The ASD Nest Support Project Team

The ASD Nest Support Project team provides professional development and on-site professional support to individual Nest schools and their staff members.


Christina Annunziata, Instructional Support Specialist

 Christina Annunziata, MSEd, provides on-site consultation to help teachers address the social and academic challenges of students in the ASD Nest program. Christina taught in New York City public schools for fourteen years, including eight years as a teacher, cluster, and coach in the ASD Nest Program. As an ASD Nest Coach, she provided parent workshops and is a strong proponent of developing collaborative family-school partnerships. She has been an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College, teaching courses on autism spectrum disorders and behavior theory and interventions.



Jamie Bleiweiss, Behavior Consultant

Jamie Bleiweiss, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at Hunter College, where she serves as the coordinator of fieldwork experiences for the Early Childhood Special Education master’s degree program. Specializing in working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), Dr. Bleiweiss has extensive clinical experience working with children, families, and professionals in a variety of community and educational settings, serving as a behavior consultant for the ASD Nest Program. Additionally, Dr. Bleiweiss has presented numerous workshops and in-service trainings on topics related to ASDs, challenging behavior, and Positive Behavior Support.


Susan Brennan, SDI Developer and Social Development Intervention Consultant

Susan Brennan, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and the primary developer of the Nest’s Social Development Intervention (SDI). A fierce proponent of the developmental social pragmatics model and social cognition for individuals with ASD, she has training in relationship-based interventions (Greenspan’s DIR Model, The Hanen Program, RDI) as well as Michelle Winner’s Social Thinking (mentor training). Susan has extensive interdisciplinary clinical experience working in hospitals, preschools, and clinics. She provides workshops to parents and professionals on the unique thinking of children with ASD and creative ways to support their communication. Susan is also a guest lecturer at Hunter College, an in school consultant, runs her private practice and is the director of the Social Underground.


Allison Graham Brown, Director of Professional Development

Allison Graham Brown, MAEd, provides on-site consultation to help teachers address social and academic difficulties of students in ASD Nest program schools. She also coordinates the development of workshops for teachers and staff on best practices for students on the spectrum. Ms. Brown has been an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College and New York University, teaching courses on instructional methods for students with disabilities, and behavior theory and interventions.



Wendy Carranza, Senior Project Manager

Wendy Carranza is the Project Manager for the ASD Nest Support Project. She is responsible for coordinating all administrative tasks to ensure the project runs smoothly and effectively. Wendy is a graduate of NYU, where she studied sociology and social entrepreneurship, and is currently pursuing her master's degree in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy at NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.



Shirley Cohen, Co-Founder, ASD Nest Program and Director; ASD Nest training program at Hunter College

Shirley Cohen, PhD, is Professor Emeritus, Hunter College/CUNY. In her role at Hunter College Dr. Cohen has directed the ASD Nest training program under contract from the NYC Department of Education for the last five years. She also served as the first director of the Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Hunter. Dr. Cohen, who co-developed the ASD Nest program with Dorothy Siegel, is the author of the book Targeting Autism, originally published by the University of California Press in 1998 and since 2006 in its third edition, as well as two earlier books on disability: Special People, 1977, Prentice Hall, and Respite Care, 1985, PRO-ED. She has directed federal, state, city, and private foundation grants in the area of disability and has served as a mentor to numerous teachers and young leaders in the field of autism intervention in NYC.

Professor Cohen held numerous administrative roles at Hunter College, such as chairperson of the Department of Special Education, assistant dean, associate dean, and interim dean of the School of Education. Dr. Cohen’s most recent publication was invited commentary on the state of intervention in ASD for a June 2011 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness that has a special focus on autism.



Jules Csillag, SDI Support Specialist

Jules Csillag, CCC-SLP, is a licensed speech-language pathologist and Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD). She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics and Psychology from McGill University, where she worked at a child social cognition laboratory, and earned her Master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she worked at a neurocognition of language laboratory. She continues to be research-driven and shares best practices through workshops and by presenting at national and international conferences. Jules is also currently an adjunct faculty member at two universities in the departments of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She is the author of Differentiated Reading Instruction: Strategies and Technology Tools to Help All Students Improve (Routledge, 2016), and also enjoys disseminating research and practical strategies through various educational publications. Jules is passionate about increasing access to evidence-based education for all types of learners, including educators.




Donia Fahim, Social Development Intervention Consultant

Donia Fahim, Ph.D., Cert. MRCSLT (UK), is a speech and language pathologist and educational consultant who has devoted her life to improving the education and therapy services of young children with special needs around the world. She has been a member of the consulting team for the ASD Nest Project since 2009, where she provides school consultations, in-service professional development and program support to therapists, teachers and parents. Donia led the development of the ASD Nest Dual Language Program, which was established in 2012, as well as the expansion of the Intensive Kindergarten Program. As an international consultant Donia provides consultations to international schools in the MENA region and Europe. More recently, Donia provided training in Aarhus, Denmark as part of the international Nest expansion. She continues as an adjunct Professor at Hunter College in the early childhood special education program, where she was Faculty and Program Coordinator for the program from 2008 to 2013. She was the Co-Founder in 2001, and remains the Executive Director of Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., a New York-based non-profit. Donia has presented at many national and international conferences. As a writer, she has authored several peer reviewed journal articles on dual language learning in children with ASD, Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and inclusion. She is also the co-author with Dr. Rhea Paul of the book Let’s Talk: Navigating Your Child’s Communication Services and Supports for Your Young Child with Autism, published by Brookes (2016).


Lauren Hough Williams, Co-Project Director

Lauren Hough Williams, MSEd, leads the ASD Nest Coaching Program and works with schools and districts outside New York City to expand the reach of the ASD Nest Program. Lauren is currently consulting on a National Science Foundation Grant, IDEAS: Inventing, Designing and Engineering on the Autism Spectrum. IDEAS is a collaboration between New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, the Education Development Center, the NY Hall of Science, and three ASD Nest program middle schools - designing after-school clubs to foster interest in STEM and to develop career pathways for students with ASD. Lauren also designs and leads innovative workshops for the ASD Nest Support Project and consults at ASD Nest elementary schools. She is the co-editor of The ASD Nest Support Model: A Framework for Inclusive Education for Higher Functioning Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders and co-author of Everyday Classroom Strategies and Practices for Supporting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as several articles on autism-related subjects in special education and disabilities journals.


Christi Kaplan, Social Development Intervention Consultant

Christi Ricker Kaplan, MS CCC/SLP, received her degree from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she has since taught Diagnostics and been a guest lecturer on topics such as Autism Spectrum Disorders and Auditory Processing Disorders. Christi has attended training programs in developmental, relationship-based models, including Greenspan’s DIR model and the SCERTS Model (Prizant and Wetherby). Her background has involved integrating behavioral approaches (including ABA) with developmental approaches. Her extensive experience has included work in therapeutic preschools, hospital settings, clinics, graduate school training programs and private practice. In addition, Christi has a high-functioning 30-year-old brother with autism.


Sarah Kern, Social Worker Consultant

Sarah Kern, LCSW, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and Program Coordinator of the Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical and Research Program at the Child Study Center of NYU Langone Medical Center. She specializes in the assessment and treatment of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and implementing evidence-based treatments for children and teens struggling with anxiety or mood disorders (for more information, please see Sarah's complete bio, which is attached). During some of her consultation visits, Sarah will be also be shadowed by a post-doctoral fellow from the NYU Child Study Center.



Kristie Patten Koenig, Principal Investigator; Occupational Therapy Consultant

Kristie Patten Koenig, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA is a Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University. She has degrees in occupational therapy and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She consults with the ASD Nest program on research and outcomes and conducts professional development for ASD Nest OT's and PT's. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and presented nationally and internationally on efficacy of programs with children with ASD, sensory processing, and utilizing strength-based approaches.



Aaron Lanou, Co-Project Director

Aaron Lanou, MSEd, coordinates the services that the ASD Nest Support Project team provides in collaboration with Project Director, Dorothy Siegel. He also develops and leads workshops, seminars, and in-school consultation to help teachers support students in the ASD Nest program, and led the development of the ASD Nest middle school model. Since 2015, Aaron has led the Nest expansion to Aarhus, Denmark, including training educators and administrators in Denmark and New York City. Aaron taught in western Massachusetts and New York City schools for ten years, primarily in the elementary grades. His areas of interest revolve around developing strengths-focused, targeted strategies and instructional adaptations for academic support and social development. He co-authored, along with Lauren Hough and another colleague, an article for Intervention in School and Clinic about using students’ strengths and interests to support their social, behavioral, and academic needs, as well as multiple articles about Nest strategies for education newsletters. 


Dorothy Leone, Social Development Intervention Consultant

Dorothy Leone, PhD, is an assistant professor of speech communication studies at Iona College and a New York State and ASHA certified speech language pathologist. Dorothy graduated from Iona with a Bachelor of Arts in speech language pathology and audiology and furthered her studies by completing a Master of Science at Teachers College, Columbia University in speech language pathology. Dorothy is currently pursuing her PhD at Teachers College, where she is researching how children perceive a speech signal in noise when listening to different speaking styles. Prior to rejoining the Iona community in 2010, Dorothy was the speech language pathologist for an ASD Nest school for four years, where she provided parent workshops, school in-services, and other support services.



Dorothy Siegel, Project Director

Dorothy Siegel, MPA, is the Director of the ASD Nest Support Project at New York University. Since 2003, Dorothy has been collaborating with the New York City Department of Education and with Professor Shirley Cohen of Hunter College to develop, implement and replicate the ASD Nest Program in New York City’s public schools. As a long-time advocate for special education reform, her work in the early ‘90s with Community School District 15 in Brooklyn led to District 15’s creation of a full-time inclusion model now called the Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) model. The ASD Nest model is built on the ICT framework.

From 1997 through 2007, Dorothy was a senior researcher at New York University’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, where she directed studies and evaluations of the New York City public school system, including an evaluation of New York City’s school-based budgeting initiative; a study of the Chancellor’s District, an initiative to improve low-performing schools; and a quantitative study of the contributions of individual high schools to student success. Dorothy was also the key consultant for the Institute’s 1995 report Focus on Learning: Reorganizing General and Special Education in the New York City Public Schools. She meets monthly with principals to help them maintain program fidelity with their available resources.


Brandy Stanfill-Hobbs, Director of Coaching Program

Brandy Stanfill, MSEd, provides on-site consultation to help teachers address the social and academic challenges of students in the ASD Nest program. Brandy taught in New York City public schools for eleven years, including seven years as a teacher, cluster, and coach in the ASD Nest Program. She has been an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College and taught courses on autism spectrum disorders and behavior theory and interventions in addition to conducting specialized pre-service training for new Nest staff on Staten Island. Brandy is particularly interested in the impact of ASD and other developmental disorders on children and families in low-income communities.