The ASD Nest Support Project Team

The ASD Nest Support Project team provides professional development and on-site professional support to educators working in inclusive education, including those in the NYCDOE's ASD Nest program.

Jump to a team member:

Directors and Developers

Instructional Support

SDI Support Administrator Support Social Worker Support 


  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.



  Alexis Betancourt, Instructional Support Specialist

Alexis Betancourt, ED.M (sociology and education), provides on-site consultation services to middle and high school educators to address the social and academic challenges of students in the ASD Nest Program. Alexis taught as an NYC Teaching Fellow in a variety of special education settings, including an ASD-only classroom model in New York City and Westchester County public schools for six years. During her time as an educator she also spent two years as an instructional coach and training academy director with the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Working with the NYC Teaching Fellows she provided direct and indirect consultation services to experienced and inexperienced teachers to support rigorous academic outcomes across public schools in a variety of classroom settings. She is interested in the intersectionality of race, socioeconomic status and the classification of students with disabilities as it relates to academic outcomes in multiple school settings.


 Susan Brennan, SDI Developer and Social Development Intervention Consultant

Susan Brennan CCC-SLP, the speech provider in the 2003 Nest pilot program, has developed Nest’s social communication therapy, Social Development Intervention (SDI), for the K-12 models, and trains Nest staff in its implementation. She is a proponent of combining developmental approaches, neurodiverse perspective taking, and strength- & interest-based therapy to support communication and self-advocacy. Susan continues to guide the growth of a differentiated intervention, shaped with input from autistic adults, that utilizes promising and evidence-based practices. Outside of Nest, Susan co-designed the Subways Sleuths program at the NY Transit Museum; consults to schools, museums, and autism programs in NYC and Western MA where she has a private practice; provides social communication groups, mindfulness programming, and individual therapy to school age children and young adults; presents to professionals and caregivers on smart ways to build engagement and communication.


 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. 


  Michelle Flemen-Tung, Instructional Support Specialist

Michelle Flemen-Tung, MSEd, provides on-site consultation and professional development for the ASD Nest Support Project. The main focus of her work is empowering educators and families in all NYC communities. Michelle is a licensed special educator and is a certified school building leader. She recently graduated from NYU’s Educational Leadership Program and was honored to participate in NYU Steinhardt’s English Language Learning (ELL) Think Tank. Michelle’s work with special needs populations began at The Mid Hudson Valley Camp for Special Children, first as a volunteer and then as a session director. Most recently, Michelle worked for 10 years at PS 503 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn as a teacher leader and special education coordinator.


Lauren Hough Williams, Co-Project Director

Lauren Hough Williams, MSEd, is the Co-Project Director of the ASD Nest Support Project. She works with schools and districts looking to increase their inclusive practices or open their own ASD Nest programs for students with autism spectrum disorders. Lauren provides leadership training, coaching, professional development, and on-site consultation to schools, and districts, and other companies and organizations. Lauren runs the NYU Connections program for autistic undergraduate and graduate students at NYU. Lauren is the co-editor of The ASD Nest Model and co-author of Everyday Classroom Strategies and Practices for Supporting Children with ASD, 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.


  Katie Kirkman, Instructional Support Specialist

Katie Kirkman, MSEd, provides on-site consultation to help teachers address the social and academic challenges of students in the ASD Nest program. Katie taught in New York City schools for ten years, including seven years as a teacher in D75 specializing with elementary school children who displayed behavioral challenges, were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and who were on the Autism Spectrum. Katie also worked as a BCBA to provide behavioral support and consultation to families. She is an adjunct instructor at Teachers College, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in Intellectual Disability/Autism. Her particular research interests include identifying factors that influence social functioning of children with disabilities and how parents can support social development in children with ASD.


 Kristie Patten Koenig, Principal Investigator

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 Support Project team provides to the NYCDOE's ASD Nest Program. He also develops and leads workshops, seminars, and in-school consultation to help teachers support students, 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. 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, Director Emeritus and Co-founder

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.


  Virginia Skar, Social Development Intervention Support Specialist

Virginia is a licensed speech-language pathologist specializing in pragmatic language, adolescent development, adaptive communication, and integrated service delivery models. Virginia embraces progressive, developmental approaches to social communication challenges, and she weaves these core principles throughout her Nest trainings and workshops. She provides on-site consultation to fellow SLPs on their implementation of Social Development Intervention (SDI), integration of clinical goals into the classroom setting, and collaborative practices as members of multidisciplinary teams. Virginia began her career as a high school volunteer and eventually session director at The Mid Hudson Valley Camp for Special Children, a non profit organization. Prior to joining the Nest team, Virginia served as Director of Adaptive Services at the Cooke School & Institute based in New York City, developing curricula, community inclusion programming, and models for therapeutic integration. Virginia received her Master’s Degree in speech-language pathology from St. John’s University. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Brandy Stanfill-Hobbs, Director of Coaching

Brandy Stanfill-Hobbs, MSEd, directs the ongoing training and support of ASD Nest coaches, designs and facilitates professional development workshops, and provides on-site consultation to help administrators and 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. Brandy is particularly interested in the impact of ASD and other developmental disorders on children and families in low-income communities.



   Samara Sweig, Director of Strategy and Operations

Samara Sweig, MA in Health Advocacy, is the Director of Strategy and Operations for the ASD Nest Support Project. In this role, she drives new growth opportunities, innovates internal management, and standardizes business processes for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Samara focuses on scaling the work of ASD Nest with an emphasis on sustainability and impact. She is known for her collaborative approach in developing short- and long-term strategic plans and championing high performing teams to successfully execute on these plans. Samara previously served as the Associate Director of Operations for NYU’s NICHE Program, and brings a strong background in executive leadership, business development, strategic planning, and operations management. Throughout her career, she has worked with a variety of local, national, and international nonprofit organizations related to at-risk youth, social justice, and healthcare. Samara currently volunteers on the Family Advisory Council at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital at NYU Langone Health, working to improve patient and family experiences.

  Dolores Troy-Quinn, Administrator Support Consultant

Dolores Troy-Quinn works with ASD Nest school administrators to help them implement and support the Nest model in their schools. Dolores was a principal for 12 years, including 8 years as the principal of Nest school PS 186 in Bellerose, Queens—the first Nest site in the borough. She has always said that the ASD Nest Program made her a better principal and her school a more inclusive and supportive environment for her students. Dolores believes that strong Nest practices helped her school receive the prestigious NYS Education Department’s S3TAIR Grant for exemplary special education practices as well as the UFT School Partnership Award for cooperation and collaboration. Dolores strongly believes the ASD Nest Program benefits ALL children! She continues to be the number one cheerleader for the program!



  Chauntenay Young, Program Coordinator

Chauntenay Young is a program coordinator at the ASD Nest Support Project. She is responsible for invoicing, monitoring work related activities, and providing administrative support. She received her Bachelor's degree from Lehman College in Business Administration. Outside of her professional position, she is dedicated to the elevation of underserved communities and is interested in the dynamics of neighborhood transitions as it correlates to displacement. Also, she enjoys spending time with her kids, traveling, and celebrating children on the spectrum.