LAUREN RIORDAN, PH.D
CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST / FOUNDER / CO-DIRECTOR
I grew up in the heart of Greenwich Village, at the corner of Waverly and McDougal, surrounded by hippies, artists, and students. From a very early age, I think I understood the idea of individual differences, I just didn't know how it would shape my career.
Ever since I was a young child, I loved children. When I began to think about what I wanted to do with my life, there was no doubt that whatever I did would have to involve children. I took my first psychology class as a senior at Stuyvesant High School, and from there I was hooked. Nonetheless, even as a psychology major at Brown University, I thought that I might want to go to medical school to become a pediatrician. For several summers, I had an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital working with the Child Life department. It was during those summers that I realized that I didn't want to be a physician; the doctors were so busy that they could only spend a couple of minutes with each child. I, on the other hand, could spend an hour or more playing games with a child or doing an art project. I knew that I wanted to have more of a connection with each child than the life of a busy physician would allow. With that in mind, I chose to get my doctorate in clinical psychology at New York University, back in Greenwich Village, my old stomping grounds.
While I was at Brown I had become interested in working with kids with cancer. It was a wise professor at NYU who changed the course of my career. She said that if I wanted to work with pediatric cancer patients that I should get training in neuropsychological assessment because of the effects that chemotherapy had on the brain. As result, I chose to do my internship year at North Shore University Hospital in their departments of Child Psychiatry and Neuropsychology. Subsequently, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in their Division of Oncology where I conducted neuropsychological evaluations of children undergoing chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. These two training opportunities gave me tremendous experience in assessment, in utilizing a wide array of different testing instruments, and insight into how different parts of our brains process information.
In the early part of my professional career, I maintained a private practice doing therapy and assessment with children for learning and psychological disorders. I concurrently worked with a pediatric hematology-oncology practice in Guilford, CT and ran groups for siblings and parents of pediatric cancer patients through the Center for Hope and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In the meantime, when I had my first child, I ended up learning about the Birth-to-Three system when she was diagnosed with a speech delay. I had to learn to navigate the public school system to advocate for her needs. It was my personal experience which propelled me to continue my professional development and seek continuing education on many different topics related to developmental and learning disorders, ADHD, and executive dysfunction which have become my primary areas of professional interest for the past dozen years. Three more children later, and I continue to learn.
Now twenty-five years after receiving my doctorate, I still love to work with children. I love piecing together the clues found during psycho-educational testing in order to tell the story of how a child thinks and what can help him or her learn best. More than anything else, I am committed to making sure that the family of every child I see feels that they have been heard and understood.
ALISA SLATIN ROHDIE, MA, BCBA, LBA
BOARD CERTIFIED BEHAVIOR ANALYST / FOUNDER / CO-DIRECTOR
When I say I am a board certified behavior analyst, very few people know what that means, so at Waverly we often refer to me as "the solutionist."
I have always loved to solve problems, even as a young child. I was one of the lucky ones who grew up on a street packed with children. A large group played every day until the air chilled as the sun set and our mothers called us in for the night. At 6 years of age, a new family moved in with a deaf child around my age. While we all played kick-the-can and caught fireflies, Peter stood on the sidewalk, watching but never engaging. I knew we had a communication issue since he signed and we spoke. So, the next day I decided to try to solve the problem by taking out a book from the library on sign language. Unfortunately, my research skills were limited, and I ended up with a book on the planets. After a brief review I marched up to Peter and signed in quick succession, "Mars, Moon, Jupiter and Pluto" and low and behold Peter began to join in our games. Of course, it was the social initiation, not the content, as Peter and I became fast friends but never discussed the solar system again. We developed our own language of play, and that was my first insight into the power of communication.
Communication, and the barriers that impede communication, became the focus of my undergraduate studies culminating in a degree in communication disorders. I went on to work as a pediatric speech therapist working with a variety of populations in schools including autism spectrum, emotionally handicapped, and developmentally delayed. The diagnosis or label didn't matter to me; rather, much as I did with Peter, finding the solution to the communication barrier for the individual became the focus of my work.
Speech pathology proved to be more limiting than the scope of practice I was interested in, so I pursued a master's degree in Counseling Psychology from NYU. Simultaneously, I began working as a therapist for children with autism spectrum disorder, receiving highly specialized training and supervision in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA). For many years I continued to receive post-graduate training in applied behavior analysis and was fortunate enough to train with the leading experts in the field. During this time, I held several positions as an ABA therapist, administrator, adjunct professor, and consultant in both public and private schools and home environments. In 1998, I co-founded and co-directed the Northern New Jersey clinic for the Lovaas Institute for Early Intervention (LIFE)/UCLA Young Autism Project.
Today, at Waverly, I direct the ABA/Behavior Therapy department, consult for families and schools, and work with parents to understand and manage challenging behaviors and complex learning issues in children. I work with both typically developing children and special needs children. Many people throw the term "individualize" around when talking about interventions for children. I really mean that. I can often be heard saying, "but what does that mean for Tuesday at 10:00?" For me, it's still all about solving problems.
LAUREN ZALIS, MA, OTR/L
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST / FOUNDER / CO-DIRECTOR
At the age of seven I was faced with one of the most desirable and memorable tasks of my short life—teaching my brother the alphabet. The prize was a Nintendo game system (the original!), which I so desperately wanted. I vividly remember working with my brother for days and inventing all sorts of different ways to teach him the letters and symbols that meant a world of reading would soon open up to him. While we did earn that Nintendo, I will never forget how hard we had to work to get it. That was my first glimpse into the world of learning disabilities and ADHD.
As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis I volunteered at an integrated preschool program in downtown St. Louis. This is where I realized that I could blend two areas that I felt a deep connection with—children and occupational therapy. This drove me to get my Masters at New York University.
Soon after graduation, I took my first job with Lynne Israel and Associates in Washington, D.C, which was the first private practice for the treatment of sensory processing disorders in the Washington DC area. I was dedicated to understanding child development as well as the complicated diagnosis of a sensory processing disorder. In 2009 I opened my own office in the Southfield Center for Development in Darien, Connecticut. It was there that I developed and directed the Occupational Therapy department, and participated in multidisciplinary evaluations and treatments while continuing to maintain and expand my school-based practice. I continued to have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for learning more about what I could do to support all of the children that I was privileged to work with. This lead to my choice to take numerous additional certification courses in the SIPT (Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests), Therapeutic Listening, ILS (Integrated Listening Systems), and Interactive Metronome. I am passionate about what I do, and I am committed to supporting the children and families that I work with.