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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, 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 completed 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. Buchanan 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.

Charlotte Cropper, M.S., BCBA

Charlotte Cropper

In 2012, Ms. Cropper graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She always knew she wanted to work with kids so in 2013 when she came across the job opportunity with FirstSteps For Kids, she knew it was the perfect opportunity. Being a part of the FirstSteps team has taught her so much and aided in her growth as a clinician and as an individual.

After a year of hard work, she was promoted to lead instructor and the work within this position solidified her love for ABA and the kiddos she worked with. In 2016 she applied and was accepted in to the Master's Program for Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and was promoted to Program Manager. She graduated with her Master's of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2018 and shortly after passed exam to become a BCBA. Now a Program Director, she gets to utilize all of her training and experience to better the lives of her client's and their families.

Her passion is collaborating with her client's families and other professionals to develop a clinically strong and effective treatment plan that works for all individuals involved. She believes that supporting the needs of those caring for her client is just as important as supporting the needs of her clients for success.

Samantha Hightower, M.Ed., BCBA

Samantha Hightower

Samantha Hightower earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies with a Minor in Art, from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2013 and earned her Master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction in Applied Behavior Analysis, from Arizona State University in 2018.

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, Samantha 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. In 2016, Samantha became a Program Manager where she collaborated with the Program Directors to provide the most effective treatment. She was then promoted to a Program Director once she obtained her BCBA certificate in 2019.

Currently, Mrs. Hightower's focus is on her caseload and continuing her professional growth. Samantha has experience in both home, community, and school-based services. She enjoys collaborating with families and school staff to promote independence with each client.
Mrs. Hightower feels lucky to have colleagues who share the same passion and values. She loves working in the field of ABA, and feels right at home at FirstSteps.

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.

Caitlin Wineman, M.Ed., BCBA

Caitlin Wineman earned her B.A. in Psychology from UCLA in 2013, and earned her Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University in 2018.

With seven younger cousins, Ms. Wineman has always loved working with and being around kids. In college, she worked at UCLA's Intensive Outpatient Center for OCD and related disorders, which solidified her interests in working with people with disabilities. After graduation, she moved back home, and was thrilled to be hired by FirstSteps for Kids as an instructor, merging two of her interests. In 2014, she became a Lead Instructor, and began considering a long career in ABA. In early 2017, she began her Master's degree coursework as a Program Manager, and worked closely with Program Directors, learning and growing as a clinician under the guidance of her mentors. At the end of 2018, she became a BCBA, and was promoted to Program Director in early 2019.

Ms. Wineman's interests in the field of ABA include Executive Functioning and Perspective Taking, as well as supporting her client's parents in implementing the techniques of ABA outside of direct sessions. She feels so fortunate to work and collaborate with an amazing group of clinicians, and looks forward to continuing to learn and grow at FirstSteps!

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.

Jenna Aita

Estefani Barba, M.Ed.

Estefani Barba

Estefani Barba graduated from Sonoma State University with a Bachelor's of Arts in Chicano and Latino Studies and Spanish in 2013. Five years later she earned her Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University.

In the fall of 2014, Estefani was hired as a Therapeutic Instructor at FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. (FSFK). With little experience entering the field, FSFK prepared Estefani with in-depth theoretical and in-field training. The moment she step foot into the field, she knew she had found her calling. Through FSFK she has been able to serve children with Autism and related developmental and behavioral disorders. As a Program Manager she has the opportunity to assist Program Directors and Regional Program Directors in clinical, supervisory, and case management aspects of service delivery for children. Estefani also assists in providing incoming instructors, parents/guardians, and school staff training in interventions and procedures prescribed for clients. She has been able to obtain her Registered Behavior Technician certificate and is working towards her BCBA.

Through FSFK she hopes to continue enhancing her knowledge of applied behavior analysis and collaboration with others. She is a true believer in that it takes a village to raise a child and every child should receive the most effective treatment and support from those surrounding them!

Alyssa Di Dio

Danielle La Torre

Kim O'Neill

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, B.A., 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, B.A., BCaBA

Amanda Balady

In 2013, Amanda Balady earned her Bachelor's degree in psychology, with a minor in Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences, at Boston University. Shortly after graduating, she learned of an opportunity at FirstSteps for Kids. Having been devoted to children since she was young, she eagerly accepted the opportunity.

In her work as a behavior technician, she found behavior analysis to be a perfect blend of creativity, fun, and data-driven success for her clients. Moreover, she found the integrity of FirstSteps to be in line with her personal values in providing children with the opportunity to achieve their greatest outcomes. She promoted to lead behavior technician the following year, and then moved into the Training department in 2015, where she is now the Regional Training Manager of the Contra Costa office. That same year, she began her BCaBA coursework at Florida Institute of Technology, and earned her BCaBA credential in early 2017. She is also a certified instructor in CPI's Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, equipping staff with effective strategies for defusing crisis situations when they occur.

When not hiring and training Registered Behavior Technicians, Amanda enjoys hiking with her husband and their two little fur-children.