Developmental Therapists and Social Workers
Founded in 2011, PlayWorks Therapy encourages and enriches the lives of children by helping them achieve their fullest potential through our therapeutic services. We truly believe to make a significant influence on a child's development; we must provide care in a comfortable setting, as well as support and educate the parents and caregivers involved in the child's life. It is this same supportive attitude and thirst for learning that brings our team together to share, advise and learn from each other's professional and personal experiences. Read on to learn more about each team member's professional background, experience and personal story.
Amy Wechsler, MSW, LCSW, DT
From an early age, Amy realized her passion for working with young children, both with and without developmental differences. She spent many summers as a counselor and teacher’s assistant at Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association and working in pre-school/daycare settings.
Amy earned her B.S. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006. During her time at the University of Illinois, Amy gained clinical experience interning at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention center conducting psycho-social groups for juvenile inmates. She also enjoyed volunteering at the Crisis Nursery.
After graduating, Amy continued her education at Loyola University Chicago where she studied social work and earned her Master's of Social Work degree in 2008. During her time at Loyola, she interned as a hospital social worker in the neonatal intensive care unit at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and as an outpatient therapist at Niles Family Services.
She began her career in Illinois Early Intervention following graduate school. Amy is a credentialed Early Intervention Specialist and Evaluator in both Developmental Therapy and Social Work. She also provides clinic-based and home or daycare/preschool-based therapy to children up to eight years old.
In 2011, she proudly founded PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. It is her strong passion, creative energy, caring personality, knowledgeable experience in the field, and entrepreneurial spirit that led to the creation of PlayWorks Therapy. Amy feels lucky to have parents who taught her the principles of hard work, entrepreneurship, respect, and standing up for what you believe in.
Amy enjoys mentoring new therapists and is dedicated to ensuring her clients receive the highest standard of services. Her specialties include: behavior, sensory processing, social skills, sleep disturbances, behavioral feeding challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD, PDD, Asperger's), parenting, and supportive family counseling.
When it comes to children’s activities and toys, Amy always has one in mind for each individual child’s needs. Her trunk and closets are overflowing with toys and activities. Some of her personal favorite are Todd Parr’s Feeling Flashcards and “The Feelings Book”, and tapping out a drum beat to “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Eric Carle or “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” by Bill Martin, Jr.
Just as children need others’ support to nurture growth, she believes everyone needs a friend to “Stand by… Stand by me,” as Ben E. King sings. Amy believes no matter what life challenges you encounter, all you need is the support from family and friends to get through it.
Amy and her husband love to make time for long bike rides, casual dinners with friends, spending time with family, and traveling. On the contrary to her active life now, Amy’s pediatrician and own mom placed bets on how long it would take for her to finally start walking as a toddler. As her mom still says today, “If only I knew about Early Intervention back then!”
Kimberly Shlaes, MAT, DT
Director of Developmental Therapy Services
Kim is a Developmental Therapist who loves working with children and connecting with families. Kim earned her Bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications from Indiana University, her Master’s degree in Teaching from National-Louis University in Chicago, and holds a teaching certificate in Early Childhood Education. Prior to her career at PlayWorks Therapy, Kim taught Pre-K for multiple Headstart programs around the city. It was during her tenure as a teacher that she learned about developmental therapy and recognized that is where her passions fell. She has experience working with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, sensory processing concerns, a variety of genetic disorders, and global developmental delays. Kim loves getting to know not only the child but the whole family and encouraging families to get involved therapy sessions. In her spare time, Kim enjoys trying out new restaurants, spending time with family, exploring parks and street festivals, live music, and traveling.
Kim is a certified initial evaluator for the Early Intervention program. She loves training and supervising therapists, as she enjoys collaborating and sharing ideas with those around her!
Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LSW, DT
Brittany is a Developmental Therapist and Licensed Social Worker who works to help children meet their individual needs while also supporting their families. Brittany earned her Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She attended graduate school at Loyola University Chicago and Erikson Institute, earning dual Masters degrees in Social Work and Child Development. Brittany provides clinic-based, home, and daycare/school-based therapy. Her experiences include working with children with generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, autism spectrum disorders, regulation difficulties/sensory processing disorders, and global developmental delays. She has a passion for developing meaningful relationships and strengthening the parent-child relationship. The collaborative and supportive nature of the PlayWorks Therapy team allows Brittany to help children reach their fullest potential while celebrating their successes with their families.
Outside of work, Brittany enjoys listening to music, playing volleyball, visiting with family, and snuggling up with her two cats!
Kelly Scafidi, MSW, LCSW, DT
Kelly is a Chicago native that comes to PlayWorks Therapy with a diverse background working with children and their families. Her caring and outgoing personality allows children of all ages to have fun while learning. Kelly is certified in Early Childhood Education (Type 04) from Eastern Illinois University. Kelly taught kindergarten, first, second, and third grade while working closely with teachers’ assistants to modify curriculum for students with special needs. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Kelly completed graduate school at the University of Illinois at Chicago and specialized in mental health. She has experience working with different diagnoses utilizing cognitive behavior therapy for anxiety and depression.
Working for many years as a nanny, Kelly gained experience caring for infants and young children. Kelly specializes in behavior modification, toilet training, and promoting self-awareness. She is dedicated and passionate about providing exceptional child centered care. When establishing supported structured routines for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD, Kelly is committed to working with families.
Biking, boating, baseball, and yoga are just a few of her interests. When not in clinic, Kelly enjoys spending time with her nieces, nephews, and dog. Hot fudge Sundaes are still her favorite!
Rachel Weiser, MS, DT
Rachel is a Developmental Therapist that enjoys working with children and their families to create a positive learning environment. Rachel earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Families Studies, with concentration in special education early childhood, from Colorado State University in Fort Collins Colorado. Prior to her career at PlayWorks, Rachel taught in a variety of settings for over 6 years. It was through her experiences teaching in Head Start and in daycare settings that Rachel first learned about Developmental Therapy and returned to school to receive her Master’s Degree. Rachel received her Masters of Science in Early Childhood from the Erikson Institute. Through her variety of experiences and settings it is a value of Rachel’s to take the global perspective in working with children and to always make sessions fun.
Outside of work Rachel enjoys practicing yoga, traveling and exploring new Chicago events.
Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Director of Speech and Language Services
Autumn is a Speech-Language Pathologist who enjoys creating meaningful relationships with her clients and families throughout the therapeutic process. Autumn earned her Bachelors degree in Communicative Disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Upon graduation, she moved to Chicago to complete her Clinical Fellowship Year with PlayWorks Therapy and has enjoyed working with the dedicated team of therapists here ever since! Autumn has comprehensive experience working in the pediatric setting, including supporting children with speech and language delays, motor planning disorders, fluency disorders and feeding/oral motor concerns. She has a passion for supporting clients with Childhood Apraxia of Speech to help them grow into successful, independent communicators. What Autumn loves about working with the PlayWorks team is the collaborative and inclusive environment that she gets to be a part of on a daily basis!
Autumn is trained in PROMPT, Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets, which is a multidimensional approach to teaching the specific motor movements needed to produce accurate speech sound targets. This approach has been proven to be widely successful for children and with motor planning disorders, such as Childhood Apraxia of Speech. She has also completed the “Get Permission to Feeding” approach for childhood feeding disorders, including sensory aversions and oral-motor difficulties.
In her spare time, Autumn enjoys reading a variety of fiction novels, grabbing brunch at any of Chicago’s numerous patios, and visiting her family back in Wisconsin (especially her nephew!).
Meryl Schnapp, MS, CCC-SLP
Meryl's punctual, trustworthy, and caring personality shines through as she works with young children on a daily basis. Growing up always babysitting for the neighbors, she knew from a young age that her future would include working with children in some capacity. Meryl finds the opportunity to work with a variety of children and their families both exciting and invigorating. She believes that since no two families are the same, there is always something to learn from each and every family interaction.
Meryl received her B.A. in Psychology and American Sign Language from The University of Rochester. While an undergraduate she conducted research on language acquisition and spent summers working at day camps as well as teaching baby sign language classes.
She obtained her Master's in Speech and Language Pathology from Northwestern University. During graduate school she had the opportunity to work with children and adults in a variety of settings including a private clinic, a special education pre-school, and home-based early intervention. She also gained experience assessing and treating children with a variety of speech, language, feeding, and cognitive disorders. Her favorite children's toy is The Fisher Price Play My Way Kitchen because it is a full stove-top for pretend play. Pretend play brings out words and phrases you might never expect out of a child and helps the child understand the power of language and how to use it.
The Chicago-born and ambitious Meryl actually grew up in the suburbs of New York. It was after she came back for graduate school when she fell in love with the Windy City and decided to make it her home.
With an eclectic taste in music, a need for coffee, and a past of competitive horse riding, this Chicago Blackhawks fan is usually found on-the-go learning new things, finding new interests or spending time with friends.
Meryl's funny sense of humor is just one of the traits she inherited from her family. Through her mother's example, she learned the importance of hard work and making sacrifices for those you love.
Julie Euyoque, MA, CCC-SLP
Julie is a speech-language pathologist who believes in following a child’s lead in therapy while pushing a child to their greatest potential – each and every session. Julie’s favorite part about being a speech-language pathologist is being able to develop long-lasting relationships with her clients and their families. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa (Go Hawkeyes!) and her Master’s degree from Saint Louis University. After migrating across the Midwest to complete her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she moved home to Chicago to complete her last semester of clinical internships at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. Originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, Julie has spent her career working in pediatric outpatient clinics, in early intervention, and at a non-profit organization for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Julie has an interest in preschool language disorders, oral-motor and sensory feeding disorders, as well as motor planning disorders and childhood apraxia of speech. She is a certified Early Intervention Specialist and an Early Intervention evaluator. She has obtained additional training in the Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol, the Food Chaining approach to feeding therapy, and the Get Permission Approach to feeding therapy.
When Julie is not at work, you can find her at the dog park with her fiancé and their two-year old lab, Gilmore!
Therese Schmidt, MS, CCC-SLP
Therese attended Indiana University and receive a B.A. in Speech and Hearing Sciences. Following graduation, she volunteered as an aide to the speech language pathologist at Palos Community Hospital and Palos East Elementary School. She later attended University of North Texas for her Masters degree. Therese has experience in a breadth of clients with a wide variety of ailments, across several different settings. She has worked in a school clinic, elementary school, and private clinic. Variety is what she loves most about it her job.
Therese brings her passionate, energetic and trustworthy personality, along with her remarkable communication skills to every therapy session. She enjoys seeing the development and positive impact of therapy on the lives of young children, and being part of a team that helps improve their quality of life.
Books are her favorite activity to bring into therapy sessions. She believes they contain endless opportunities to encourage and engage children while learning about their unique abilities, and providing fun, quality intervention.
Growing up in the South Suburbs of Chicago, her parents taught her the importance of good work ethic and determination, which have been crucial in achieving her goals. They also encouraged her to be passionate about helping others, and showed her that supportive family and friends makes even the toughest tasks possible.
Depending on the season, when she is not working, you can find Therese at the beach, rooting for Chicago sports teams, curled up on the couch with a good book or movie, traveling, crafting, or brushing up on her second language – Italian.
Kelly Fridholm, M.C.D., CCC-SLP
Kelly is a compassionate Speech-Language Pathologist with a desire to help children and their families reach their fullest potential through the therapeutic process. Kelly earned both her Bachelors degree in Communication Disorders, and her Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Auburn University. She completed her graduate internship at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) at Scottish Rite, where she assessed and treated newborns and children with a wide range of syndromes and disorders. After graduating, Kelly completed her Clinical Fellowship Year in an elementary school. She has extensive experience providing pediatric speech, language, feeding/oral-motor, voice, fluency, and social-communication therapy to children across a variety of settings. Kelly especially loves working with clients who have language delays and motor-planning deficits, because of how rewarding it is
to help them develop into effective communicators. What Kelly enjoys most about working at PlayWorks Therapy, is the chance to impact clients and their families through the use of a collaborative team approach.
On the weekends, you can find Kelly spending time with friends, relaxing with a good movie or book, exploring the city, or traveling to visit family and loved ones in New York and Georgia.
Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Claire is a speech-language pathologist who enjoys helping children reach their full potential and the rewarding feeling of positively impacting the life of a child and their family. Claire received her Bachelors degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences from Indiana University and her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Tennessee. Claire remained in Knoxville Tennessee to complete her Clinical Fellowship Year at a pediatric clinic where she gained experience working with children with a variety of speech and language delays, fluency disorders and motor planning disorders. Upon completing her Clinical Fellowship Year Claire moved to Chicago to be close to her family and friends. What Claire loves about PlayWorks is getting to be a part of a supportive and collaborative team who are passionate about what they do!
In her spare time, Claire love spending time with her family and friends, baking and cheering on her favorite teams the Chicago Cubs and the Tennessee Volunteers!
Jessie Delos Reyes, MA, CCC-SLP
Jessie is a nationally and Illinois state licensed speech-language pathologist with clinical interest with zero- to- three age group, children with autism spectrum disorder, expressive and receptive language delays, and feeding therapy. She has experience working with children in early intervention, children with severe and multiple cognitive delays, hospital and private practice settings.
Jessie attended Michigan State University for both her bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies and her graduate degree in speech-language pathology.
Her favorite thing about her job is working with children and their families to make their daily lives better by providing family-centered speech, language and feeding therapy treatment.
Originally from a small town in Michigan, this city living girl is not afraid to get dirty. She can hunt, fish, ride a four-wheeler, then go home to make a mean apple pie! However on a weekend in the city, you can find Jessie baking delectable desserts, spending time with her husband and puppy or even at a Broadway Show.
Katie Dabkowski, MS, CF-SLP
Katie began her speech therapy career at Indiana University where she earned a dual bachelor’s degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences and Psychology. She continued her education in Pittsburgh where she earned her masters degree in Speech Language Pathology from Duquesne University. She moved to Chicago after graduation to officially start her career as a speech-language pathologist. Katie enjoys working with all children, but she particularly enjoys working on language skills. Her favorite thing about her job is seeing children progress towards becoming more effective and independent communicators. She loves the proud look on a child’s face when they start verbally communicating and are able to ask for what they want!
When she is not working, Katie enjoys spending time with her husband and puppy Charlie. She also loves visiting with family and friends and exploring Chicago.
Ana Thrall, MS, CF-SLP
Ana comes to PlayWorks Therapy from Michigan, where she earned her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Grand Valley State University. She is currently completing her Clinical Fellowship year to obtain her full Speech-Language Pathology License. Ana holds her Part C Early Intervention Credential and is certified in Visual Phonics.
Ana has clinical interests in language delays and disorders, phonological delays and disorders, articulation disorders, hearing loss, autism spectrum disorder, and various genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome.
Ana and her fiancé are fortunate to have a strong support system, so they can often be found spending time with those that they love (including their new nephew)!
Being a speech-language pathologist allows Ana to combine her love of science with her love of language and learning. She enjoys shaping therapy sessions into highly motivating and communication rich experiences for children. Ana also values working with parents and feels privileged to have a career that is rewarding, ever-changing and fun!
Jennifer Brown, MS, OTR/L
Director of Occupational Therapy Services
Jen is an Occupational Therapist with a passion to help kids realize their full potential and strengthen families through collaborative therapeutic intervention. She earned her Bachelors degree in Child Development from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and her Masters degree in Occupational Therapy from Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to her career in OT, Jen taught Kindergarten. She has worked in various therapy settings and especially enjoys working with kiddos with feeding concerns, sensory processing difficulties, and fine motor delays. The best thing about her job is that she gets to be involved in a team-based approach to help a variety of children and families!
Jen is certified in Therapeutic Listening, a specific sound-based intervention that is embedded in developmental and sensory integration, as well as the Beckman Oral-Motor Protocol for oral motor strengthening and feeding concerns. Jen also has extensive experience with the Astronaut Training Program, Handwriting Without Tears, and reflex integration. As a former teacher, Jen has a multitude of experience with school-related OT concerns, such as executive functioning, grasp, fine motor delays, and cognitive deficiencies. Jen is also experienced in SOS sensory-based feeding treatment.
In her spare time, Jen enjoys exploring the city's many farmers’ markets and eateries, reading a good book, staying active, and spending time with her nephews.
Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Natalie is an Occupational Therapist who is passionate about forming positive connections with children and their families. Natalie earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Dance from The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to attending OT school, Natalie spent several years dancing for companies and teaching dance to children aged 2-18. It was during these years that she realized her passion for working with young children, and decided to become an occupational therapist to help children reach their full potential. Natalie earned her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Throughout her time in graduate school, Natalie used her knowledge of movement to enhance her work, completing rotations in early intervention, pediatric clinics, and acute care settings. Natalie particularly enjoys treating kids with sensory processing and motor planning concerns. Natalie’s favorite thing about her job is that it allows her to combine her creativity, knowledge of movement, and love for working with children into a single career!
Originally from the suburbs, Natalie is thrilled to be back in Chicago after spending over 9 years in Wisconsin. During her free time, you can find her exploring the city, dancing, or taking as many yoga classes as possible. Natalie also enjoys spending time with her husband, cheering on the Badgers, and spoiling her golden retriever, Dahlia.
Perry brings a diverse background to her role at PlayWorks Therapy. A passion for operational management and anthropology combine to create an excellent administrative backbone in this company. She is thrilled to be a jack-of-all-trades, using every opportunity to keep the company running smoothly and progressively. Coming from the worlds of both consulting and retail management, Perry is enthusiastic about client relations: striving for consistency, accessibility, and reliability. Perry is a great person to have on the “front line,” as she is able to comfortably approach and interact with parents, caregivers, and children with ease, and she has a passion for being the friendly face of PlayWorks.
In her hours away from the office, Perry keeps herself occupied with plenty of books, beach volleyball, hitting the gym, and furthering her pursuit of an education in anthropology and museum design. She loves good food and good company, even if that company is her two cats.
Kyle comes to PlayWorks straight from Los Angeles. Born and raised in Chicago, Kyle graduated from The Theatre School at DePaul University with a BFA in acting. He has managed an acting studio, a café, and even worked as a real estate appraiser. Kyle enjoys visiting new restaurants, going to the famers market, and seeing plays with his wife – and you might catch either of them on TV as well.
He loves being able to juggle the caseloads of the amazing therapists and ensure that every email is responded to as fast as possible, like a video game. He is thrilled to be working behind the scenes here at PlayWorks Therapy helping others achieve their goals.
Billing and Insurance Officer
Susan earned her B.A. in Art History from the University of Michigan and her Master's in Arts and Teaching from Loyola University Chicago. After teaching kindergarten and gifted children, the devoted mom took time off to raise her own three children.
Susan's focused, dedicated and thoughtful personality leads her to take on many roles. She gained business and administrative experience as the secretary and treasurer of RDR Productions, a 30-year-old corporate video production company based in Northbrook, IL, owned by her husband David. In addition to maintaining her duties at RDR Productions, she has been an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer and has run her own business, To Life Fitness, for the past 10 years. Susan, or as her husband has nicknamed her ‘Buff,' uses her sweet and encouraging ways, along with intense workouts such as interval training, to whip her clients into shape.
Her prior experience working in small business settings is critical to the success of PlayWorks Therapy, where Susan is responsible for administration and client billing. She finds joy in working closely with her daughter, Amy, and is thrilled to play an essential role in PlayWorks Therapy's continued growth.
Susan does not see herself slowing down anytime soon and plans to continue supporting all of the family businesses, and of course spending as much time as possible with her grandchildren. One thing is for sure though–her morning coffee is a must!
When the Detroit native finally takes a break from being the busy bee she is, you can find Susan cooking, gardening, reading, watching movies, or trying out the latest new gourmet restaurants in town.