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 of Arts in Telecommunications from Indiana University, her Master’s degree in Arts and Teaching from National-Louis University in Chicago, and holds a Type 04 State of Illinois Teaching Certificate in Early Childhood. Prior to her career at PlayWorks Therapy, Kim taught Pre-K for multiple Head Start programs around the city. It was during her tenure as a teacher that she learned about developmental therapy and recognized her passion for working one-on-one with children with developmental delays. 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 developing a therapeutic relationship with the whole family and encouraging parents and caregivers to get involved in 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 credentialed developmental therapist and evaluator with the Illinois Early Intervention program. As the Director of Developmental Therapy Services, Kim enjoys mentoring developmental therapists and providing collaborative support to the teams at PlayWorks Therapy.
Brittany Hill, MS, MSW, LCSW, DT
Brittany is a developmental therapist and licensed clinical social worker who enjoys helping children meet their individual needs while also supporting caregivers and families. Brittany earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She attended graduate school at Loyola University Chicago and Erikson Institute, earning her Master of Social Work and Master of Science in Child Development. Brittany’s experiences include working with children with generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, autism spectrum disorder, regulation difficulties/sensory processing disorders, and global developmental delays. She has a passion for developing meaningful relationships and strengthening the parent-child relationship. Brittany enjoys the collaborative and supportive nature of the PlayWorks Therapy. She loves helping children reach their fullest potential while celebrating each success along the way.
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 developmental therapist and licensed clinical social worker with a passion for working with children and families. She comes to PlayWorks Therapy with a diverse professional background. Her caring and outgoing personality allows children of all ages to have fun while learning. Kelly earned her Bachelor of Science in Education from Eastern Illinois University and holds a Type 04 State of Illinois Teaching Certificate in Early Childhood. She taught kindergarten, first, second, and third grade while working closely with teachers’ assistants to modify curriculum for students with special needs. Kelly earned her Master of Social Work from the Jane Addam’s School of Social Work with a concentration in Mental Health. She has experience working in maternal-child support, medical social work, and residential settings. Kelly has gained significant experience working with infants and young children while working as a nanny for families in the Chicago suburbs. Kelly’s experience includes working with children with anxiety disorders, behavioral concerns, toilet-training difficulties, and global developmental delays.
Biking, boating, baseball, and yoga are just a few of her interests. Kelly enjoys spending time with her nieces, nephews, and dog.
Rachel Weiser, MS, DT
Rachel is a Developmental Therapist that enjoys working with children and their families to create positive therapeutic relationships. Rachel earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Families Studies with concentration in Early Childhood Special Education from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. Rachel received her Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute. Prior to her career at PlayWorks Therapy, Rachel taught in a variety of settings for six years. It was through her experiences teaching in Head Start and in daycare settings that Rachel first learned about developmental therapy. While at Erikson Institute, Rachel interned at the Pediatric Developmental Center providing support for the Early Intervention Socialization Group and home-based therapy. Rachel prides herself in her ability to take a global perspective to working with children and to always make therapy 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 Bachelor of Science in Communicative Disorders from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Master of Science 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, Inc. 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. Autumn’s favorite part about working with the PlayWorks team is the collaborative and inclusive environment that she gets to be a part of on a daily basis. As the Director of Speech and Language Services, Autumn enjoys providing clinical supervision to each member of the speech and language team and supporting a collaborative environment for group learning.
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 Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol training, which she uses to support children with motor planning deficits. Additionally, Autumn has completed the Get Permission Approach to Pediatric Feeding Intervention to support children with sensory aversions and/or 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!).
Therese Schmidt, MS, CCC-SLP
Therese received her Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Hearing Sciences from Indiana University. Following graduation, she volunteered as an aide with a speech-language pathologist at Palos Community Hospital and Palos East Elementary School. She received her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of North Texas. Therese has experience working with a wide variety of clients across several different settings. She completed her graduate externship in an elementary school and a private clinic. Therese continues to enjoy the wide variety of delays and disorders that she works with at PlayWorks Therapy, Inc.
Therese brings her passionate, energetic, and creative personality to every therapy session. She enjoys seeing the progress and positive impact of therapy in the lives of young children and being part of a team that works to improve each child’s quality of life.
When she is not working, you can find Therese at the beach, rooting for Chicago sports teams, 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 Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders and her Master of Communication Disorders 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 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, as she finds it rewarding to help children develop into effective communicators. What Kelly enjoys most about working at PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. is the chance to support 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 positively impacting the life of a child and their family. Claire received her Bachelor of Art in Speech and Hearing Sciences from Indiana University and her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Tennessee. Claire completed her clinical fellowship year at a pediatric clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee where she gained experience working with children with a variety of speech and language delays, fluency disorders, and motor planning disorders. Upon completion, Claire moved to Chicago to be close to her family and friends. What Claire loves about PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. is being part of a supportive and collaborative team with a clear passion for the work they do!
In her spare time, Claire enjoys 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 received both her Bachelor of Science in Family Community Services with a concentration in Child and Youth Development and her Master of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders at Michigan State University. Throughout her graduate program, Jessie gained experience working with a diverse population in a variety of settings, including early intervention, a hospital, and a pediatric therapy clinic. She joined PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. for her clinical fellowship year and has developed a clinical interest in supporting children with autism spectrum disorder, expressive and receptive language delays, and feeding therapy.
Jessie’s favorite thing about her job is providing family-centered speech, language and feeding therapy treatment for children and their families to improve their daily lives.
Originally from a small town in Michigan, this city-living girl is not afraid to get dirty! She can hunt, fish, and drive a four-wheeler, but then go home to make a mean apple pie! On the weekend, you can find Jessie baking delectable desserts, spending time with her husband and puppy, or attending a Broadway in Chicago show.
Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Sarah Lydon received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders from Central Michigan University and her Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology from Kent State University. After graduating, Sarah spent three years working as a public school SLP in Milwaukee, WI. In addition to her full-time school job, she spent many weekends working at both a rehabilitation hospital and a skilled nursing facility. Prior to working at PlayWorks, Sarah and her husband moved to Denver, Colorado, where she was employed at a private therapy clinic focusing on speech, language, and feeding therapy. It was at this clinic that Sarah began to further develop her passion for working with children with feeding difficulties and childhood apraxia of speech, among other speech/language impairments. Because of the variety of settings Sarah has worked in, she has gained experience with a wide variety of speech and language needs, including articulation/phonology, fluency, motor planning disorders, craniofacial abnormalities, developmental disorders, syndromes, and alternative augmentative communication.
Sarah is trained in the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) Approach to Feeding, which is a transdisciplinary program used for assessing and treating children with feeding difficulties. She uses many aspects of this program when evaluating and working with “picky eaters” and children with oral motor difficulties impacting feeding.
In her free time, Sarah enjoys frequenting Chicago’s many restaurants and patios, traveling back to Michigan to visit family, snowboarding (though she’ll have to get used to the Midwest hills), cheering on the Detroit Red Wings, and relaxing with her husband and their crazy cat, Arthur.
Meryl Schnapp, MS, CCC-SLP
Meryl's compassionate and dedicated personality shines through as she works with young children on a daily basis. She finds the opportunity to work with a variety of children and their families both exciting and invigorating. Meryl believes that no two families are the same and there is always something to learn from each and every family interaction.
Meryl received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and American Sign Language from the University of Rochester. As an undergraduate she conducted research on child language acquisition, and spent summers working at day camps and teaching baby sign language classes.
She obtained her Master of Arts 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 preschool, and home-based early intervention. She also gained experience assessing and treating children with a variety of speech, language, feeding, and cognitive disorders.
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.
Katie Dabkowski, MS, CCC-SLP
Katie earned a dual Bachelor of Arts in Speech and Hearing Sciences and Psychology from Indiana University. She continued her education in Pittsburgh where she earned her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Duquesne University. During her graduate program, Katie gained experience supporting individuals across the lifespan in a skilled nursing home, elementary school and university clinic. She completed her graduate externship at a pediatric therapy clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before moving to Chicago to officially start her career as a speech-language pathologist with PlayWorks Therapy, Inc.
Katie particularly enjoys working with clients and their families on facilitating early language development. 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 using language to meet their wants and needs independently.
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, CCC-SLP
Ana comes to PlayWorks Therapy, Inc. from Michigan, where she earned both her Bachelor of Science in Allied Health Science with an emphasis in Speech-Language Pathology and her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Grand Valley State University. She gained experience in variety of settings throughout her graduate program, including an elementary school and a skilled nursing facility, and completed her externship at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. 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 is certified in Visual Phonics.
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 for helping children realize their full potential and strengthen families through collaborative therapeutic intervention. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies with a concentration in Child Development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jen taught preschool and kindergarten for three years during which time she realized her passion for working one-on-one with children with developmental differences. Following, she earned her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Temple University in Philadelphia. Jen has worked in various therapeutic settings and especially enjoys working with children with feeding concerns, sensory processing difficulties, and fine motor delays. As the Director of Occupational Therapy, Jen enjoys mentoring new clinicians and collaborating through a team-based approach to treatment.
Jen is certified in Therapeutic Listening, a specific sound-based intervention that is embedded in developmental and sensory integration, and the Beckman Oral-Motor Protocol for oral motor strengthening. Jen also has extensive experience with the Astronaut Training program, Handwriting Without Tears, the SOS Approach to Feeding, 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 deficits.
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 occupational therapy school, Natalie spent several years dancing for companies and teaching dance to children ages 2 to 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 loves combining 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 nine years in Wisconsin. During her free time, you can find Natalie exploring the city, dancing, or taking as many yoga classes as possible. She also enjoys spending time with her husband, cheering on the Badgers, and spoiling her golden retriever, Dahlia.
Ashley Heleine, MS, OTR/L
Ashley is an occupational therapist who enjoys building collaborative relationships with families in order to foster and encourage the unique potential of every child. After earning her Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at Indiana University, Ashley worked for several years in clinical research before recognizing her true passion for supporting people with different abilities to live their best life. She moved to Chicago and earned her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ashley has experience working with children with a variety of diagnoses and abilities, with particular emphasis on autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing difficulties, and Down syndrome. She loves to be creative, is not afraid to get a little messy, and tries not to take herself too seriously – which lends itself well to working with children. Ashley also believes in the importance of educating and empowering parents and caregivers.
In her free time, Ashley enjoys exploring Chicago, visiting and playing board games with her family, camping, and spending time outdoors (especially the dog beach) with her German Shepherd, Gonzo.
Reagan Lockwood, MS, OTR/L
Reagan is an occupational therapist who is eager to empower children of all abilities and their families to living their most fulfilling lives. Reagan comes to PlayWorks after completing her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Texas at Arlington followed by her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Texas Woman’s University.
During her undergraduate career, Reagan was a child care provider and realized her passion for enabling children’s confidence in executing meaningful activities. Throughout her graduate career, Reagan completed rotations in various pediatrics settings such as outpatient clinics and mental health settings. Reagan is enthusiastic about supporting optimal growing, learning, and playing for children and their families.
As a new Chicago local, Reagan can be found crossing the city’s restaurants off her bucket list, exploring museums, and taking full advantage of patio weather. Additionally, Reagan loves staying active, getting lost in a book, and spending time with loved ones,
especially her roommate/pup, Amelia.
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.