.


Kyle Ernest, PhD

Kyle Ernest, PhD
Clinical Trials Manager

Kyle likes to think of herself as a utility player. She handles clinical trial contracts and budgets, provides support to clinical research staff, and works to improve operational efficiency. Her work requires frequent contact between sponsor representatives and SARRC staff involved with clinical trials. Kyle helps maximize participant enrollment by negotiations for funding, facilitating marketing campaigns, and addressing recruitment challenges as a liaison with SARRC's recruitment core.


Maurice Metoyer

Maurice Metoyer
Research Associate

Maurice is responsible for recruiting participants for various research studies, assisting with data management, and helping administer evaluations for research participants. Maurice enjoys having the opportunity to participate in collecting information that will potentially provide more solutions to a population in need. A fun fact about Maurice is that he lived overseas for some time teaching English as a second language.


Melissa Mitchell

Melissa Mitchell
Senior Research Coordinator

Melissa is responsible for coordinating a research study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) which is examining the progress and benefits of early intervention. She also administers psychometric assessments and assists with recruitment for clinical trials. Melissa's other roles outside of research include Teen Instructor in the PEERS Program as well as Chair of SARRC's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. In her free time, she can be found reading, doing yoga, or spending time with family and friends.


Padmaja Lakamsani, BS; CCRC

Padmaja Lakamsani, BS; CCRC
Senior Clinical Research Coordinator

Padmaja received her bachelor's degree in science from Andhra University, India. She has experience in phase II-IV clinical trials for ADHD, Fragile X, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her responsibilities include coordinating studies in compliance with study protocol, local/federal laws and regulations, and overseeing the work of research coordinators. Padmaja loves her job and believes it is giving her the opportunity to help improve lives of individuals with ASD and their families. Padmaja is also a member of DEI committee at SARRC. She speaks English, Telugu and Hindi languages. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family and friends, watching movies, and cooking.


Sophia Crisler

Sophia Crisler
Research Coordinator I

Sophia is responsible for coordinating multiple clinical research studies, most of which aim to investigate how medications and therapies can be used to improve symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder. Her responsibilities include communicating with participants and study staff, scheduling, recording data, recruitment, administering study tests when needed, and most importantly ensuring all aspects of the trial run smoothly. In her free time, you can find Sophia traveling, spending time with her friends and family, or scouring Arizona for the best coffee shop.


Stephen James, Ph.D.

Stephen James, Ph.D.
Research Data Manager

Stephen is responsible for the organization, consistency, and integrity of data collected, and the export, analysis, and summary of data for publications. Stephen's research interests include sex/gender differences in ASD and improving early screening and access to early diagnosis among underserved populations. Outside of doing research, Stephen enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife and their two dogs.


Will Kirwan

Will Kirwan
Data Entry Specialist

Will is a Data Entry Specialist with over a decade of experience. His roles include entering assessments, management of physical folders, and creating reports through scoring programs. In his free time, Will enjoys drawing, watching movies, and eating pizza with his dog in central Phoenix.


Zakiyyah Merritt

Zakiyyah Merritt
Research Associate

Zakiyyah is responsible for recruiting participants for various research studies, assisting with data management, and helps administer evaluations for research participants. In her free time, Zakiyyah enjoys breakdancing with the local breaking community in Arizona, when she is not dancing, she is either rewatching her favorite Netflix shows or playing video games with her friends.


Diagnostic Services Staff


Daniel Wechsler

Daniel Wechsler, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Daniel is a licensed psychologist in the Diagnostics department. He assesses and diagnoses children and adults on the autism spectrum and administers test measures for research studies. His clinical experience includes pediatric and adult psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, play therapy, social skills development, pediatric neuropsychology, and autism assessment. Daniel's professional interests include assessment and consultation of early childhood development, autism, gifted intellect, learning disorders, executive functioning impairments, and other emotional, mood, and behavioral disorders. He is passionate about psychological and neuropsychological testing, helping parents better understand their children, individuals to understand themselves, and helping individuals across the lifespan reach their potential. In his free time, Daniel enjoys spending time with his friends and family, hiking across the beautiful Arizona scenery, and playing video games.


Jessica Armendariz

Jessica Armendariz
Diagnostic Network Manager

Jessica oversees the programming and recruitment of network partners and collaborates with community stakeholders for the Arizona Autism Early Diagnostic Network (AAEDN). The AAEDN is comprised of pediatricians and psychologists committed to helping families who have concerns about their child's development and shortening the time gap between an initial autism screening by a pediatrician and a formal autism diagnosis evaluation. In her free time, Jessica can be found staying active at the gym, hiking, playing golf, exploring new restaurants, and planning her next travel adventure.


Nancy Muhlenkamp

Nancy Muhlenkamp
Diagnostic Program Assistant

Nancy assists with program enrollment screening as well as coordination of services for SARRC's amazing team of Licensed Clinical Psychologists. Nancy loves working at SARRC because she's able to support SARRC's clients and families through the process of obtaining their formal diagnosis – the ticket to life-altering services. When out of the office you can find Nancy quilting, reading, and hiding from the sun while cooking with her five children.


Research Interns and Volunteers


Adriana Klott

Adriana Klott
Research Intern

Adriana is a Senior at Arizona State University majoring in Psychology. Since beginning her internship at SARRC, Adriana has assisted with participant communication for the COVID and ASD survey study, development of materials for the Strengthening Skills study, and is currently serving as a behavior coach in the PEERS for Teens program. In her free time, Adrian enjoys playing video games, reading, and playing with her two bunnies.


Jared Scholtes

Jared Scholtes
Research Intern

Jared is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in Biomedical Sciences. Jared assists with the Strengthening Skills Study, COVID and ASD survey study, and the Early Screening Follow up study. In his free time, Jared enjoys traveling with his friends and staying active. Jared aspires to go to medical school and become a doctor in the future.


Afzal Aarif

Afzal Aarif
Research Volunteer

Afzal Ariff is a senior at Sandra Day O'Connor High School. He has volunteered with SARRC since the fall of 2020. During that time, he has assisted with data entry and data validation for a project examining how autism features appear among children who are the only child in their family with autism (as opposed to children who come from families with multiple children on the autism spectrum). He is drawn to volunteering at SARRC because it combines data-based research with clinical application of that research. Afzal hopes to become a neurosurgeon in the future and to continue research in college.