Vanessa M. Avila-Pons, M.A.

Vanessa Avila-Pons is the Treatment and Training Manager for the Collaborative Start Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Vanessa has over 15 years of clinical experience working with children with autism and their families. Vanessa has worked at the MIND Institute since 2008, where she has delivered evidence-based treatments and has led treatment teams across several Autism Center for Excellence (ACE) grants. Vanessa is the Social Work faculty member for the Northern California LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) Program, where she helps build community partnerships and oversees community engagement for trainees. Vanessa is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and received her master's degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Latino Counseling from Santa Clara University. Vanessa is also a certified therapist, parent coach, and senior trainer of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM).

Rachel Balitsky, M.A., BCBA

Rachel BalitskyRachel Balitsky is the Team Leader for the Connecting the Dots Study and ESDM MIND Clinic program. In her role as a Team Leader, Rachel is responsible for the oversight of ESDM treatment programs, supervision of RBTs, and delivery of parent coaching. Rachel has 15 years of experience working with children with autism. Rachel is both a certified ESDM Lead Trainer and certified ESDM Parent Coach. In her role on the ESDM training program, Rachel conducts several ESDM trainings a year and delivers parent training to parents of young children with autism. Rachel has a master’s degree in Teaching with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. 

Walter Cervantes, B.A.

Walter CervantesWalter Cervantes is the Case Coordinator and Senior Interventionist at the UC Davis MIND Institute for the ESDM MIND Clinic Program. Walter has a B.F.A. and is a Registered Behavior Technician. Walter has over 14 years of experience working with children with autism in both Spanish, and English. Walter has worked at the MIND Institute since 2011, where he has delivered evidence-based treatments and has delivered treatment to various children across several Autism Center for Excellence (ACE) grants. Walter has experience using various methods of intervention such as Discrete Trial Teaching and the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Walter’s primary role is to design and implement children’s interventions using the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). In addition, Walter also assists in the ongoing supervision and training of new and current interventionists. Walter is a designated approved translator for the EPICC Study.  

Jennifer Diaz Navarro

Jennifer Diaz Navarro is part of the Connecting the Dots study looking at the efficacy of the MCHAT for an early diagnosis of ASD. She is also part of AIRB's Mind the Gap study which implements community-based intervention for parents who received their child's diagnosis of ASD. Her role includes recruitment, data entry, tracking, facilitating assessments, video coding, and consent calls. She also supervises undergraduate externs from UC Davis. Jennifer is also being trained to deliver ESDM in-home services. She earned her bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Jennifer's professional experience includes more than three years of case management, mental health coaching, and behavior rehabilitation for children and families. She aspires to obtain her doctorate in clinical psychology. Her research interests include trauma and mood disorders in children and youth, especially racial minorities. 

Sarah Dufek, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Sarah DufekSarah Dufek 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.​

Amber Fitzgerald, M.A., BCBA

Amber FitzgeraldAmber Fitzgerald 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.

Deeniece Hatten, B.A.

Deeniece HattenDeeniece Hatten has worked at the UC Davis MIND Institute for 13 years and is currently the ESDM Training Program and ESDM Treatment Clinic manager in the Collaborative START Lab. As the Program Manager, Ms. Hatten oversees ESDM certifications, workshops, and day-to-day operations. She is also the primary liaison for all families participating in the ESDM Treatment Clinic and Connecting the Dots study. Deeniece has earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the California State University, Sacramento. Ms. Hatten is currently working on her master’s degree in sociology. She is researching the effects of language used in Black households and its impact on socio-economic status.

Marjorie Llanera, B.A.

Marjorie Llanera is a lab assistant and co-intern supervisor in the Collaborative START Lab. She oversees participant recruitment and enrollment as the project coordinator for the Project ImPACT for Toddlers Study and EPICC Study under the direction of Dr. Sarah Dufek. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Asian American Studies and Global Health from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Her current research interests include empathy, intergroup relations, psychological wellbeing, and sense of belonging, as well as the impact of racial-based humor on marginalized groups. She plans on pursuing a doctoral degree in Social Psychology or Health Psychology.

Melissa Mello, Ph.D., BCBA

Melissa MelloMelissa Mello works on multiple projects in the Collaborative START Lab, including TEAMS, BRIDGE, and the ESDM training program. Mel has been working with children with autism for the past 16 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 12 years, Mel has been supervising early intervention programs as a Clinical Manager, using behaviorally based, empirically validated methods to ensure children with autism improve their behavior, language, and social skills at home and in the classroom. Mel is certified in the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), Classroom Pivotal Response Teaching (CPRT), and Project ImPACT 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 and doctoral candidate. 

Marie Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Marie RochaMarie 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.

Sally J. Rogers, Ph.D.

Sally RogersSally 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 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.

Meagan Talbott, Ph.D.

Meagan TalbottMeagan Talbott 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.

Sarah Vejnoska, B.A.

Sarah VejnoskaSarah Vejnoska is a doctoral student at UC Davis pursuing her degree in developmental psychology. She graduated from UC San Diego with a B.A. 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.

Yue Yu, Ph.D.

Yue YuYue Yu is a postdoctoral fellow at the MIND Institute. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis and completed her clinical psychology internship from Charleston Consortium - Medical University of South Carolina. She is a recipient of the Clinical and Translational Science Center TL1 Postdoctoral level grant, through which she examines the effectiveness of a novel family/friend network program in improving caregiver engagement in early interventions in under-resourced families. She has over 10 years of experience working with children with ASD and their families and currently provides training on Mind the Gap and Project ImPACT, two evidence-based interventions, through the Autism Intervention Research Network on Behavioral Health Study and BRIDGE: Project ImPACT for Toddlers Study in the Collaborative START Lab.