Contra Costa County

Regional Clinic Director

Your Regional Clinic Director, Katie Buchanan, is responsible for ensuring FirstSteps program integrity. She oversees all client programs, ensures your treatment team is trained and supported, interfaces with your funding agencies, and communicates with our executive team daily to ensure your child's services run smoothly and are effective.

Please feel free to contact her at any time with questions, concerns, or to discuss your child's treatment progress.

Katie Buchanan, M.S., BCBA

Katie Buchanan

It was not until Ms. Buchanan graduated from California State University, Long Beach with her B.A. in Psychology that she realized her passion for working with children with autism. Upon graduation, Ms. Buchanan began working as a 1:1 behavior intervention instructor for an agency, and quickly worked her way up to lead instructor in less than a year. Ms. Buchanan's expertise includes home- and school-based services, as well as experience with promoting generalization in the community. Her extensive experience also includes facilitating social interactions, decreasing behavioral excesses, and increasing verbal behavior. 

In 2012 Ms. Buchanan moved to Northern California where she accepted a position at FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. Contra Costa as a Lead Instructor. After realizing that ABA was her calling, she enrolled and completed her M.S. in Psychology, and is currently completing her coursework for her BCBA through the Florida Institute of Technology. 

Ms. Buchanan is constantly amazed and inspired by her clients and her amazing co-workers. Ms. Buchana is excited to be working at FirstSteps and considers herself lucky to have found her calling!  

Program Directors

Program Directors design, implement, and evaluate your child’s individualized program. Your child’s Program Director will be your primary contact at FirstSteps and is always available to answer your questions.

Ameena Sweeting, M.A., BCBA

If you asked Ameena Sweeting to use a phrase to describe herself, she would use the words “kid at heart”. Throughout her life, Ameena has been told she has a gift for working with children -- most likely because she is a big kid herself.

In 2009, she earned her B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Human Development from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and continued her education at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA and received an M.A. in Applied Developmental Psychology in 2011. Throughout her coursework, she utilized her gift with children to volunteer in preschool and elementary school settings as well as to conduct research on effective methods for teaching early learners. Her love of Applied Behavior Analysis began in 2007, during a summer position where she facilitated social skills groups and conducted individualized ABA therapy sessions in the home and clinic settings for young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. During her job, Ms. Sweeting witnessed the positive impact of effective ABA, and developed a love for using her gift paired with ABA, to make a difference in the lives of children with Autism.

Following her first position as an ABA therapist, Ms. Sweeting continued her career in ABA in Virginia as a Senior Behavior Therapist at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. After graduate school and her ABA Certificate Program, she returned to her home state, California. In 2013, she earned her BCBA and was promoted to a Supervisor position at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. In her role as a Supervisor, she managed treatment plans for individuals with Autism, orchestrated parent trainings, and trained Behavior Therapists.

Recognizing early intervention to be the most effective treatment for children with ASD, Ms. Sweeting sought an environment where she could combine her experience, knowledge, and leadership to provide high quality services to families seeking an early intervention program. She was drawn to FirstSteps for its core values of Early Intensive Behavior Intervention and high treatment integrity. In 2015, she accepted a position as a Program Director and is excited to be a part of the FirstSteps family.

Brittany Tidwell, M.S.Ed., BCBA

From a very young age, Brittany Plony knew that she wanted to work with children. She attended summer camp for many years, and worked as a Volunteer Counselor in Training while doing so. Pursuing her passion of working with children, she received her B.S. in Education with a concentration in Humanities from State University of New York at Cortland. Knowing upon graduation that she wanted to work specifically with students with special needs, she went on to pursue her Masters in Special Education from State University of New York at Binghamton, where she was the Graduate Assistant for the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Upon graduating from her program, she took a job in Maryland, where she taught Special Education at a Learning Center and Resource teacher, servicing students in Kindergarten through Grade 5. She additionally worked as the Special Education Team Leader, where she worked collaboratively with school administrators and personnel, to ensure student success. While teaching, Ms. Plony decided that Behavior Analysis was a route that she wanted to pursue further. Following this desire, she received her Post-Masters Certificate in Behavior Analysis from St. Joseph’s University. Wanting to gain experience in Behavior Analysis, she took a job as an ABA Therapist and Supervisor, working for a company in the Greater Boston area. While there, she was able to work in both the schools and the homes of students with varying abilities, ranging in ages from 3-16. She later relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, in search of a company committed to improving the lives of children with developmental and behavioral disorders, which she thankfully found with FirstSteps for Kids, Inc.

Ms. Plony is proud to be a part of the FirstSteps family as a Program Manager in the Contra Costa location, where she is able to support and work alongside the instructors, Program Directors, families, and students.

Lexy Rhodes, M.A., BCBA

Lexy Rhodes has always had a passion for working with children. She worked as a girl scout camp counselor for many summers when she was young. She grew up with a twin brother who was impacted by attention deficit disorder, and as a result, she had a desire to pursue psychology during her undergraduate years. In 2010, Ms. Rhodes graduated from California State University East Bay with a B.A. in Psychology.  Upon graduation, Ms. Rhodes began working as a 1:1 Behavior Interventionist, providing ABA services.  

In 2013, Ms. Rhodes began working on her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. Throughout her graduate education, Ms. Rhodes worked in a variety of settings with children of all ages. She worked as a Para-Educator in an elementary school and an Intern Therapist at a high school counseling center. She also continued part-time work in ABA. Upon completion of her graduate education, it was clear to Ms. Rhodes that she wanted to further pursue a career in Behavior Analysis. When she discovered FirstSteps for Kids, she knew it was a company that shared her values and passion for helping children and families. Ms. Rhodes absolutely loves the children and the team that she works with. She is motivated to help children and families improve the quality of their everyday lives!

Program Managers

Program Managers assist Program Directors in the management of their clients cases. Depending on the needs of the client, Program Managers may assist with case initiation, parent education and training, assessment and data collection/analysis, program modifications, and training and support for Lead Instructors, Instructors, and Trainees. Program Managers also provide direct intervention for their clients in the home, school, and community settings. All Program Managers hold masters degrees in psychology and/or applied behavior analysis and are Board Certified Behavior Analysts or are in the process of completing their certification as Board Certified Behavior Analysts.

Estefani Barba

Charlotte Cropper

Samantha Hightower, M.Ed.

Samantha Hightower earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies with a Minor in Art, from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2013. She has earned a Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction in Applied Behavior Analysis, from Arizona State University. 

While working towards her Bachelor’s degree, Mrs. Hightower worked 1:1 with students, which helped her to realize her passion for working with children with disabilities. After graduating from NDNU, Mrs. Hightower discovered FirstSteps for Kids and was hired as an Instructor. In 2014, she was promoted to a Lead Instructor where she gained more experience and became more inspired by her colleagues. Now, as a Program Manager, she enjoys collaborating with the Program Directors to provide the most effective treatment. Samantha’s area of interest includes adaptive behavior, executive functioning, and social skills training.

Ms. Hightower feels lucky to have coworkers who share the same passion and values. She loves working in the field of ABA and feels right at home at FirstSteps.

Caitlin Wineman

Lead Instructors

FirstSteps Lead Instructors provide one-to-one behavior intervention services with your child in the home, school, and community settings. They also manage your child's treatment program and team, while supporting the Program Director and Program Manager.

Lead Instructors - Contra Costa

Jenna Aita Danielle La Torre
Leah Baranouskas Cristina Medina
Jennifer Bews Kim O'Neill
Anderian Carbonel Ma Karel Uson
Paige Cruz Alville Vertudez
Danielle Ford  

Director of Training & Employee Development

Our Director of Training & Employee Development, Ms. Demi Contreras, epitomizes the heart and enthusiasm of our FirstSteps' clinical team. She is responsible for overseeing our FirstSteps Training Department and ensuring our Training Managers provide exceptional coaching and support to our new staff. Ms. Contreras personally guarantees that each clinical team member shares our FirstSteps values and mission to provide our clients with state of the art treatment and a brighter future.

Demetria Contreras, BCaBA

Demetria Contreras

Demetria Contreras began her career in the field of Behavior Analysis in 2001 after learning of her godson's diagnosis of Autism. Refusing to believe his doctors who explained that her godson would likely not talk or have friends, she researched the treatment options available at the time. She quickly determined that ABA was the only empirically validated and effective intervention and committed herself to becoming an expert. From 2001 through 2005, Demi worked as a senior therapeutic instructor, providing hundreds of hours of both direct intervention and parent training to families with children diagnosed with Autism.

In 2005, Ms. Contreras joined our FirstSteps team as a Lead Instructor. Not only did she work with countless FirstSteps children and families, she also partnered with other FirstSteps Program Directors and dedicated herself to recruiting, training, and assembling bilingual therapy teams with the mission to bring ABA services to non-English speaking families.

In 2006, Ms. Contreras was promoted to the position of Director of Training & Employee Development. In this capacity, Ms. Contreras continues to work directly with FirstSteps children and families while also leading the Training Department to training and providing ongoing support to our new instructors, ensuring they perfect their instructional technique and meet the specific needs of our children.

Ms. Contreras has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from California State University, Los Angeles and has also earned her certification as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA).

Regional Training Manager

Our Regional Training Manager, Ms. Amanda Balady, is responsible for recruiting, screening, hiring, and training our new clinical team members. She is directly involved with each FirstSteps child's treatment plan and is able to effectively coach our staff and maximize treatment integrity. As a FirstSteps family, you will see her regularly as she "pops-in" to observe your child's sessions, provide feedback, and test your child's skills and generalization of skills across instructors.

Amanda Balady, BCaBA