Act Early Ambassadors


Photo: JoAnn Yuen

JoAnn Yuen, EdD University of Hawai‘i, Center on Disability Studies
Honolulu, HI
Phone: 808-956-5462

Dr. JoAnn Yuen is Professor of Disability Studies at the University of Hawai‘i, Center on Disability Studies. Before joining the center, Dr. Yuen worked in the Hawai‘i early intervention system. Fourteen years later she continues to advocate for early screening and intervention. As a researcher she is evaluating the PACT Developmental Screening Project. As an educator she co-developed PreK-ACE, a transition program that prepares young children, with little or no preschool, so they are ready to learn. As an advocate, she is the ACT Early for Autism Coordinator, a board member for the Autism Society of Hawai‘i, and a member of the Hawai‘i Autism Center for Research and Development. Dr. Yuen states: “As a university faculty member I continue to support and promote the values of ‘acting early’ in the lives of young children….my projects support the at-risk, special and exceptional, and cross cultural and economic lines to improve the health and education outcomes of young children and families.”


Photo: Nicole Quintero

Nicole Quintero, PhD, BCBA-D
University of Illinois at Chicago, Institute on Disability and Human Development
Chicago, IL
Phone: 312-996-4664

Dr. Nicole Quintero is a licensed clinical psychologist and board certified behavior analyst at the Developmental Disabilities Family Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children with suspected developmental disabilities. She has been involved in efforts to provide services to underserved populations through research and clinical work. Dr. Quintero received her Ph.D. in School Psychology from Syracuse University. Her predoctoral internship was at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. While at KKI, she was a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee. Her post-doctoral fellowship was with UIC’s LEND program, located within the Institute on Disability and Human Development. “As a trainee in two LEND programs, I have actively pursued opportunities to address the need for early identification of autism and other developmental disabilities.”


Photo: Elaine Gabovitch

Elaine Gabovitch, MPA
University of Massachusetts Medical School/Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-642-0052

Ms. Gabovitch serves as the MA Act Early state team leader, Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) family faculty, as a disability advocate and community liaison for the Shriver Center. In 2000, she co-founded a non-profit organization dedicated to educating parents and professionals about autism and related disorders called First Signs acting as vice president until 2004. “As the parent of a 16-year-old son with an autism spectrum disorder, I have met many parents over the years who, like me, struggled to receive a timely and accurate diagnosis for their children due to a lack of awareness among parents and professionals of the early warning signs of ASDs and other developmental disorders…I hope our efforts will create a new standard of identification and care for ASDs in Massachusetts and beyond.”


Photo: Ann Garfinkle

Ann Garfinkle, PhD University of Montana
Missoula, MT
Phone: 406-243-5262

Dr. Ann Garfinkle earned her PhD at the University of Washington in Special Education. Since that time she has been heavily involved in research, teaching and service, in the field of autism. She has given numerous local, state, and national talks on her work as well as published scholarly and practitioner-focused articles. Currently she works as an Associate Professor at the University of Montana on a variety of projects. One currently funded project, in collaboration with the State Department of Public Health and Human Services, provides technical assistance and professional development for the State’s Childhood Autism Waiver. Dr. Garfinkle’s work on this project has received recognition from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Dr. Garfinkle is committed to “improving the lives of children with developmental disabilities, and insuring that recommended practice is usual practice.”

New Mexico

Photo: Fauzia Malik

Fauzia Malik, MPAS, MS
University of New Mexico, Center for Development & Disability
Albuquerque, NM
Phone: 505-925-7610

Ms. Malik is the program manager for the Developmental Screening Initiative (DSI) where she works with several primary care practices on implementation of standardized screening tools and increasing referrals to specialists. Additionally, Ms. Malik has planned and been involved with numerous events, trainings, and presentations related to identifying developmental delays. Growing up with a sister with special needs has given her a passion for helping children with special needs, especially those in rural areas. Ms. Malik states: “My personal story has led me to realize that every story about health, no matter how small or how personal, in some ways concerns an entire community.” As an Act Early Ambassador, Ms. Malik will work with the NM Autism Task Force “to ensure that the importance of early detection, screening, and appropriate referrals for intervention continue to be a priority in our state.”

North Carolina

Photo: Rebecca Edmonson-Pretzel

Rebecca Edmonson-Pretzel, PhD
University of North Carolina, Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities
Chapel Hill, NC
Phone: 919-966-4806

Rebecca Edmondson Pretzel, Ph.D., is a psychologist and Director of Services at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC-CH. Dr. Edmonson-Pretzel’s primary clinical and research activities are focused on the screening, assessment, and treatment of young children with or at risk for developmental delays/disabilities, including ASD, and their families. Her clinical teaching efforts focus on educating graduate students, parents, and interdisciplinary groups of early interventionists on the identification and assessment of developmental delays/disorders in early childhood. Dr. Edmonson-Pretzel has particular areas of expertise and interests that include working with young children who have ASD, intellectual disabilities, and low incidence or complex developmental disabilities. She is looking forward to being the Act Early Ambassador for North Carolina and states that her “professional career has been dedicated to goals clearly compatible with those of the Act Early campaign.”


Photo: Karen Edwards

Karen Edwards, MD, MPH
LEND Program, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
University of Cincinnati University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
Phone: 513-803-3619

Dr. Karen Edwards has been a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program Director for ten years, first in New York and, since July 2010, at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. She was recently named the Director of the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Edwards was a coordinating member of Ohio’s Region 5 Act Early Summit Team and continues to provide leadership in the Team’s ongoing activities. She also served on the New York Act Early Team. Dr. Edwards also serves on the Board of Directors of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Dr. Edwards describes her Ambassadorship as “a wonderful opportunity to further demonstrate ongoing commitment to the goals of ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ by training early intervention professionals and disseminating information and training for professionals and families.”

Rhode Island

Photo: Ana Catarina Garnecho

Ana Catarina Garnecho, MD
Neurodevelopmental Center at Memorial Hospital, Brown Medical School
Pawtucket, RI
Phone: 401-312-2401

Dr. Ana Catarina Garnecho is completing her MCHB Fellowship in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. In June 2011, she will join the faculty of the Neurodevelopmental Center of Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket, Rhode Island as a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician. Dr. Garnecho has a longstanding interest in working with children who have developmental and/or behavioral concerns and their families. She has worked with many families and children with special needs, helping them navigate the health care and educational systems to obtain appropriate services and support. Dr. Garnecho states that “as an immigrant myself, I am particularly interested in helping immigrant and minority families establish family centered care for their children and obtain culturally sensitive supports and resources.” Her goals as an Ambassador are “to combine my interests in teaching with my commitment to patient care in order to increase awareness and knowledge of DD and ASD among child care providers, medical providers, educators and policy makers.”

South Dakota

Photo: Amanda Keating

Amanda Keating, PsyD
University of South Dakota, Center for Disabilities
Sioux Falls, SD
Phone: 605-357-1458

Dr. Amanda Keating is the director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) program at the Center for Disabilities, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). She is also the discipline head for Autism Related Studies with the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program at the University of South Dakota. Dr. Keating administers and provides clinical supervision for the research, clinical services, training, and community projects associated with the ASD program. Her work includes supervising a multidisciplinary specialty clinic devoted to the differential diagnosis of individuals suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder, teaching graduate level specialty classes, and providing technical assistance and consultation throughout the state. Dr. Keating states that she is “passionate about training future professionals and colleagues in development, differential diagnosis and identification of co-occurring disorders.”


Photo: Toni Whitaker

Toni Whitaker, MD
University of Tennessee, Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities
Memphis, TN
Phone: 901-448-3043

Dr. Toni Whitaker is a Developmental Pediatrician with the University of Tennessee Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities in Memphis and former Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (LEND) trainee. She has expertise in working with infants and young children and a special interest in autism spectrum disorders. She has played an active role in educating physicians, interdisciplinary students, and community members about Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is involved in clinical, academic, research, and community service pursuits for a variety of neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD). Her goal is “to advance understanding of ASD and related NDD so that more children may receive early and appropriate interventions.”


Gail Chodron

Gail Chodron
University of Wisconsin- Madison, Waisman Center
Madison, WI
Phone: 608-890-0145

Gail Chodron is the Interdisciplinary Training Coordinator for the Wisconsin Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program in the Waisman Center UCEDD, and Training Coordinator for Wisconsin’s state autism demonstration grant (Connections Initiative). She is also a doctoral candidate in Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto and a graduate of WI LEND. Gail has a young son diagnosed with autistic disorder. She has been working on the “Learn the Signs. Act Early Campaign.” in her state since early 2009, and is an active member of Wisconsin’s Act Early state team. Gail states: “because of my personal experience, I care about equipping every parent, childcare, and health professional with tools to identify delays early and make appropriate referrals quickly to get children and families needed supports immediately.”