MELINDA AHARONI, M.S., OTR/L
Clinical Director, Co-Owner
Mindy is a certified and licensed occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience. She received her post professional Master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a certified early intervention provider and evaluator for the state of Illinois.
Mindy has worked with infants through young adults in a variety of settings including hospital based outpatient programs, schools, the Illinois Early Intervention System and private clinical settings. Mindy’s commitment to providing the most effective treatment for children inspired her to form Kick Start. She currently lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three teenage children, and two dogs.
Mindy is SIPT® certified, has a certificate in DIR®/Floortime®,is a Certified Educator of Infant Massage through IMUSA, and has received extensive training in supplemental treatment approaches including NDT®, TAMO®, SOS®, Sensory Integration, Beckman Oral Motor Assessment and Intervention, Therapeutic Taping and a variety of listening programs including Therapeutic Listening®, Samonas®, AIT®, and Integrated Listening Systems®.
She has extensive experience treating children with a variety of diagnoses and working as part of a multi-disciplinary team developing comprehensive treatment programs integrating the family’s priorities with the identified developmental needs of the child.
ESTHER WEISZ, M.S., OTR/L
Clinical Director, Co-Owner
Esther is a certified and licensed occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience. She received her Master’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
She is a certified early intervention evaluator and provider for the state of Illinois. Esther has worked with infants through school aged children in a variety of settings including hospital inpatient and outpatient, the Illinois Early Intervention System, schools and private clinics. The formation of Kick Start is the realization of a dream to provide the highest quality, innovative treatment to children, and continued education and training for therapists. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and three children.
Esther is SIPT® certified and has received extensive training in many treatment approaches including DIR®/Floortime®, NDT®, Therapeutic Listening®, Kinesio-taping, and Sensory Integration. She has experience working with children with a variety of diagnoses as well as working closely with parents to assess and develop treatment strategies to help regulate their children and increase functional performance. Esther has worked intensely over the years collaborating with outside team members and as part of in house multi-disciplinary teams to ensure comprehensive treatment planning for her clients and families.
AMANDA DEANGELES, M.S., DT
Preschool Program Director
Amanda holds a Master’s of science degree in early childhood education from the Erikson Institute in Chicago and has an Illinois Professional Educator License for teaching endorsed in early childhood education with special education approval. She is also a credentialed Developmental Therapist in the state of Illinois.
Amanda has over seven years of clinical experience including that of leading therapeutic preschool and transitional kindergarten programs as well as in home and community schools. Amanda has completed trainings in the the DIR/Floortime methodology through ICDL and the Profectum Academy which is reflected in her philosophy of teaching and practice. Amanda believes in a developmentally appropriate approach to learning including differentiation of instruction, accounting for individual profiles, and collaborating with therapists for a team approach. Amanda also believes it’s the “process not that product” to promote meaningful and engaging experiences for each kiddo.
Amanda is excited to be a part of such a knowledgeable, dedicated team at Kickstart! In addition to offering 1:1 Developmental Therapy, she also leads our Therapeutic Preschool programming and many of our Social Groups. In her free time, Amanda enjoys traveling and spending time at home with her five chickens!
ERIKA LARSON, M.ED., DT
Clinical Director, Co-Owner
Erika Larson, holds a Master’s degree in Special Education, a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Theatre Studies and is a Developmental Therapist.
She has an advanced certificate in DIR/Floortime, is a Certified PLAY Project Consultant In Training. Erika has co-founded the National Pediatric Developmental Differences Forum. She has been working with families for the past 20 years and is often asked to consult with parents around the topics of development, education and best parenting practices. She specializes in helping children on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, developmental delays and general anxiety and depression.
Also a mom of two precocious boys, Erika is a true “problem solver” and adores helping parents find solutions so that “every day can be a good day.” Originally trained as an actor, Erika has taken her passion for performing and transformed it into a passion for play. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, gardening, tending for 2 dogs and 6 chickens, and killing it at karaoke.
ALISON KLEIMAN, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Alison is a certified and licensed speech and language pathologist. She received her Master's degree in Speech, Language and Learning from Northwestern University and her Bachelor's degree from Washington University in St. Louis in Psychology, Spanish, and Children's Studies.
Alison has experience working with children from preschool age to high school, in both clinical and school settings. She has worked with children with complex challenges in sensory and emotional regulation. Her areas of interest include Autism Spectrum Disorders, receptive and expressive language, articulation and phonology, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, and social-pragmatic communication. Alison is passionate about partnering with families, educators, and other therapists to best support a child's strengths and challenges. She believes in learning through play and in building relationships by joining children in their interests. She loves to have fun and be creative in therapy.
In her free time, Alison enjoys doing yoga, reading, and spending time with her family in Deerfield.
CLARE WALSH, M.S., OTR/L
Clare is a certified licensed occupational therapist in the state of Illinois. She received her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Rush University, and her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Loyola University Chicago.
She has extensive experience working with the pediatric population in a clinic and therapeutic school environment as well as early intervention and school-based settings. She has worked with children aged 2 to 10 in addition to young adults with a variety of developmental differences including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down’s Syndrome, dyspraxia, feeding disorders, genetic disorders, and social emotional challenges. Her interests include Sensory Integration, reflex integration, Handwriting Without Tears, DIR/Floortime, and feeding therapy. Clare is passionate about helping children reach their full potential and supporting their confidence in their natural contexts. She enjoys discovering what motivates each child and finding innovative ways to support their participation in meaningful play, peer relationships, and functional activities. She believes that a fun, inter professional, and family-centered environment can best promote volition and growth in each child’s development.
Clare is excited to be a part of the Kick Start team and support children in both 1:1 and group environments. In her free time, Clare enjoys riding her bike, spending time with family and friends, and outdoor adventures.
NATALIE NOTARO, B.S., DT
Natalie has a Bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Science from Illinois State University. Natalie is trained in the Handle with Care Program, Developmental Assessment of Young Children (DAYC) and Screening Tool for Autism in toddlers (STAT). She is also a credentialed Developmental Therapist in the state of Illinois.
Natalie’s career focus has been on working with toddlers, school-aged children, and young adults. She has experience working in a pediatric clinic, in-home therapy, and a preschool setting. Her areas of interest include Sensory Integration, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, and Social Emotional challenges. Natalie is passionate about establishing relationships with children and their families to help support their strengths and challenges. Natalie enjoys integrating skills through a play-based, child-directed approach, while creating a fun and creative environment.
In her free time, Natalie likes to travel, spend time with her friends and family and explore the outdoors.
MARI PAGONE, M.A., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Mari Pagone M.A. CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist, and Mom of three children living in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She has worked with children and families impacted by Autism, ADHD and learning challenges for over 20 years. As a DIR certified play therapist, she has shared her passion for learning through guided play as a guest lecturer at Northwestern University, editor of the Affect Based Language Curriculum, President of the Alliance for Early Childhood, consultant to local school districts and as an advocate for her clients.
NEHAMA MORTON, MSW, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Nehama Morton is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with over 20 years of experience as a therapist working with children and adolescents. She was born and raised in Israel and has been living in Evanston for the past 25 years with her husband and three grown children. She earned a BSW from the Jane Addams School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a MSW from Loyola University. She received additional training in the Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model (DIR®) and earned a coaching certification in CTI Coaching.
Her career focus has been on children, young adults, and their parents who were struggling with variety of issues. In her practice, she has helped children and families deal with emotional difficulties, ADD/ADHD, executive function management, and other cognitive disabilities and behavioral issues. She has practiced in a pediatric occupational clinic and has used the DIR® model with at-risk youth and adolescents. Her specialty is working closely with the parents and teachers of children on the autism spectrum. Nehama's extensive experience with high risk adolescents in school settings, clinics, and private practice led her to co-found Our House, a group home for homeless youth in Evanston. She is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Social Work at Northeastern Illinois University.
Nehama's work is grounded in her belief that the therapist's job is to support parents and children with effective tools so that together they can live healthy and productive lives.
PAMELA BAYLOR, M.S, OTR/L
Pamela is a certified and licensed occupational therapist with experience in a variety of settings including hospital inpatient/outpatient, orthopedic rehabilitation, and pediatrics.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology with a focus in Sports Medicine at the University of Virginia. She then returned to school to receive her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at Chicago State University.
Pamela has worked with children of all ages and diagnoses, and enjoys using play as a way to both implement treatment and connect with the child.
In her free time, Pamela enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, staying active, and discovering new restaurants.
CARLEIGH VANDETTA-SMITHERMAN, OTD, OTR/L, M.A.
Carleigh is a registered and licensed occupational therapist in the state of Illinois. She received her Doctoral Degree in Occupational Therapy and Master’s Degree in Medical Anthropology from Creighton University and her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She has experience in working with children with social/emotional difficulties; sensory processing disorder; Autism Spectrum Disorder; intellectual disability; Down’s Syndrome and other trisomy conditions. She is passionate about working with children of all ages and their families in efforts to achieve an improved quality of life through a play-based and child-led approach. She has taken continuing education courses focusing on sensory integration, DIR®, and Trauma-Informed Care and utilizes this information to help guide her therapeutic approach in working with each of her kiddos and their families.
KATHY LORD, OTR/L, HOLISTIC NUTRITION
Kathleen (Kathy) Lord is an occupational therapist with over 30 years of clinical experience, and a holistic nutritionist, blending the two specialty fields in the treatment of children with developmental differences. (A very recent addition to Kick Start,) she is a California native and has previously worked in rehabilitation settings, state and county programs, NICU, school-based settings, and private home-based services throughout her career, which has also included Hippotherapy.
Kathy’s clinical specialties include Sensory Processing, Vision Processing, D.I.R./Floortime, Infant Massage, Therapeutic Listening/Integrated Listening Systems (iLs), Safe and Sound Protocol, Interactive Metronome -Clinic and Home-based, Yoga for kids, Kinesio-taping, Brain Gym, Oral-Motor-Feeding, S.O.S. Approach to Feeding, Pediatric Weight Loss and Nutritional Consultations.
SHAYNA BRICKMAN, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Shayna is a Speech Language Pathologist who received her Master's degree in Speech, Language and Learning from Northwestern University and her Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Linguistics from the University of Michigan.
Shayna has experience working with children ages 2 to 15, in both clinical and school settings. Her areas of interest include autism spectrum disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, social-pragmatic communication, receptive and expressive language, articulation/phonology, and augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Shayna is passionate about working as a team player with families, clients, and other providers to best support a child's growth. Shayna believes in utilizing a holistic approach in order to help her clients reach their full potential and become successful in achieving their goals.
In her free time, Shayna enjoys baking desserts, going to fitness classes, and spending time with her friends and family.
SEEMA CHOUDHURY, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Seema is a licensed speech-language pathologist who received her Master of Science in Speech, Language, and Learning from Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science in Speech & Hearing Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
She has experience with working with children with receptive and expressive language disorder, articulation and phonological processing disorders, autism, apraxia, alternative and augmentative communication devices, pragmatic language disorders, and pre-literacy concerns. She also has experience in working within a multidisciplinary team and passionately believes in working with different professionals and parents to provide individualized, holistic care to maximize a child’s growth. Outside of work, Seema enjoys trying out new restaurants, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and cooking and baking.
RAYLI KANTER, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist
Rayli is a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and is a certified member in the American Speech-Hearing Association. She received her Master’s degree in Speech and Language from Lehman College and her Bachelor’s degree in Speech-Language and Audiology from Stern College in New York.
Rayli has experience working with children from early intervention through high school in clinics, schools, and in home settings. Her areas of interest include working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Receptive and Expressive language disorders, and social-pragmatic communication. She has training in the PROMPT method.
In her free time, Rayli enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with her family.
BECCA SCHUMM, B.S.
Becca is a Lead Therapist in the Best Buds preschool program and has worked at Kick Start since the summer of 2019. She recently graduated with a double major in Human Development and Psychological Services (HDPS) and Psychology (with a European history minor!) from Northwestern University. Becca is planning on going to graduate school in the future, but she is still figuring out exactly what program she would like to do. She is really interested in the behavioral and social-emotional aspects of development. She has absolutely loved working at Kick Start and watching the progress of each child. In her free time, Becca--a life long swimmer and water polo player--can usually be found near water or enjoying time with her family and friends.
LEA DUGAN, MSW, LSW
Lea Dugan, MSW, LSW is a social work graduate from Erikson Institute.
Prior to pursuing her Master's degree, Lea worked for twenty years as an early childhood teacher, working with children, families and communities in preschools, daycares and in her own afterschool and summer social skills' groups. Lea developed a culturally sensitive approach, as she worked around the world in Argentina, Israel and the United States.
Lea is excited to be joining KickStart as a full time pediatric social worker. She is working with children and families individually, and with the morning and afternoon therapeutic groups.
LAUREN SHIP, M.S., OTR/L
Lauren is a registered and licensed Occupational Therapist in the state of Illinois. She received her Master's degree in Occupational Therapy at Concordia University Wisconsin and her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Bradley University.
Lauren has experience working with children of all ages and a variety of diagnoses in school and clinical settings. Her goal is to put a smile on a child's face while helping him or her become independent and successful in necessary and meaningful occupations. She loves collaborating with a multidisciplinary team including families to help the child achieve his or her goals. Lauren believes in the importance of using child-led and play-based approach during therapy.
In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, traveling, and baking.
Group Lead Therapist
Anne has been working with children in many different settings for sixteen years. She has extensive experience working with Autism Spectrum Disorder having worked in a Therapeutic Day School for the last nine years.
Anne embraces the DIR model bringing a relationship based approach to her clients. Anne believes that utilizing play along with regulation and engagement is key to a successful therapeutic process.
In her free time Anne enjoys spending time with her family, playing with her two dogs, traveling, and golf.