West Los Angeles
Regional Clinic Director
Your Regional Clinic Director, Nicole Carson Barnes, 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.
Nicole Carson Barnes, M.A., BCBA
Always having a profound love for working with children, Nicole Barnes received her BA in Elementary Education, with a minor in Psychology from the University of Arizona. Eager to continue her education, Ms. Barnes attended Pepperdine University where she obtained her Master of Arts in Education and Psychology. During this time, Ms. Barnes worked as a substitute teacher and was placed in a special day classroom, where she discovered her passion for working with children with special needs. It was here that Ms. Barnes was introduced to the field of Applied behavior Analysis, leading her to join Firststeps for Kids which she has been a part of since 2010. In her time at FirstSteps, Ms. Barnes has spent time as an instructor, lead instructor, Program Manager, and Program Director where she gained experience with providing and supervising comprehensive ABA programs, conducing assessments, and collaborating with other clinicians and service providers.
Ms. Barnes is excited to continue her experience with FirstSteps as Regional Clinic Director in West Los Angeles. She is eager to continue her work with her team in WLA to provide meaningful, effective, and individualized treatment for many more families to come!
FirstSteps is committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for the children and families we serve. Essential to this goal is effective and ongoing program supervision provided by our Program Directors. At FirstSteps, all Program Directors have a minimum of a Master's Degree AND are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), with at least 5 years of behavior analytic experience with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
As a client of FirstSteps, your child has a designated Program Director who is responsible for developing his or her individualized Treatment Plan which includes establishing clearly defined, objective, measurable, and appropriate treatment goals and ensuring you and your child's clinical team are prepared and able to implement the plan successfully. Your Program Director will educate and support your family in the Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, therapeutic targets and strategies, and behavior management techniques to ensure proper generalization of treatment effects outside of the structured therapy setting. To further support your child's learning and generalization, consultation and collaboration with your child's school teachers and other service providers will be provided by your Program Director on an ongoing and regular basis.
Your Program Director is dedicated to ensuring your child's success as well as supporting you and your family along the way. Please feel free to contact your Program Director at any time with questions or concerns.
Amanda Chastain, M.A., BCBA
Amanda Chastain began her journey in Behavior Analysis in 2010 while working on her undergraduate degree in Psychology at California State University, Sacramento. After discovering the field, Ms. Chastain began working with kids with autism and other pervasive developmental disabilities in 2011 and quickly fell in love with every single kid she worked with.
In addition to falling in love with the job (which has always felt more like a hobby to her), Ms. Chastain’s passion for the science grew after seeing the positive impact it had on the families that she worked with. She began working in the Verbal Behavior Research Lab at California State University, Sacramento where she also attended graduate school. Under the supervision of Dr. Caio Miguel, BCBA-D, Ms. Chastain studied complex human behavior (stimulus equivalence), verbal behavior, motivating operations, and teaching procedures for skill acquisition. During her time at California State University, Sacramento, Ms. Chastain won the B.F. Skinner Research Award from the California Association for Behavior Analysis and placed second in a student research grant competition from the Association for Applied Behavior Analysis Verbal Behavior Special Interest Group (VB-SIG) in 2017. Additionally, Ms. Chastain has presented her work at a number of conferences for behavior analysts. She received her Masters of Art in Psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2018, and received her BCBA shortly after.
After completing this exciting chapter, Ms. Chastain moved to Los Angeles to follow her interest in complex human behavior and Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT). She currently volunteers in a research lab at the University of Southern California where she works closely with FirstSteps Director of Research, Dr. Jonathan Tarbox. Ms. Chastain was excited to join our FirstSteps family as a Program Director in May 2019. She still falls in love with every single kiddo that she has the opportunity to work with, and loves to watch the kids and team members learn and grow.
Erica Christin, M.S., BCBA
Erica Christin has been working in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 2008. Ms. Christin has always had a passion for working with children and assisting children in reaching their full potential. Ms. Christin graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Art in psychology and a concentration in ABA. During her time at Binghamton University, Ms. Christin interned on campus at the Institute for Child Development under the supervision of Dr. Raymond Romanczyk. Upon finishing her BA, Ms. Christin knew right away she wanted to continue to learn more about the field of ABA and evidence based practices to help children with autism. She pursued her Masters of Science degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Simmons College. During her masters program, Ms. Christin was a lead therapist at Nashoba Learning Group, a renowned school in Massachusetts for children with autism.
Following her Masters degree, Ms. Christin relocated to CA where she began working as a supervisor at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. There she gained extensive training and experience working with children in the home environment and providing parent training.
Ms. Christin joined the FirstSteps team in 2015, and has loved every moment! She is thrilled to be working with such a supportive, and intelligent group of people who all share the same values. She loves the opportunity to work with so many amazing children, staff, and families, and to see the incredible outcome of hard work and dedication.
Elizabeth Garcia, M.S., BCBA
Cristin Peiffer, M.S., BCBA
Ms. Peiffer has a lifelong love of learning and has always found immense gratification in teaching and helping others. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Film Studies and worked in film and television production before deciding to leave the entertainment industry to pursue her passion.
Ms. Peiffer began working as an ABA instructor 10 years ago, while pursuing her graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University, Northridge. Ms. Peiffer’s graduate studies focused on improving the quality of life for families of children with autism. While working as a direct instructor at the Lovaas Institute, she fell in love with ABA and the profound difference it made in the lives of her clients and their families. She then decided to take the steps to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and became a Clinical Supervisor in 2012.
Ms. Peiffer joined the FirstSteps family in January 2017 and is thrilled to be in the company of such talented and devoted clinicians. She thrives in the world of data-driven science and finds fulfillment through the personal connections she makes with her clients, families, and colleagues. Ms. Peiffer strives to cultivate autonomy, joy and meaningful relationships in the lives of her clients, ensuring every individual is given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Veronica Simonton, M.Ed., BCBA
Veronica Simonton arrived at FirstSteps in 2011 as an Instructor. Within a year and a half, she was promoted to the Lead Instructor position and is now training at the Program Manager, Level 3 position and studying to become a BCBA. After graduating from the University of Southern California, it did not take Ms. Simonton long to find her passion in early intervention. With a minor degree in Occupational Sciences, Ms. Simonton began volunteering in an Occupational Therapy clinic in Woodland Hills, CA. Shortly thereafter, she began working with children with special needs doing floortime therapy.
Prior to finding her niche in early intervention, Ms. Simonton spent the majority of her life involved in soccer. At USC, she played on the women’s soccer team as a three-year starter and can be found in the school’s record books. As a NCAA, Division 1 athlete, she was pushed to her limits physically and mentally to perform at her highest potential. Ms. Simonton can always find a way to relate her experiences as a college athlete to her experiences at FirstSteps for Kids. Her ability to push herself to improve as an athlete directly correlates to her drive to constantly become a better leader, interventionist, and program manager at FSFK.
After practicing floor time for three years, Ms. Simonton became drawn to the evidence-based model of Applied Behavior Analysis that FirstSteps exercises at the highest quality. She recently completed her Master’s in Education with an emphasis on ABA from Arizona State University and will sit for her exam to become a licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst in May 2017. Ms. Simonton loves working at FirstSteps! Her dedication to her clients and their families is something she takes the utmost pride in, emulating what FirstSteps is all about!
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.
Megan LaVal, BCaBA
Megan received her BA in Interpersonal Communication from Pepperdine University. Upon graduating, Megan was introduced to the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and always having loved working with people, began working at FirstSteps for Kids as an Instructor in 2014. Within 6 months, she began training as a Lead Instructor. It was then that Megan decided to pursue her Masters of Science degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She finished classes in December 2017, conducted her thesis research, completed her supervision hours, and began training at the Program Manager, Level 3 position. Megan received her BCaBa in February 2019 and is planning to sit for the BCBA exam in the near future. She continues to love learning and working at First Steps with all of the wonderful children, families, and staff.
Director of Training & Employee Development
Demetria Contreras, B.A., BCaBA
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 West Los Angeles Regional Training Manager, Lauren Taylor, 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.
Lauren Taylor, BCaBA
Lauren Taylor received her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from the University of Southern California. During her time at USC, she coached the Westside Special Olympic Gymnastics team. After college, she moved to Chicago, where she was a founding member of the House Theatre of Chicago. In addition to acting, she also worked with children teaching community building through theatre and as a learning assistant at the British School of Chicago.
In 2010, Ms. Taylor moved back to Los Angeles and started coaching gymnastics to children with special needs. Her work at the gym led her to the empirically based practices of Applied Behavior Analysis. In 2013, she joined FirstSteps with a passion for both practicing and learning more about ABA. In her journey as an Instructor, Lead Instructor and Program Manager for FirstSteps, she enjoyed increased opportunities to teach new instructors how to build play skill repertoires, implement parent training, and to facilitate center based sessions. She obtained her BCaBA and joined the training team in Fall 2016 and loves sharing her knowledge with new Instructors!
When not training for FirstSteps, Lauren enjoys spending time with her husband and son. They love hiking, traveling, and enjoying all of the many perks living in California has to offer!