West Los Angeles

Regional Clinic Director

Your Regional Clinic Director 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.

Vanessa Chapman, M.S., BCBA

Vanessa Chapman

Ms. Chapman became passionate about helping individuals with Autism during her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she graduated with degrees in Psychology and Italian Studies. After developing a friendship with a man with Autism, she learned of Applied Behavior Analysis and the dramatic and positive effects it has in so many peoples’ lives. This combined with experience working with children with disabilities in the home, school, and community settings, led Ms. Chapman to enter a program at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where she received a Master of Science degree in Counseling, with an emphasis in Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis. During her studies, Ms. Chapman’s particular areas of interest included research-based educational methods, self-monitoring, and early intervention.  

Since joining the FirstSteps family, in addition to her role as Regional Clinic Director in the West Los Angeles office where she seeks to support a talented, dedicated, and passionate clinical team, she also represents FirstSteps as the designated Privacy Officer. In this role Ms. Chapman helps to ensure that all clients rest easy knowing their privacy and security are protected. Additionally, Ms. Chapman is interested in how technology can improve ABA treatment. Therefore she is exploring ways for our teams to collect digital data in the field, is working on research supporting electronic communication devices, and would like to see increased use of technology during treatment sessions to improve generalization.

Ms. Chapman has been fortunate to be a part of the FirstSteps family for the better part of a decade. She comes to work every day knowing there is no other organization in this field or otherwise that she would rather represent. She believes that at every level of the organization the clinicians and administrative personnel demonstrate a passion and excellence that is unparalleled. It is due to this that she has seen each of the children the team has worked with improve both in small daily steps and larger leaps over time, enabling a future with open doors and endless possibilities for both individuals and families. 

Program Directors

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.

Emily Falkenstein, M.A., BCBA

Emily Falkenstein

Ms. Falkenstein received an Associate of Arts from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2004, winning the Speech and Dialect award at graduation. Her mastery of the phonetic alphabet has been an asset when helping children learn to articulate sounds and develop clarity in speech. Ms. Falkenstein earned a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Chapman University in 2010, with an emphasis in Humanities. She then decided to focus her time on the science of behavior, earning a Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis from Ball State University in 2013. After attending a 2012 Stanford University sponsored conference called "The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions," Ms. Falkenstein began researching how science is investigating empathy. This inspired her Master's thesis entitled, "Examining Neurons and Tears: The Significance of Including an Empathy Component When Developing an Autism Treatment Plan." She presented her work in 2013 at the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) in Merida, Mexico, in a symposium chaired by Dr. Ira Heilveil of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.

Her passion for theater arts enriched her ideas when she designed activities for a play and social skills group at a Los Angeles based program. As the program director, she developed a curriculum with the goal of creating engaging and collaborative activities for children with autism, with an additional goal of teaching parents how to use the same activities at home during play dates.

Ms. Falkenstein has experience working with children ages 3 to 14 years old with varying needs. She has enjoyed working closely with families to develop meaningful goals including the elimination of physical aggression, teaching effective communication, and increasing prosocial behavior.

Ms. Falkenstein is delighted to be a part of FirstSteps where she has found a team dedicated to providing high quality treatment and compassion for families and children.

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 is excited to join the First Steps team and looks forward to continuing to learn more about advances within the field of ABA. She is passionate about sharing compassion and commitment to high quality treatment with every child she works with and providing support for their families.

Nicole Carson, M.A., BCBA

Always having a profound love for working with children, Nicole Carson received her BA in Elementary Education, with a minor in Psychology from the University of Arizona. Eager to continue her education, Ms. Carson attended Pepperdine University where she obtained her Master of Arts in Education and Psychology. During this time, Ms. Carson 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. Carson was introduced to the field of Applied behavior Analysis, leading her to join the FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. team as an instructor and shortly after advancing to a lead instructor. Now as a Program Manager at FirstSteps, she provides behavior therapy in both the home and school setting, aids with parent training, supports managing clinical teams, and assists with the creation and development of individualized programs for clients.

Ms. Carson finds her experience as a Program Manager to be both inspiring and rewarding. She loves watching children show continuous growth as they surpass skill deficits and reduce behavioral excesses. Ms. Carson also enjoys implementing exciting and challenging programs to help make learning more exciting and positive. 

Taylor Brady, M.Ed., BCBA

Taylor Brady

Ms. Brady began working with children with autism while in high school as a private ABA instructor. However most of her experience has been in Early Intervention Services as a Developmental Therapist and Behavioral Consultant focusing on parent and new staff training along with providing one-on-one intervention. Ms. Brady received her Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in which she focused on child development and behavioral disorders.

Ms. Brady just recently completed her Masters degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Vanderbilt she was a research assistant working on two different federally funded grant projects by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). One was with Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism (CSESA) collaborating with Tennessee high schools to develop, implement, and evaluate socially focused interventions to promote social success and foster connections with peers. The other was to create resources about evidence-based practices, developed to address instructional and classroom issues for young preschool aged children up through students in high school for the IRIS Center. She also completed two separate ABA internships with the Division of Developmental Medicine at the Children’s Hospital and the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) Behavior Analysis Clinic while at Vanderbilt.

Ms. Brady has worked with children diagnosed with autism as well as children diagnosed with a variety of delays and disabilities for the past 13 years in Nevada and Tennessee. Ms. Brady is passionate about enhancing quality of life through functional skill building of those who have been impacted by delays and disabilities and is thrilled to be a part of the First Steps team here in West Los Angeles.

Cristin Peiffer, M.S., BCBA

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.

Elia Lonestar

Elia Lonestar graduated Cum Laude from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. During her years as an undergraduate, she split her time between research in the Psychology Department and tutoring at a local elementary school. This allowed her to simultaneously nurture her passion for research and love for working with kids. During this time she worked to tailor her teaching style to each child’s individual learning needs, a skill that would set the foundation for a career in ABA therapy.

In 2013, Ms. Lonestar began providing 1:1 behavior therapy to clients in the home, school, clinic, & community setting for FirstSteps for Kids, Inc. in the South Bay and West Los Angeles. Her mentors and clients at FirstSteps inspired her to pursue a career in ABA. In December 2016, Elia graduated from Arizona State University with a Masters of Education in Applied Behavior of Analysis. In addition to providing behavior intervention services to clients, Ms. Lonestar currently manages several treatment programs and clinical teams under the supervision of Program Directors. Her time at FirstSteps has helped foster a team-focused approach when collaborating with families, teachers, and other specialists to ensure effective treatment for every child. Ms. Lonestar’s research interests continue to inspire her clinical work. She hopes to apply new, empirically-based research findings to the behavioral strategies and social skills training she uses on a daily basis. This Spring, she plans to sit for the BCBA exam and become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Veronica Simonton, M.Ed.

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!

Barbara Black, M.A.

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 - West Los Angeles

Tina Aslmand Juliet Bertolucci
Vincent Campbell Sonia Damberg
Taylor Dube Sarah Fukui
Aisha Garcia Ana Grinfeld
Jasmine Humes Megan Hunt
Megan LaVal Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Min Marivel Ramos
Noah Rudin Tianna Sellmeyer
Therese Vesagas  

Director of Training & Employee Development

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 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!