Joe McCleery, Ph.D.
         Developmental Neuroscientist (Scientist)

Center for Autism Research
         Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


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Dr. McCleery's research is focused along three major themes. One theme of his research includes examining and elucidating the neural mechanisms of social processing and perception in typical and atypical development. Much of this research has focused on mechanisms of face perception and human action processing in infants, children, and adults. In this work, he has also placed an emphasis on directly comparing mechanisms for human versus non-human stimulus processing. The main contributions of his research in this area to date have been a) identifying multiple neural markers associated with familial autism in infants and children, and b) elucidating the nature and neural dynamics of the mechanisms involved in “mirroring” human versus non-human actions.

Another focus of Dr. McCleery's research concerns genetic and environmental impacts on neural and behavioral functioning. In this work he has focused primarily on social-emotional processing and perception, using two approaches. In the first approach, he measures normal variation in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) known to affect brain functioning in typically developing participants. In the second approach he examines and compares individuals with genetically-mediated disorders, such as Fragile X Syndrome and Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. One of the primary contributions of his work in this area has been to identify several neural and perceptual markers for risks in social-emotional functioning associated with SNPs known to impact serotonin (5-HTTLPR) and plasticity (BDNF) mechanisms, in young typically developing children. Another contribution has been to identify similarities and differences in social-emotional processing and perception in direct comparisons of individuals with different genetically-mediated disorders which have historically been characterized as having very similar social behavioral profiles.

A recent focus in Dr. McCleery's research has been on the relationships of basic scientific research and behavioral and cognitive-behavioral interventions. In one literature review he summarized what is currently known about the impacts of motor-focused interventions on speech/language and communication development in children with ASD. In another paper, he and his colleagues systematically reviewed the evidence for high-tech augmentative and alternative communication interventions to improve social and communication skills in individuals with ASD. In an invited commentary, he summarized the current state of research on technology-based intervention research for individuals with ASD, and outlined optimal relationships among academic researchers, community-based stakeholders, and members of the tech industry. In each of these reviews, he framed the literature with regards to existing evidence and factors which need to be considered in order to maximize impacts of basic science on practical clinical applications. In parallel with this, with funding from the UK-based charity, Autistica, he supervised former PhD student, Supriya Malik, conducting research on the impacts of an established early behavioral intervention, Reciprocal Imitation Training, on brain activity and behavior in young children with ASD. More recently, he supervised another PhD student, Natasha Elliott, examining the impacts of a school-based physical exercise intervention program on stress and executive functioning in adolescents with ASD. Dr. McCleery is currently involved in further research on the topics of a) high-tech augmentative and alternative communication intervention, and c) virtual reality intervention, and c) exercise intervention.


Joe McCleery Ph.D., earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Rutgers University, and both a Masters Degree and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego.  Dr. McCleery first began working with children with autism and other developmental difficulties in 1999, and has worked with these populations in research, clinical, and educational settings since that time.  Following the completion of his PhD., he received postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego, and at Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School.  Next, he took up a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) position in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, England.  There, he taught courses on Autism and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, and led a research program on brain and behavioral development in infants and children with autism and related developmental disorders.  Dr McCleery is currently a Scientist in the Center for Autism Research and in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. McCleery has extensive experience with evidence-based autism intervention methods and practices that includes Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), Reciprocal Imitation Training (RIT), the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and Discrete Trial Training (DTT), among others.  This includes direct intervention, parent training/education programs, educational consulting, and experimental research experiences in school, home, and laboratory settings.  Dr. McCleery is also trained and experienced in the administration of standardized clinical/behavioral assessments and clinical interviews, including the Differential Ability Scales, British Ability Scales, and the Autism Diagnostic Interview, among others.  Dr. McCleery has published his research and ideas in leading peer-reviewed journals in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience; and his research has been supported by a number of organizations, including the National Institutes of Health (USA), the Economic and Social Research Council (UK), the Leverhulme Trust, the M.I.N.D. Institute, Autistica, Autism Speaks, and the McMorris Family Foundation. He is also a highly experienced presenter. This experience includes invited seminar talks on social, communicative, and language development in children with autism at leading universities, hospitals, and research centers around the world, including the Yale University School of Medicine (USA), the University of Pennsylvania (USA), Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School (USA), New York University (USA), Oxford University (England), Cambridge University (England), Bangor University (Wales), the National University of Ireland - Galway (Ireland), Keio University (Japan), and the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry (Japan), among others.

Post-Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows:

Shawn Gilroy, PhD, BCBA, NCSP
Postdoctoral Research Fellow (National University of Ireland, Galway)

Shawn Gilroy earned his PhD in School Psychology from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, in 2015.  He is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) in the USA.  Since completing his PhD, he has received postdoctoral clinical training at the Munroe Meyer Institute, University of Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska, and in the Neurobehavioral Unit at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.  In the fall of 2015, Dr Gilroy will complete a research-focused postdoctoral fellowship at the National University of Ireland, Galway, under the supervision of Dr Geraldine Leader and Dr McCleery.  The focus of his research will be a community-based Randomized Controlled Trial comparing three intervention conditions:  High-Tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention, Low-Tech Augmentative and Alternative Communication Intervention, and Treatment As Usual.  Dr Gilroy's fellowship is funded as part of the Assist ID Program, which is co-funded by the European Union and the Daughters of Charity.

Sissy Stefanidou, PhD
Former PhD student, current Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Sissy Stefanidou earned her BSc (Hons) in Psychology from Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens, Greece, and her MSc in Child and Adolescent Mental Health from the Institute of Psychiatry - King's College London.  She completed her PhD studying brain and behavioural functioning in young typically developing children and young children with autism, under the supervision of Dr McCleery.  Sissy is currently a postdoctoral fellow working under the supervision of Professor Chris Oliver, Professor Ian Apperly, Dr Jo Moss, and Dr McCleery in the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders, University of Birmingham.

Sissy can be reached via e-mail at 

Former Postgraduate Students, Postdoctoral Fellows, and Research Assistants:

Supriya Malik, MSc
Former PhD Student (University of Birmingham, UK), currently a Developmental Psychologist and Programme Director for the London Learning Centre, New Delhi, India

Supriya Malik earned her BA (Hons) in Psychology from University of Delhi, India, and her MSc in Developmental Psychology from Lancaster University, UK.  She has trained in several clinical and educational settings for children with neurodevelopmental disorders, including Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Learning Disability, among others, in both Delhi and London.  Supriya has a specific and keen interest in interventions for children.  She has 5 years of experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and is a trained Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Consultant.  Prior to arriving in the laboratory, Supriya conducted research on pretend play in children with autism.  Supriya is currently studying the effects of an evidence-based developmental-behavioural intervention, Reciprocal Imitation Training (RIT), on brain and behavioural functioning in young children with autism, with support from the UK-based charity Autistica.  Supriya is currently co-supervised by Dr McCleery and Professor Chris Oliver.

Natasha Elliott, PhD
Former PhD Student (University of Birmingham, UK), currently a Researcher at Riot Games, USA

Natasha Elliott obtained her BSc (Hons) degree in Human Psychology from Aston University in 2011, where she was awarded the British Psychological Society Prize for Undergraduate Achievement.  In 2009, Natasha worked as a Research Intern at the Koegel Autism Center of the University of California, Santa Barbara.  During her time there, she was trained in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and effective parent education, and was involved in a number of research projects including assessing the clinical effectiveness of PRT.  Natasha is currently studying the effects of school-based interventions on cognitive and behavioural functioning in children and adolescents with autism or other special education needs, in collaboration with Dr Lynn Koegel of UCSB.  She is also involved in toddler intervention and EEG studies in the laboratory.

Antonis Christou, PhD
Former PhD Student (University of Birmingham, UK), currently a Lecturer at De Montfort University, UK

Antonis received a first class BSc (Hons) degree in Psychology from the University of Ioannina, Greece (2009), and an MA in Inclusion and Special Education Needs from the School of Education, University of Birmimgham (2011).  He has trained in several clinical settings for children and adults with neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, and has 4 years of experience in teaching, counselling, and volunteering in several centres and organisations for children with autism and their families in Greece.  In his master's degree, Antonis conducted research on the cognitive and behavioural overlaps between autism and congenital blindness, as well as relevant educational consequences for children with joint autism and visual loss, in the West Midlands.  Antonis is now studying brain and behavioural functioning in children with autism, with support from a the Greek State Scholarships Foundation (IKY).  This includes research on the relationship of normal variation in genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms to EEG, eye-tracking, and parent report measures of social, emotional, and affective functioning in young children.

Alena Galilee (nee Streltsova), PhD
Former PhD Student (University of Birmingham, UK), currently a postdoc at Dalhousie University, Canada

Alena Streltsova graduated from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology with an MSc in Biological Physics and Applied Mathematics, specialising in psychophysiology.  In the fall of 2007, she studied neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy.  In 2008, she moved to the Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Italy, to work on a multidisciplinary project of the Marie Curie research training network.  She used electrophysiological methods to investigate human mirror neuron mechanisms and was involved in a variety of projects focusing on an enactive approach to social cognition and inter-subjectivity.  Having had this hands-on experience in research environments, Alena was eager to start her her doctoral research in 2010 in the School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, England, where she has been investigating the development of social-emotional and cognitive brain functions in young children.  Her motivation has been driven by two principles:  not to be afraid to start something new, and to always continue learning.  Alena is funded by an International Student Fellowship from the University of Birmingham College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Kate Graham, PhD
Former PhD Student, Currently a Lecturer at Newman University, UK

Kate Graham received her BSc (Hons) in Human Psychology from Aston University, Birmingham, in 2009.  During her placement year she worked as a research assistant at both Aston University and the University of Birmingham, where she was involved in projects exploring theory of mind and children's categorisation.  Following her final year at university she continued to work as a research assistant on an early reading research study, and also completed further work within children's categorisation.  Kate completed her PhD studying brain and behavioural functioning in young infants whose mothers are experiencing psychiatric difficulties, with co-supervision from Dr. Jackie Blissett.  Kate is currently a Lecturer in Psychology at Newman University.

Katerina Kantartzis, PhD (University of Birmingham)
Former Postdoctoral Fellow and Autism Research Coordinator, Current Lecturer at Birmingham City University, UK

Katerina Kantartzis received her BSc (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Birmingham, in 2007.  She then completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham in 2011, under the supervision of Dr. Sotaro Kita.  Her dissertation research involved studies of language development in children, and specifically the use of sound symbolism.  For example, properties of words that make them symbolic, cross-linguistic sensitivities to sound symbolism, and the use of sound symbolism in word learning by children.  She was also involved in initiating and establishing the participant database for parents interested in taking part in studies in our Infant and Child Laboratory.  Katerina worked as coordinator of our behavioural and EEG/ERP research on language development in toddlers at high risk of developing autism, funded by the UK-based charity organisation Autistica.  Katerina is currently a Lecturer in Applied Psychology at Birmingham City University.

Kelly Leyden, BA
MRes Student

Kelly Leyden earned her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from San Diego State University in San Diego, California, in 2010.  While at San Diego State University she was a research assistant in the Brain Development Imaging Laboratory (BDIL), examining functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) activations and functional connectivity in the brains of children with and without autism.  After graduating, Kelly spent an additional year in the BDIL working on independent projects, studying functional connectivity within attention networks.  Kelly was involved in developing a neuropsychological screening tool for use with young children with autism and other developmental difficulties, supported by the University of Birmingham USA Scholarship programme, and with co-supervision from Professor Glyn Humphreys.

Sandra Utz, PhD (University of Fribourg)
Postdoctoral Fellow

Sandra Utz received her Diploma in Psychology from the University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany) in 2007, and her PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) in 2010. During her PhD, her research focused on selective aspects of visual attention. She began with the investigation of different characteristics of visual short-term memory - mainly its variability according to context. She then designed a new attentional test for children aged between 5 and 11 years. By documenting attentional abilities in several age groups, this work has made it possible to study the development of attentional capacities in children with attentional disorders. In her third project, she focused on processing differences in several different visual tasks between people with the Aspergers Syndrome and typically developing controls. In her postdoctoral research, Sandra studied visual processing in children and adults using event-related potentials with funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Chiharu Amemiya, MA

Former MRes student, Chiharu Amemiya, earned her Bachelor's degree (Hons) in Psychology at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, in 2010.  While at Keio University, she participated in several specialist clinical and research programmes.  These experiences include serving as a research assistant on a project examining the development of theory of mind skills in typically developing nursery school children, providing early intervention to infants and children with autism using applied behaviour analysis in conjunction with a developmental approach as part of the Keio University Early Intervention Programme, and conducting supervised independent research on local versus global processing of objects in young children.  Chiharu was involved in EEG/ERP research on speech processing while in the laboratory.

Zahida Begum

Research Assistant, Zahida Begum, was an undergraduate student studying at Aston University. During the 2010-2011 academic year, she spent a placement year working on infant and child research in the laboratory.  Zahida was primarily involved in working with PhD student, Sissy Stefanidou, on EEG/ERP studies of young children with autism and toddlers at risk for autism.

Laura Gyles

Research Assistant, Laura Gyles, is an undergraduate student studying at Aston University. During the 2010-2011 academic year, she spent a placement year working on infant research in the laboratory.  Laura is primarily involved in working with PhD student, Kate Graham, on EEG/ERP studies of young infants.

Consuelo del Grande, BSc (University of L'Aquila)

Consuelo del Grande visited our laboratory from the University of L'Aquila, Italy, during the summer of 2010, with support from the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS) Programme.  She earned her Bachelor of Sciences in Applied Psychology at the University of L'Aquila, and is currently completing post-graduate training in Clinical and Dynamic Psychology at the University of L'Aquila.  Consuelo worked on several studies, including an eye-tracking study, and an EEG/ERP study of word processing.  She also assisted in the development of streamlined procedures for the training of undergraduate and post-graduate students in EEG/ERP methods.

Emma Cross

Emma Cross was an undergraduate student in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham.  She worked in the laboratory during the summer of 2010, with support from the University of Birmingham's "Honey Pot" programme and a bursary from the School of Psychology.  She then continued volunteering in the laboratory throughout her time as an undergraduate student.  Emma assisted PhD student, Sissy Stefanidou, with EEG/ERP studies of young children with autism.

Tanveer Bassan

Tanveer Bassan was an undergraduate student studying at Aston University. During the 2009-2010 academic year, she spent a placement year working on a number of infant, child, and adult research projects in the laboratory.  She also made a number of very valuable contributions that supported the organization and management of the laboratory.

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