Principal Investigators

Sally J. Rogers, Ph.D.

Sally J. Rogers, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Rogers specializes in conducting developmental and treatment research into autism and other developmental disorders and working with children with developmental disabilities and their families, especially young children with autism. She studies early developmental processes, including imitation, social-communicative behavior, development of motor skills, language, and social interaction patterns.  She is currently focused on developing and improving treatments for early autism using a treatment model that she developed in collaboration with Geraldine Dawson, the Early Start Denver Model. Her efforts to deliver effective interventions to people with autism and their families takes her to places all over the globe, training therapists use ESDM in.  She is the primary scientist of a number of federal grants, including an NIH funded ACE Network grant involving a multisite randomized clinical trial comparing ESDM and discrete trial interventions, a study focused on how to help parents use ESDM techniques at home to improve their children's language and behavior, and a large postdoctoral training grant that she directs with Dr. Amaral. Her clinical interests include evaluation of cognitive, behavioral, social, emotional, and adaptive functioning; early intervention for children with autism; developing treatment and educational interventions for persons with autism of all ages, and social skills groups for adults with autism. She has written extensively in her field, authoring numerous articles and books and developing training videos. Dr. Rogers serves on the editorial board of many publications, including Autism Research, the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, and Infants and Young Children. She also reviews for many journals, including Child Development, Developmental Psychology, Science, American Journal of Mental Retardation, Journal of Early Intervention, Journal of Child Psychology and Child Psychiatry, and Development and Psychopathology. 

 

Aubyn Stahmer, Ph.D.

Aubyn Stahmer, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Stahmer is an associate professor in Psychiatry from a similar position at UC San Diego. Aubyn received her Ph.D. under Dr. Laura Schreibman at UCSD and has spent her research career developing and testing interventions for young children with autism, developing integrated toddler day programs, testing improvements in public school classrooms that support children with ASD, and conducting dissemination and implementation studies of empirically supported treatments in community settings. She is a licensed psychologist and a board-certified behavior analyst with expertise in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), and Early Start Denver Model, and a wide range of other interventions as well. She is widely considered to be one of the most experienced intervention researchers in ASD, with a host of publications and a recently published text on use of PRT in public school settings with children with ASD.

 

Lab Manager

Marie Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Marie Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Lab Manager

Marie L. Rocha is the manager of both the Early Start Laboratory and the ESDM Training Program.  Dr. Rocha’s primary responsibility as lab manager is to provide support and supervision for all of the research study teams under the direction of Sally Rogers and Aubyn Stahmer. As the manager of the ESDM Training Program, Dr. Rocha provides oversight for all of the ESDM training workshops and all certified therapists, trainers and parent coaches worldwide. The goals of the ESDM Training program are: 1) to make the evidence based practices of the ESDM accessible to organizations and professionals working directly with young children with autism and their families through workshops and the certification programs, and 2) to provide organization and support for certified ESDM therapists, parent coaches and trainers throughout the world. Dr. Rocha is a certified ESDM therapist, parent coach and senior trainer, leading multiple training workshops annually. In addition to her extensive training in ESDM, Dr. Rocha has over 15 years of experience using behaviorally based, empirically validated, autism intervention methods in a variety of community settings. As a board-certified behavior analyst and experienced clinical supervisor, Dr. Rocha provides ongoing behavior analytic supervision to the clinical team. Her research to date has focused on developing and evaluating naturalistic behavior analytic techniques, including parent education models. Her clinical experience includes supervising home and school-based behavioral intervention programs in both research and community settings. Dr. Rocha received her master’s degree and doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, San Diego and has worked with Dr. Rogers since 2008.

 

Assessment Lead

Sarah Dufek, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Sarah Dufek, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Assessment Lead

Sarah Dufek, Ph.D., BCBA-D is a psychologist at the MIND Institute and an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis. She is a licensed psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst with expertise in the assessment and treatment of ASD across the lifespan. She has been working with children, adolescents, and adults with ASD and related developmental disabilities in clinical and research contexts since 2000. She has had formal training in and is actively practicing many intervention programs such as Pivotal Response Training (PRT), Classroom Pivotal Response Training (CPRT), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Project ImPACT, the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), and the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS). In addition, during her postdoctoral training and subsequent faculty appointment at Weill Cornell Medical College, she received comprehensive training in the assessment and diagnosis of ASD and related conditions. She became a trainer for both the Autism Diagnostic Interview- Revised (ADI-R) and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) in 2014. She is also a trainer in a new measure, the Brief Observation of Social Communication Change (BOSCC), designed to assess change in ASD-specific symptoms over time.​

 

Treatment & Training Lead

Vanessa M. Avila-Pons, M.A.

Vanessa M. Avila-Pons, M.A.

Treatment & Training Lead

Vanessa Avila-Pons, LMFT, is the Project Manager and Play Based Team Leader for the TADPOLE Study at the MIND Institute. Vanessa assists with the management of the TADPLOE study by providing oversight to research protocols, training, and supervising lab staff professionals and paraprofessionals carrying out the ESDM, as well as assisting with training teams at two other treatment sites. Vanessa’s primary responsibilities and duties pertain to her role as team leader. In this role, Vanessa oversees the program development, case supervision, direct treatment delivery, and parent coaching of children receiving the Play Based treatment within the TADPOLE Project. Her responsibilities also include the training and supervision of all members of the Play Based treatment team. Vanessa has over 10 years of clinical experience working with children with autism and their families and has worked at the MIND Institute with Dr. Sally Rogers since 2008. Prior research experience involved the use of different behavioral treatments to improve disruptive behaviors, inattention, and academic skills in children with ADHD. Her early intervention experience has included developing and managing home and school based intervention programs for children in community based treatment programs, using evidence based treatment approaches. Vanessa is a certified therapist, parent coach, and senior trainer of the Early Start Denver Model. Vanessa conducts several ESDM trainings a year, both locally and internationally. Vanessa’s clinical experience also includes the use Cognitive Behavioral therapy and family therapy for adults and families with emphasis on assessment and treatment of Latino clients. Vanessa is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and received her Master’s degree from Santa Clara University.

 

Project Managers

Meagan Talbott, Ph.D.

Meagan Talbott

Assistant Professional Researcher

Meagan Talbott, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and an Assistant Professional Researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She received her Ph.D. from Boston University and subsequent T32-funded post-doctoral training through the Autism Research Training Program at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Dr. Talbott’s research focuses on early communication and language development in infants at-risk and toddlers with autism spectrum disorders, with the overall goal of improving early identification and targeted treatments. Her current research projects include an NIH-funded project developing a distance-based telehealth screener and assessment of ASD symptoms and infant development and a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant examining neurobiological correlates of communication development in toddlers with ASD participating in early intervention studies.

Melissa Mello, M.A., BCBA

Melissa Mello, M.A., BCBA

Project Manager

Melissa is the Project Manager for the TEAMS CPRT Study at the MIND Institute. Melissa has been working with children with autism for the past 12 years in a variety of settings, including as a special education teacher and early interventionist delivering one on one intervention in community based programs. For the past 9 years, Melissa has been supervising early intervention programs as a Clinical Manager; using behaviorally based, empirically validated methods to ensure children with autism are improving their behavior, language and social skills at home and in the classroom. Melissa is certified in the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and has trained both locally and internationally as a certified ESDM trainer. Melissa has a master’s Degree in Special Education from San Francisco State University and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Amber Fitzgerald, M. A., BCBA

Amber Fitzgerald, M. A., BCBA

Project Manager

Amber Fitzgerald, M. A., BCBA is the Project Manager for the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health (AIR-B III) Study, managing both the Mind the Gap and Building Better Bridges intervention projects for the UC Davis site.  Amber is responsible for community outreach and recruitment, assists with development of intervention materials, oversees research protocols and team member training, and guides the UC Davis sites implementation of the AIR-B interventions. In addition, Amber is a trainer for the TEAMS project providing Classroom Pivotal Response Teaching training for research participants. Amber has over 15 years of experience working with children with disabilities and their families in a variety of educational, clinical, and community settings. Amber has her Master’s Degree in Special Education, holds a Special Education Teaching Credential for students with moderate to severe disabilities, and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.    As a behavior analyst and experienced educator, Amber provides training and consultation to families, educators and school administrators in implementation of evidence based practices for children with Autism.  She also is an instructor for the Autism Spectrum Disorder Courses through UC Davis Extension.

Intervention Team

Rachel Balitsky, M.A., BCBA

Rachel Balitsky, M.A., BCBA

Team Lead

Rachel Balitsky, MA, BCBA, is the senior interventionist on the Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) team for the TADPOLE project. She is a cross-trained interventionist who provides therapy to children receiving both DTT as well as ESDM intervention approaches. Rachel has been working with children with special needs for the past 10 years including children with autism as well as children with emotional disturbances in both school and in-home settings. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Psychology and shortly after earned a Master’s degree in Teaching with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. Rachel is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Amanda Casillas, B.A.

Amanda Casillas, B.A.

Case Coordinator

Amanda Casillas is the Case Coordinator for the Connecting the Dots Study at the MIND Institute. Amanda’s primary role is to design and implement children’s interventions using the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Additionally, Amanda assists in ongoing supervision and training of new and current interventionists. She has a B.A. degree in Psychology from California State University, Sacramento and has taken additional coursework in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Florida Institute of Technology. Amanda is also certified as a Registered Behavior Technician and is completing requirements to become a Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. Amanda has over 9 years of experience teaching children and young adults with ASD in school, center-based, and in-home settings.

Walter Cervantes, B.A.

Walter Cervantes, B.A.

Behavior Interventionist

Walter Cervantes is a Lead Interventionist for  the TADPOLE Study at the MIND Institute. Walter assists with the delivery of daily treatment and training of new interventionists. Walter has experience in both Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT), and the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) . Walter graduated from California College of the Arts with a B.A. His career started as an Art Instructor for a non-profit organization teaching art to children with developmental disabilities. Walter has nine years of experience working with children  with autism in both home, and school settings.

Staff

Deeniece Hatten

Deeniece Hatten

Clinical Research Coordinator

Deeniece is the Collaborative START Lab Clinical Research Coordinator  for TADPOLE, ESS Follow-Up and Infant Clinic. She serves as the main liaison for all families who participate in our lab research projects. Deeniece is also the coordinator of the ESDM Training Program where she oversees the daily operations of the program.

Jacob T. Williams, B.A.

Jacob T. Williams, B.A.

Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator

Jacob T. Williams, B.A., is an Assistant Clinical Research Coordinator for the Collaborative START Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Jacob graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts & Sciences in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Cognitive Neuroscience. His prior work experience reflects a combined interest in clinical research and medicine. Jacob holds state and national certification as both a Nurse’s Assistant and as a Phlebotomist. He has worked in a wide range of clinical settings to deliver both acute and long-term care. Most recently, Jacob was a Perioperative Assistant for the Department of Surgery at Adventist Health Sonora where he coordinated daily surgical services for an array of subspecialty procedures. In research Jacob previously worked under Dr. Richard Doty, Ph.D. to explore the progressive decline of sensory perception in neurodegenerative disease using electrogustometry and olfactory measures. Later, Jacob joined the staff at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he helped coordinate the Infant Growth and Nutritional Microbiome study under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Babette Zemel, Ph.D. Jacob’s current role at the UC Davis MIND Institute, under Drs. Sally Rogers, Ph.D. and Aubyn Stahmer, Ph.D., is to assist in the coordination of activities for the Connecting The Dots study, the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health (AIR-B III) study, and the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) Training Program.

Karina M. Chavez, B.S.

Karina M. Chavez, B.S.

Laboratory Assistant

Karina M. Chavez, B.S., is a Junior Specialist in the Collaborative START Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She graduated from the University of California Davis in 2017 with a B.S. in Human Development and minors in Psychology, Education, and Chicana/o Studies. As an undergrad, Karina was a piloting intern at the UC Davis RAD Center where she implemented an evidence-based comprehension intervention with school-age children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at risk for listening comprehension and reading comprehension difficulties. Karina is a part of the TEAMS study where her main roles consist of collecting data, managing research volunteers and providing support to project staff.   She also serves as an assessor for the TADPOLE Project. In the future, she plans to pursue a career in Clinical Psychology.

Felicia Huddleston, B.A.

Felicia Huddleston, B.A.

Laboratory Assistant

Felicia K. Huddleston, B.A., is a Laboratory Assistant in the Collaborative START Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She graduated from the California State University, Sacramento in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology. Felicia has 3+ years of research and clinical experience in the field of ASD. Felicia is currently a clinical support research assistant on the TEAMS study, where her main roles consist of helping lead AIM HI for the Sacramento region and manage coding for CPRT at the UC Davis site.

Postdoctoral Fellows & Graduate Students

Maya Matheis, Ph.D., M.S.W.

Maya Matheis

Postdoctoral Scholar

Maya Matheis, Ph.D., M.S.W., is a postdoctoral scholar in the Collaborative START Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She currently coordinates the BRIDGE Project ImPACT for Toddlers research study and is a Project ImPACT for Toddlers trainer. She graduated from Louisiana State University with her doctoral degree in clinical psychology with specializations in neurodevelopmental disorders and applied behavior analysis. She also holds a Masters of Social Work from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. She has over a decade of experience providing intervention services for children and young adults with ASD and their families. Her research and clinical interests focus on community-based implementation of interventions for ASD, with particular emphasis on improving access for underserved populations. .

Elizabeth Morgan, M.Ed.

Elizabeth Morgan, M.Ed.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Elizabeth Morgan is a doctoral student in Human Development at UC Davis. She also serves as a program coordinator for the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute. Her area of focus includes Early Childhood and Early Intervention Services with a specific interest in underrepresented populations. An educator by training, she holds a Masters in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and has supported Early Childhood practitioners in utilizing developmentally appropriate practice and inclusion strategies since 2004. She has also worked on several state level initiatives to support inclusion of preschool children with various disabilities.  Elizabeth currently works as a graduate researcher at the MIND Institute on the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health study and as the CA state lead for the Intervention team of the C-ESDM project. She is also a parent of a child with Autism and is an active board member for Warmline Family Resource Center in Sacramento, CA.

Allison Nahmias, Ph.D.

Allison Nahmias, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Allison Nahmias, Ph.D. will be primarily responsible for implementation of AIM HI or CPRT training with research participants.  She will be involved in training and oversight of research interns and staff, as well as aid in the interpretation of findings and publications.  Dr. Nahmias earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology.  Her research and clinical training has focused on the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practices for children with ASD.

Kelsey Oliver, Ph.D.

Kelsey Oliver, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Kelsey Oliver, Ph.D., earned her doctoral degree in Education with an emphasis in Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a trainer for the TEAMS project providing CPRT to research participants. She has over 10 years of experience working with children with ASD and their families in educational, clinical, and community settings.

Sarah Vejnoska, B.A.

Sarah Vejnoska, B.A.

Doctoral Student

Sarah Vejnoska is a doctoral student at UC Davis pursuing her degree in developmental psychology. She graduated from UC San Diego with a BA in psychology in 2012. From 2012-2015, Sarah worked as a research assistant at the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center in San Diego on the Classroom Pivotal Response Teaching study. Sarah currently works as a graduate researcher at the MIND Institute on the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health study.  Sarah’s research interests include the dissemination of evidence-based practices to under-served populations with autism spectrum disorder and intervention implementation.

 

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