Executive Team

Dr. Jonathan Lai
Executive Director
(on parental leave)

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Jonathan Lai (PhD) is the Executive Director at CASDA. 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.

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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.

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Franziska Morin
Executive Coordinator

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Franziska Morin, M. Sc., is the Executive Coordinator at CASDA. 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 CASDA 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.

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Stephanie Côté
Policy Initiatives Manager

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Stephanie Côté (she/her), MA CYC, is the Policy Initiatives Manager at CASDA. Stephanie’s work at CASDA has been informed by her academic focus on anti-oppressive practice in child and youth care and on the social model of disability as it relates to services for Autistic people.

On a personal note, Stephanie’s experiences being raised in a neurodivergent family have contributed to her passion for her chosen field. She is a runner, coffee enthusiast, and absolutely not a fan of the new Star Wars movies.

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Rakhee Chowdhury
Communications Manager

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Rakhee Chowdhury, M. Sc., is the Communications Manager at CASDA. 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.

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Health System Impact Fellows

Dr. Mackenzie Salt
CIHR-Mitacs Health System Impact Fellow

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Mackenzie Salt (PhD) is an autistic autism researcher and a postdoctoral CIHR-Mitacs Health System Impact Fellow with CASDA 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.

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Sara Lacarte
CIHR-CRWDP Health System Impact Fellow

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Sara Lacarte joined CASDA as a Health System Impact Fellow (2021-22). The fellowship is sponsored by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, CASDA, and the Centre for Research in Work Disability Policy (crwdp.ca).

While at CASDA, Sara is undertaking research that will help to advance the employment theme of the National Autism Strategy. Sara is a PhD student in the Social and Behavioural Health Sciences division in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. She is also a student fellow with the Centre for Research in Work Disability Policy. Prior to pursuing a PhD, Sara spent eight years working in academic and government research settings. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are in the field of sociology with concentrations in work and health.

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Core Staff

Emily Smith van Beek
Knowledge Transfer & Communications Specialist

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Emily Smith van Beek is the Knowledge Transfer and Communications Specialist at CASDA. Emily is working to complete her Masters research at Royal Roads University (Victoria) in Global Communications. Her research has focused on how to communicate diversity, equity and inclusion in Canada’s cannabis industry. In her research, Emily proposes to adopt corporate social responsibility practices for racial equity and environmental sustainability in Canada’s cannabis industry. Previously, Emily has worked in politics and governance, human rights, education and sustainability. In her role as Program Manager with the Responsible Gambling Council, Emily worked in remote towns across Ontario on interactive programmes and community support services with problem gambling and addictions. And as the Owner of A Womyn Who Wanders, she worked to advance sustainable and human rights based tourism through “backpacktivism” (backpacking with a purpose) with vulnerable populations in both Central America, Asia and Africa.

Outside of work, Emily loves to travel, dance and swim. Any day the sun is out you can be sure to catch her ocean swimming off of Victoria’s beautiful coastlines on the Pacific or chasing sunsets.

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Danielle Pearlston
Research Coordinator

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Danielle Pearlston, B.H.Sc., is the Research Coordinator at CASDA. 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 CASDA 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 CASDA’s research and data initiatives. Having grown up in a neurodivergent family, Danielle is driven to help families receive the care they deserve by conducting research and advocating for evidence-based systemic change.

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

Focused Projects, Practicum Placements & Canada Summer Jobs

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 CASDA, 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!

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Urwa Ghazi
Intern, Policy & Data Systems

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Urwa Ghazi is a fourth-year student at McMaster University currently completing her Bachelor’s of Health Sciences.

She started at CASDA 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 Policy Intern working to assist in CASDA’s various policy projects including knowledge translation and advocacy.

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

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Madison Campbell
Intern, Communications

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Madison Campbell (she/her) is a fourth-year thesis student at McMaster University, currently completing her Bachelors of Health Sciences. Madison’s degree is specialized in Child Health, which she hopes to translate into her work with CASDA.

Madison started at CASDA through a placement focusing on supporting a collaborative reflective paper with CASDA and KHBN. Madison has continued with CASDA into a thesis position, focusing on the interactions of BIPOC Autistic youth and the Canadian Justice System.

In Madison’s free time you can find her reading, listening to music, or finding new hobbies to pursue.

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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 CASDA 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.

Simone Daniels 
Intern, Research

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

She previously worked for CASDA in 2018 as a communications coordinator, where she reviewed autism advocacy- and policy-related materials. She looks forward to working for CASDA again and conducting research to help individuals with autism 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.

Justine Côté
Intern, Communications

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Justine Côté (she/her) is a communication intern at CASDA. She is currently registered as a new student at the University of Quebec in Outaouais in Kindergarten and elementary education. She recently graduated in visual art: image technologies profile from CEGEP de l’Outaouais. She has been making and learning about art since her high school debut (secondaire in Quebec). She works mainly with childrens and is looking forward to a school system that welcomes neurodiversity. She works as a mentor and a supervisor in elementary school.

On a personal note, Justine is a neurodivergent person with ADHD and has been motivated by the topics of education and neurodiversity. In her free time, Justine is a figure skater. She draws, write, do tarot readings, play video games, do photography and watch random science or psychology videos. There is always something to hyperfocus on or to create when you are Justine ! Justine is very curious, extroverted, talkative, very independent and spontaneous. Her favorite animal, with a long time thinking, is the fox cause they laugh very loud and squeaky. You should check that out. There is ton of videos about foxes on the internet.

Andrew Garas
Intern, Policy

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Andrew Garas is a fourth-year student at McMaster University completing his Bachelor of Health Sciences. His degree is specialized in Child Health, with the hopes of one day becoming a pediatrician.

Andrew started his work with CASDA through a practicum placement supporting the second issue of the Canadian Journal of Autism Equity. Through this experience he was able to gain a foundational understanding of the current employment barriers faced by Autistic Canadians. Throughout his internship he hopes to continue his work surrounding employment by informing employers of equitable hiring practices through the development of the Workplace Equity Toolkit.

In Andrew’s free time you can find him canoeing on the water or walking his dog, Mart.

Brianna Lu 
Intern, Communications

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Brianna Lu is a recent graduate from McGill University, where she completed her undergraduate studies in Interdepartmental Honours Immunology. Brianna started as a student volunteer with CASDA in January 2021, where she worked on projects including the RWA Autism Employment Scan, the CJAE website, and the COVID-19 Navigation Guide.

In her free time, Brianna enjoys playing the guitar, discovering new restaurants and coffee shops, and playing soccer.

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