CARE Lab News

Lab News


Video Team Pride!

Year 3 of our classroom MAP Exploration Study is going strong, and we’re having a lot of fun along the way! (Pictured left to right: Leah, Mitchell, Talia, and Stefano)

Relationships Decoded

In collaboration with the North Bay Regional Center, Mitchell and Dr. Sparapani were involved in one of the tapings for developing videos for a project called “Relationships Decoded.” This project creates a relationship curriculum for neurodivergent youth. Mitchell now goes by “Tom Cruise” within the lab!  

Our PI’s make Appearances at SPEDDR!?

Dr. Nicole Sparapani appeared on the Neurodiversity Panel at SPEDDR, answering questions about current community, research, and societal issues related to neurodiversity. She was joined by Dr. Leonard Abbeduto, Dr. Connie Kasari, Dr. Aubyn Stahmer, Dr. Lauren Lindstrum, Nathalie Moriarty, and Ibis Macconell. 

Dr. Peter Mundy opened day 2 of the event with an oral presentation focusing on the updates of the role of social attention in autism. 

Coffee After SPEDDR

To celebrate the success of SPEDDR, our team went to grab coffee to begin planning the next one! Spot a lab alumni, Cameron Alexander, who is currently a PhD student at UC Riverside. Dr. Nicole Sparapani and Dr. Jennifer Bullen are hiding from the camera, but we promise they are having fun! 

Presenting at SPEDDR!

Congratulations to our students Laurel, Johanna, Cindy, Sandy, Shahin, and Gustav for presenting! Laurel orally presented their work-in-progress case study, which focused on a 3rd-grade autistic learner through the lens of belonging. Johanna presented a poster focusing on the influence of the (STR) quality of student-teacher relationships. Cindy presented a work-in-progress paper focusing on teachers’ use of accommodations for neurodivergent learners in math and literacy lessons. Sandy presented a poster examining ”inclusion” for students on the autism spectrum in their classrooms via systematic review. Shahin presented a work-in-progress examining universal design for learning on metacognition and self-efficacy among neurodivergent learners. Finally, Gustav orally presented their work-in-progress thesis on bayesian modeling of emotional regulation in the classroom. Congratulations to all the presenters! 

Students Plan SPEDDR 2024

Our students helped plan SPEDDR 2024 at the UC Davis MIND Institute: Johanna Vega Garcia (Council Chair), Laurel Towers (Conference Chair), Cindy Parks, and Sandy Birkeneder! Thank you to everyone who attended and supported our students!

Congratulations Doctoral Candidate, Johanna!

Johanna Vega Garcia successfully passed her qualifying exam - fall 2024! She has now advanced to candidacy! Johanna’s dissertation will focus on examining teacher affect and relationship quality between general education teachers and their autistic students. Congratulations, Doctoral Candidate Johanna!

Winter CARE Lab Party!

Enrolling K-3rd Grade General Education Teachers to Participate in Our Inclusion Study!

It’s that time again! Year 3 of our inclusion study! We’re currently enrolling K-3rd grade general education teachers and their autistic & non-autistic students across Northern CA to participate! We’ve had so much fun learning from our participating teachers and students over the past 2 years. Thank you! We’re excited for the learning this new year will bring! 

Leave us your email address here if you’d like more information, or send an email to


Our New Video Observation Team

We just completed our first classroom video observation training for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year — the 3rd year of our IES classroom project! We have a BIG team this year. A special shoutout to the video team members: Gustav Oppermann, Mitchell Madison, Stefano Cantos, Johanna Vega Garcia, Kaitlyn McNamara, Sandy Birkeneder, Bayleigh Baldwin, Ofelia Preciado, Iris Lee, & Jennie Bullen. It’s going to be a another fun & productive year in the schools!

INSAR 2023!

Congratulations to Johanna, Sandy, Cindy, Jennie, and Amanda on their successful INSAR poster presentations!! Sandy, Jennie, and Cindy presented a poster examining executive functioning skills among a neurodiverse group of elementary students. Johanna presented work on teacher affect within interactions with their autistic elementary students. Way to represent the CARE lab, team! 

A BIG Shout Out to Chloe Rankin!!

Congratulations to Chloe Rankin on her acceptance into the graduate program at San Francisco State University with an emphasis on equity and social justice! Chloe is an alumna of UC Davis. She participated in the CARE Lab in 2019 after inspiring some of the School of Education faculty with her Aspire with Autism presentation to the campus community. One of her career aspirations is to be a reform leader doing educational advocacy, innovative work, and trailblazing new enlightenments in the education field. Her educational trajectory was shaped by her ability to defy the odds to achieve a pathway of fulfillment and surpass what others believed was her limit with a mild form of autism. Living with ASD, Chloe took on a role in motivational speaking to share her experiences about finding her potential to succeed, getting ahead of ability stigma, and augmenting her abilities to take on the challenges of new opportunities. She states, “Autism is not a hindrance in my life but rather something to inspire with”. 

Our 1st Lab Social!

We launched our 1st monthly “lab social” this week and also welcomed, Josh, a neurodivergent incoming freshman to our team! This was also the first time some of us met in person. It was a great way to start the new year! Welcome back everyone, and welcome Josh!

Congratulations to our Recent Graduates, Jennie, Michelle, Kevin, & Christine!

Jennie graduated with her PhD in Human Development. She is now doing a postdoc at the UC Davis MIND Institute and continuing with the CARE lab! Michelle graduated with a BA in Psychology and minors in Human Development and Education. She is now working as a paraprofessional in an early childhood program and continuing with the CARE lab! Kevin graduated with a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a Minor in Psychology. He is continuing with the CARE lab and getting ready for medical school next year! Christine graduated with a BA in English and minors in Education and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies! She is now working on her teaching credential. We are very excited for you all! Congratulations!

Our IES Classroom Project made the UC Davis News!

UC Davis set a research record this year, $1.7 billion. Our classroom project was part of this exciting milestone!! Check out the article here and the video here (featuring our very own, Kevin & Cameron)!


Laurel Towers successfully passed her qualifying exam!! She has now advanced to candidacy! Laurel’s dissertation will focus on examining a coaching model to help educators learn about emotion regulation within the classroom. Congratulations, Laurel!

A big congratulations to Sandy Birkeneder for successfully passing her qualifying exam!! Sandy has now advanced to candidacy! She will begin her dissertation this summer, studying the development of joint attention in school age children and its impact on reading outcomes within learners with autism. Congratulations, Sandy!! We are proud of you! 

Congratulations to Dr. Jennie Bullen who successfully defended her dissertation examining the influence of sensory processing skills on academic outcomes within learners with and without autism. Dr. Bullen will graduate this spring with a Ph.D. in Human Development. Following her successful defense, Dr. Bullen began the ARTP postdoctoral training program through the UC Davis MIND Institute. She will be working as a postdoctoral scholar within the CARE lab over the next 2 years. 

Welcome to the CARE Lab! 

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Cindy Parks and JD Oppermann who will begin their graduate studies this fall. Cindy will begin her doctoral studies within the School of Education, Learning and Mind Sciences. She is interested in studying inclusive practices for neurodivergent learners within general education classrooms. JD will begin his master’s program in Human Development. He is interested in understanding how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles align with the needs of autistic learners within classrooms. See their full bios here.

Welcome to the CARE Lab, Cindy and JD!! We are thrilled that you will be part of our CARE team. 

INSAR Presentations 2022

Sandy presented an oral presentation at the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) examining the reliability and validity of the Childhood Joint Attention Rating Scale for school-age children with autism. For more information about INSAR, click here.

Jennie presented a related poster at INSAR titled, Parent Report of Nonverbal Joint Attention Symptoms in ASD: Validating the Childhood Joint Attention Rating Scale. View the poster here!

School News!!

Christine Soliva was accepted into the combined Masters and Teaching Credential Program at UC Riverside!

Christine Soliva was recently accepted into the Teacher Education Program at the University of California, Riverside where she will earn a Master’s in Education with a single subject teaching credential in English. Following graduate school, she plans on teaching high school English. We are very proud of her and excited for her new journey as an educator! 

Cameron Alexander was accepted into the School Psychology Doctoral Program at UC Riverside!

Cameron Alexander was recently accepted into the University of California, Riverside School Psychology Ph.D. program where he will work with Dr. Katherine Stavropoulos to study the effects of bio-neurological processes, autism, and emotion regulation in children. He will be working with the Social Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience Lab, which does EEG research to better understand the reward system processes for children with autism. Cameron will also be involved with the SEARCH Family Autism Resource Center which provides autism screening, community outreach, and support for families within the Inland Empire. Although we will miss Cameron at the CARE lab, we are so very proud of and excited for him! 

CARE Lab Ph.D. Students Present at UC SPEDDR!

Johanna Vega Garcia, Sandy Birkeneder, and Jennifer Bullen all presented talks at the 2022 UC SPEDDR Conference at UC Riverside 

Johanna and co-presenter Helen Fann gave a talk exploring the association between teachers use of responsive language and teacher-level characteristics within preschool through 3rd-grade classrooms serving children with autism. Sandy and Jennie gave back-to-back talks looking at the Childhood Joint Attention Rating Scale (C-JARS) validity, IQ, & gender effects, and the validity and test-retest reliability of Childhood Joint Attention Scale and its relation to learning.

The CARE lab is proud of all of our graduate presenters!

Student-Teacher Interactions Facebook Live Talk 

Investigators Nicole Sparapani, Nancy Tseng, and Peter Mundy talk about their current research and the new IES project 

​Drs. Sparapani, Tseng, and Mundy recently gave a talk about the effect of teacher interactions on students with autism. They discussed previous findings on the best instructional practices for students in math and literacy lessons and also talked about their new IES exploratory project looking to bridge the gap between autism and general education research. Check out the talk on the UC Davis MIND Institute Facebook!

Congratulations to Johanna Vega and Sandy Birkeneder!

New Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Fellows

Johanna and Sandy were recently accepted into the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) fellowship. As part of the fellowship, they will be involved with many different learning opportunities, including the LEND curriculum courses, interdisciplinary clinical activities, community training activities, and research!

We are very proud of you both!

Welcome Cameron Alexander!

Cameron Joins the CARE Lab as a Full-Time Research Coordinator 

​We would like to welcome Cameron Alexander as our new research coordinator and lab manager for the Collaborative Autism Research in Education (CARE) Lab. He will be working with the lab to organize and manage our new IES project, The MAP Exploration! Cameron received a BS in Human Development and minored in Psychology and Education at UC Davis. He worked in the CARE lab as an undergraduate research assistant for 2 years. We are so lucky to have you join the team full-time, Cameron!!                                                                          

Our First IES Grant! 

$1.7 Million to Bridge Autism and General Education Research

​CARE Lab members, Dr. Nicole Sparapani and Dr. Nancy Tseng just received a competitive IES grant in the amount of $1.7 million to bridge autism and general education research! They will be working alongside a team of researchers, including Dr. Peter Mundy from the SOE, in an effort to improve the educational outcomes and support inclusion of learners with autism in K-3rd grade general education classrooms.

Here is more information about the grant


​Congratulations to our recent graduates, Julie Daseking and Cameron Alexander! Julie graduated with a BS in Human Development and Design. Cameron graduated with a BS in Human Development, and he’s minoring in Psychology and Education. Julie & Cameron also successfully completed and filed their honor’s projects! We, at the CARE Lab, are very proud of you both!!

Congratulations to Johanna Vega Garcia and Sandy Birkeneder for successfully completing and passing their 2nd year doctoral preliminary examinations!! What a milestone!! Proud Proud Proud!

Recent Publications

Evaluating Teacher Language Within General and Special Education Classrooms Serving Elementary Students with Autism

Nicole Sparapani & colleagues recently published a manuscript in the Journal of Autism and Related Disorders (JADD) examining how teachers and paraprofessionals in 126 kindergarten-second grade classrooms talked with their 194 students with autism, and further, how individual student characteristics in language, autism symptoms, and social abilities influenced this talk. You can read the full article here!

Authors: Sparapani, Reinhardt, Hooker, Morgan, Schatschneider, & Wetherby, 2021, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities

What Are the Odds?: Predicting the Likelihood of a Negative Episode in a Sample of Toddlers with ASD

Congratulations to Amanda Dimachkie Nunnally, postdoctoral scholar, recently published her 1st first-author manuscript in the international journal, Autism!! In this study, Amanda and colleagues evaluated emotion dysregulation in 71 toddlers with ASD while working on a task with their caregivers. You can check out her article here!

Emotion Regulation Skills Predict Friendship Quality in Children with Autism

Nicole Sparapani & Amanda Dimachkie Nunnally co-authored a manuscript recently published in the International Journal of Developmental Disorders. This manuscript is a joint collaboration between UC Davis, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, and the University of Rochester.

Authors: Heather J. Nuske, Wendy Shih, Nicole J. Sparapani, Lauren Baczewski, Amanda Dimachkie Nunnally, Samantha Hochheimer, Consuelo Garcia, Fernanda Castellon, Lynne Levato, Erin Fischer, Zabryna Atkinson-Diaz, Jennica Li, David S. Mandell, and Connie Kasari 

Project Description: Within this project, we evaluated the association among self-regulation, mental health, and friendship quality in a sample of 106 children with autism between 5–12 years of age. We found a positive predicative association between self-regulatory skills and social companionship. In addition, difficulties with self-regulation were associated with increased conflict. These data highlight the importance of self-regulation and mental health as intervention targets for school-aged children with autism. 

2021 Conferences and Talks

International Society for Autism Research (INSAR)

The CARE Lab presented a poster titled, Teacher-Student Interactions within Mathematics Instructional Contexts in Classrooms Serving Students with Autism at the INSAR annual virtual meeting. View the poster here!

Authors: Nicole Sparapani, Nancy Tseng, Sandy Birkeneder, Amanda Dimachkie Nullally, Laurel Towers, Cameron J. Alexander, Johanna Vega Garcia, Taffeta Wood. 

Sandy Birkeneder and Nicole Sparapani presented a poster titled, Measurements of Spontaneous Communication Initiations in Children with Autism in Preschool to Third Grade Classrooms at the INSAR annual virtual meeting. View the poster here!


Amanda Dimachkie Nullally, postdoctoral scholar, presented a poster presentation titled, Building Better Bridges: Factors Related to Teachers’ Perceptions of Transition Success for Their Students with Autism, at the 2021 virtual Gatlinburg Conference on Research and Theory in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. View the poster here!


Dr. Sparapani and Dr. Tseng presented an interactive poster project titled, Classroom Math Learning Opportunities Provided to Students with Autism at the 2021 AERA virtual conference. Co-Authors: Laurel Towers & Taffeta Wood. You can view the interactive poster here.


Laurel Towers, doctoral student, presented a talk titled, Differences in Instructor Responsiveness Between Special Education Teachers and Classroom Paraprofessionals at the University of California Center for Research on Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk (SPEDDR) 2021 virtual conference. 

News from 2020… 

  • Nicole Sparapani was announced a recipient for the 2020 UC Davis Hellman Fellowship Award for her project, Evaluation of Interactions between Early Elementary Students with Autism and their Teachers during Literacy and Mathematics Classroom Observations.
  • Sparapani and co-authors, Solari, Towers, McIntyre, Henry, and Zajic, published a paper titled, Secondary analysis of interactions between students with autism and their interventionists within a scripted reading curriculum in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Read the article. ​​
  • Sparapani co-authored a paper titled, Students’ problem behaviors and teachers’ warmth, responsiveness, and classroom control as predictors of students’ classroom instructional experiences in first grade. The manuscript was published in Contemporary Education Psychology. (McLean, L., Sparapani, N., Day, S., Connor, C.M., 2020). Read the article.
  • Mathematical Learning Opportunities for Early Elementary Students with AutismSparapani and Tseng co-presented a talk titled, Mathematical Learning Opportunities for Early Elementary Students with Autism, at the 2020 SENIA International Virtual Conference.
  • Sparapani presented a talk titled, Teacher-Student Interactions within Elementary Classrooms Serving Students with Autism at the UC Davis MIND Institute Virtual Neurodiversity Summit. Watch the summit.
  • Life on the Spectrum: Women Sharing their Unique ExperiencesSparapani co-facilitated the 2020 UC Davis MIND Summer Institute titled, Life on the Spectrum: Women Sharing their Unique Experiences. This panel discussion explored the unique stories of several autistic women as they share their perspectives across the life span. The panelists highlighted strengths and challenges related to diagnosis, co-occurring conditions, social and sensory experiences, education, parenting, family life, careers, and community. Watch the talk.
  • ​Johanna Vega Garcia, doctoral student, presented a poster titled, Examining Teachers’ Responsiveness with Preschool-3rd Grade Students with Autism During Classroom Activities at the University of California Center for Research on Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk (SPEDDR) Annual Conference in Los Angeles, CA. 
  • SPEDDR 2020 Sandy Birkeneder, doctoral student, presented a poster titled, Joint Attention in School-Aged Children with Autism at the University of California Center for Research on Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk (SPEDDR) Annual Conference in Los Angeles, CA. 
  • Laurel Towers presented a poster titled, Supporting Emotion Regulation in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder across Classroom Contexts at the University of California Center for Research on Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk (SPEDDR) Annual Conference Los Angeles, CA.  

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