Meet our team: Hala Nasser M.Ed., BCBA

Hala is currently one of our BCBAs at BLOCS, we wanted to give you all a better idea of why we love having her around so much!

Give us a little background information about yourself…“I am originally from Houston and moved to Austin in 2002 for school. I graduated from the University of Texas Austin with a degree in Special Education in 2006 and immediately worked afterwards as a teacher for children with Autism in Pflugerville ISD.  There I was able to implement an infusion of ABA strategies to help children learn functional skills, access their curriculum, and promote inclusion. My teaching experience fueled my desire to further my knowledge in the field and I entered into the Special Education Graduate program specializing in Autism and Developmental Disabilities. I graduated in 2011 and became a BCBA.”

What brought you into this field? “Two experiences pulled me like a magnet to the field of autism.  This first was my experience working with a child with autism at a summer camp when I was 15 years old.  I did not know much about the disability. The second was as an undergraduate during my teaching practicum.  I had decided to pursue becoming a resource teacher until I worked in a classroom designed for children with autism.  The program facilitated small group and 1:1 time to teach social and communication skills for part of the day and provided inclusion support for the children to generalize their skills into the mainstream classroom.  IT was my first experience seeing ABA in action and I immediately fell in love with the children and implementing the program.”

What are some favorite parts about your job? “One of my favorite parts of this job is not only providing children with the tools they need to communicate and utilize language effectively but also learning each child’s unique talent and skill.  I love being able to capitalize on a child’s unique abilities to help them shine. Another part of this job I adore is working directly with families.  This was something I was not able to spend enough time doing.”

What are a couple interesting facts about yourself? “My second passion is fitness.  I teach fitness classes on the side and participate in CrossFit inspired classes.  I can also speak a little Arabic due to my Lebanese background and I am planning to learn how to play the guitar.”

Meet our team: Briana Joy Pallares M.Ed.

Briana is currently one of our ABA therapists at BLOCS and we wanted to give you all a better picture of who Briana is and why we love having her at BLOCS so much!

Give us a little background information about yourself 

“I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I moved to Austin, Texas, after graduating high school when I got accepted into the University of Texas at Austin; my Bachelor’s degree is in Special Education, and my Master’s degree is in Autism and Developmental Disorders. My short term goal is to pass the BCBA exam and my long term goal is to operate my own clinic one day.”

What brought you in to this field?

“As a special education teacher, I constantly found myself asking questions in regards to how to better support and understand my students who displayed challenging behaviors. It was this curiosity, as well as my interest in working with individuals diagnosed with Autism, that motivated me to pursue a career in ABA.”

What are some of your favorite parts of this job?

“I enjoy watching my clients learn new skills and accomplish new goals. I love working with families and supporting them as well.”

Name two interesting facts about yourself:

“I am super obsessed with Thor (the Avengers superhero): I enjoy collecting random Thor items. I am also a percussionist. I have been playing the drums since I was 10-years-old.”

Meet Our Team: Emma Henson

This week, we’re proud to introduce you to Emma Henson! Emma is one of our BCBAs, which means that she works with our behavior therapists to provide therapy to children. As a BCBA, she designs, implements, and supervises children’s individual programming, provides supervision for the early intervention groups, and also provides direct therapy. In other words, she’s kept quite busy making sure children get the best care possible!

Emma’s interest in ABA started as an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas. She found herself interested in the brain and human behavior, and after observing a BCBA leading an early-intervention classroom, she knew that she wanted to pursue a Master’s in ABA. This led her to Austin, where she attended the University of Texas, earning her Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis in Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

Since joining Building BLOCS in June 2016, Emma has enjoyed watching everyone as a team succeed in reaching a child’s goal. “The best part about this job is the moment when the whole team (the child, the therapist, the supervisor, the family)…has been working so hard on one goal (for example, potty training) and the child starts to achieve success,” remarks Emma. “[I]t’s a huge milestone!” In addition to achieving success in big goals, she also gets to witness small goals getting reached daily in her favorite activity, pretend play. Emma notes that children with ASD often need more prompting and modeling in arranging props and choosing roles, but once they catch on, their creativity is “magical.” It’s so much fun to watch their sometimes hilarious spins on traditional stories and play activities!

Generating creativity in adults, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging. “After you’ve re-enacted the three little pigs a million times, you can’t always find a way to make it new and exciting,” Emma notes. “But just when my creativity fails me, the kids come up with some out of this world idea.” Sometimes the most challenging moments are those that prove the most rewarding, and seeing children’s creativity shine is truly wonderful.

Meet our Team: Maggie Hammer

Meet Maggie Hammer, our multi-talented ABA Therapist! Maggie, a registered behavior technician (RBT), also facilitates our Parent Support Group. She is currently completing a license as a professional counselor. We are thrilled to have had her as a part of our team since September 2016.

Maggie’s interest in ABA began in Chicago, where she attended graduate school. Initially, she worked with adults, but she wanted more experience working with children, and when she heard about ABA, she was “hooked immediately.” Although challenging, she finds the work rewarding. “I love going to work every day because I know there will be challenges but there is always reward,” says Maggie. “There are always successes to be celebrated. ABA is wonderful because it provides solutions to any challenge.”

Another interesting fact about Maggie is that she loves to work with picky eaters! She attributes this to the first child she ever worked with, who initially was so picky that he wouldn’t eat much. Over two years, Maggie turned trying new foods into a game, and he began to try everything, even if he eventually decided he didn’t like it. Plus, Maggie says, she relates to being a picky eater: “I also have very picky eater tendencies and lots of weird texture issues so I feel like I understand where they’re coming from.” A little understanding can go a long way.

All in all, the best part of the job is when she makes a breakthrough during therapy with a child. “There is a moment when you gain a deeper understanding of their thought processes and the best way to approach therapy with them,” she says. “Those are the absolute best moments.”

Meet our Team: Laura Gillingham

This week, we’re proud to feature Laura Gillingham, one of our talented Speech-Language Pathologists. She started working at Building Blocs in July of 2015 and has been changing lives and brightening our days ever since.

Laura was inspired to become an SLP when a family member discovered that their baby would be born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. She shadowed a number of speech pathologists and was further impressed by their wide knowledge base of different specialties. But what was most powerful was the ability to change lives. Laura comments that “the ability to communicate and experience the world is central to the human experience, and I knew that as a speech pathologist, I would be directly involved in helping others achieve this.” For Laura, speech pathology serves as a way of helping people both to improve their communication skills and enrich their lives as a whole.

At Building Blocs, Laura’s favorite activity is story time, since it is an enjoyable way to work on multiple goals at once. Not only is it fun and engaging for the kids, but it is also a great time to work on targets like pointing, labeling, answering questions, and following directions. While stories are obviously great for speech activities, they are also an excellent way to get to know each child and what they enjoy most.

One of Laura’s favorite aspects of her job is working with families. “Family involvement is essential to each client’s success,” says Laura. She recognizes that families have to be advocates for their children and support them in speech development at home as well. Providing the guidance to help families do that is incredibly rewarding.

Finally, there are no better words to describe the challenges and rewards of her job than Laura’s own. “Working in early intervention,” she says, “I am in a unique position to hear children talk, respond to their name, and engage with others for the first time. The days and weeks leading up to these special moments can be full of ups and downs, and can be both exciting and discouraging for everyone involved. In spite of the hard work, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the joy on a child’s face during the moment when they finally realize their words mean something.”

Meet our Team: Jennifer Grantham

Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an SLP (Speech and Language Pathologist) at Building BLOCS is like? Today, we’re introducing Jennifer Grantham, who can tell you all about it!

SLPs are an integral part of our team at Building BLOCS. They work alongside our ABA Therapists with children with autism, as well as with typically developing children who just need speech therapy. Jennifer sees individual clients with expressive/receptive language disorders, fluency disorders (stuttering), voice disorders, and articulation disorders. She also leads preschool intervention groups and Talk to Me Baby, a new parent/child class.

Jennifer’s interest in language started as a child, when she lived in multiple different countries and had the opportunity to learn the local languages. Although she went to college for electrical engineering, it was a class on language and the brain that held her attention, and she decided that she would pursue speech pathology. “It was a perfect mix of math, science and language,” says Jennifer. She went on to write a Master’s thesis on the area of the brain where stuttering originates.

Jennifer loves working with the kids at Building BLOCS, saying that “they remind you to laugh and enjoy the world!”. Her favorite activities are singing and cooking, sometimes at the same time. The kids get really excited when they get to crack the eggs or mix the batter, so although it can be messy, it’s fun for everyone involved. What could be better than learning and getting to eat treats?

Being an SLP is both challenging and rewarding. Jennifer notes that she has to be paying attention and engaged at all times in order to connect with the kids, which can be a challenge in itself at times. “It can be exhausting,” she says, “but seeing the kids’ eyes light up with understanding when they grasp a concept or giggle in anticipation for a game is what it’s all about. Celebrating a child’s progress with their family is the most rewarding experience.”

Meet our Team: Cayley Miles

Cayley Miles

Meet our newest BCBA, Cayley Miles! Cayley has been an ABA Therapist at Building BLOCS for the past year and a half, and on Wednesday she received her BCBA. This week, she’ll be kicking off our “Meet our Team” blog series, where therapists and speech pathologists tell you about their jobs, from their favorite activities with the children to what makes it most challenging.

Cayley first decided to pursue ABA therapy during college, when she volunteered with Jester’s Program. This program paired adults and children with disabilities with professional directors to write and perform their own musical production.  Continue reading “Meet our Team: Cayley Miles”