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UC Davis MIND Institute

UC Davis MIND Institute

Our Team

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. 

Marie Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Marie Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D      

Lab Manager, Early Start Lab

Marie L. Rocha, Ph.D., BCBA-D is the manager of the Early Start Laboratory and the project manager of a multi-site randomized control trial called TADPOLE.  The purpose of the TADPOLE study is to evaluate the effects of intensity of treatment and delivery style on the developmental progress of young children with ASD.  Dr. Rocha’s primary responsibility is the supervision and training of the TADPOLE Study team. In addition, she provides parent coaching and case supervision for families. Her research to date 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 is a board certified behavior analyst and received her doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Rocha is also a certified therapist and trainer of the Early Start Denver Model and has worked with Dr. Rogers since 2008.  Dr. Rocha has been working with children with autism and their families since 1996.

Dr. Cynthia Zierhut, Ph.D.

Cynthia Zierhut, Ph.D.

ESDM Training Program Manager & PATH Project Manager

Dr. Cynthia Zierhut is the manager of the ESDM Training Program and the PATH (Parents and Toddlers at Home) Project. The mission of the ESDM Training Program is to disseminate knowledge and the empirically supported practices of the ESDM to organizations and professionals working directly with very young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. Working with the ESDM Training team, Dr. Zierhut aims to make accessible high quality learning opportunities for therapists in local communities and for our international colleaguesThe purpose of the PATH study is to improve the learning rates, language acquisition, and overall development of 12-30-month-old children with autism.  This randomized control trial and multi-site project will aim to make improvements via modifying and strengthening the effects of an existing, manualized parent-delivered intervention for toddlers with autism, the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) parent coaching approach. Dr. Zierhut’s role on the project is to manage and provide ongoing supervision to the clinical team at the UC Davis site.  Dr. Zierhut is a developmental and licensed clinical psychologist specializing in working with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families for over a decade. She has been working with Dr. Sally Rogers since 2005, is a trainer in the ESDM, and recently returned to the lab after a year managing a collaborative ESDM group delivery project in Melbourne Australia.

Vanessa M. Avila-Pons, M.A.

Vanessa M. Avila-Pons, M.A.     

Team Leader, TADPOLE Project 

Vanessa Avila-Pons, M.A., is the Play Based Team Leader for the TADPOLE Study the MIND Institute. Her primary responsibilities include program development, case supervision, and parent coaching. Her responsibilities also include the training and supervision of all members of the Play Based treatment team. Prior research experience involved the use of different behavioral treatments to improve disruptive behaviors, inattention, and academic skills in children with ADHD. Vanessa has many years of clinical experience working with children with autism and their families. 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 trainer of the Early Start Denver Model. Vanessa received her Master’s degree from Santa Clara University and her Bachelor’s Degree from Notre Dame de Namur University and she is currently pursuing licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

Dr. Lesley Deprey, Ph.D.

Lesley Deprey, Ph.D.     

Data and Assessment Lead 

Lesley Deprey, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist at the UC Davis MIND Institute.  She has been involved in the evaluation of research subjects in studies investigating Autism, Fragile X Syndrome and other genetic disorders.  She has expertise in the design and analysis of research studies in autism.  Dr. Deprey has also been a Sub-Investigator and Clinical Rater for FDA clinical drug trials.  She is a Certified Trainer on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition (ADOS-2), our current gold-standard autism measures.

Melissa Mello, M.A., BCBA

Melissa Mello, M.A., BCBA

Team Leader, TADPOLE Study

Melissa is a Team Lead for the TADPOLE Study at the MIND Institute.  At the MIND she provides case supervision as well as parent coaching and general supervision to the lab.  She has been working with children with autism for the past 8 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 5 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 has a Master’s Degree in Special Education from San Francisco State University and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Aimee Bord, MA, CCC-SLP


Speech-Language Pathologist, Early Steps Study
ESDM Early Intervention Program
Project manager, Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism (CSESA)

Aimee Bord, MA, CCC-SLP is a licensed speech-language pathologist specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders across the lifespan.  She is certified in the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) and, along with a multidisciplinary treatment team, provides both direct and indirect treatment and consultation for toddlers receiving intensive early intervention.  She also serves as project manager for the Center for Secondary Education for Students with Autism (CSESA) which is a study involving 6 universities across the country examining the implementation of evidence based treatments for High School students with Autism.  Her clinical and research interests include the study of evidence based interventions for children and adults with speech and language disorders and their families.  Ms. Bord also has experience as a presenter, developing training seminars and courses on a variety of speech and language related topics including autism spectrum disorders.

Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, Ph.D.

Beth L. Goodlin-Jones, Ph.D.    

Assessment Team

Dr. Goodlin-Jones, a clinical developmental psychologist, is an active member of the MIND Institute’s clinical research teams. These research teams see a wide range of children with at-risk development and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and fragile X syndrome. Dr. Goodlin-Jones completed her undergraduate education at Stanford University and her graduate education at University of Washington. Her focus of research involves sleep patterns in typically developing children and children with autism, developmental delay, and fragile X syndrome. Dr. Goodlin-Jones works closely with several colleagues at the MIND Institute on the early indicators of autism and parent-child interaction patterns in families with fragile X syndrome and autism. 

Deeniece Hatten

Study Coordinator

Deeniece is the Early Start Lab Study Coordinator for the TADPOLE, ESS Follow-Up and PATH Projects. She serves as the main liaison for all families who participate in our lab research projects. Deeniece also oversees and manages daily operations of the lab including equipment, supplies, personnel/subject recruitment and all patient billings.

Jennifer Bernstein, B.S.



Jennifer Bernstein received her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior from UC Davis in 2010. She began her work at the MIND Institute in 2007 as a child life volunteer in the clinic, became a research assistant for the Early Steps Study, and now works as an Analyst in the Early Start Lab. Her primary responsibilities include designing and maintaining local databases, and helping with gathering, coding, and managing data for multiple projects.

Marykate Miller, B.S.

Marykate Miller, B.S.

Junior Specialist

Marykate Miller is a Junior Specialist for the Early Start Lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute.  Her relationship with the Early Start Lab began in 2012 while volunteering as an undergraduate research assistant.  Shortly after graduating from UC Davis with her B.S. in Psychology, she was brought on to provide overall assistance in all studies in the lab.  Her day to day tasks involve tracking and following up on data collection and management, coordinating visits and training our team of research assistants.


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