Sally Rogers, PhD

Program Director

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. 

Marie L. Rocha, PhD, BCBA-D

Lead Trainer

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.

Aubyn Stahmer, PhD

Lead Trainer

​Aubyn 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.


Sarah Dufek, PhD, BCBA-D

Lead Trainer

Sarah Dufek, PhD, 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.​

Vanessa Avila-Pons, MA, LMFT

Lead Trainer

​Vanessa Avila-Pons is the Project Manager and Play Based Team Leader for the TADPOLE Study at the MIND Institute. Vanessa assists with the management of the TADPOLE 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.

Mel Mello, MA, BCBA

Lead Trainer

​Melissa is a Team Lead for the TADPOLE Study at the MIND Institute.  At the MIND she provides case supervision to children receiving Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) as their intervention approach, as well as parent coaching and general supervision to the lab.  She has been working with children with autism for the past 10 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 7 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.


Deeniece Hatten

Business Manager

Deeniece is the ESDM Training Program Manager for the Collaborative START Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. Ms. Hatten serves as the primary liaison for all families participating in lab research projects and individuals interested in Parent Coaching, Infant Clinic, and ESDM Workshops. As the business manager for the MIND ESDM Training Site, she manages all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the ESDM Training Program. Ms. Hatten also provides guidance, oversight, and implementation of all ESDM training activities.