Clinical & Managerial Staff

USA Branches

Vivian David-Nicolas, PsyD-Clinical Director & Founder

Licensed as a Psychologist in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0042-06

Dr. Vivian David-Nicolas has dedicated her professional career to special needs education and awareness. Having had a sister born with Down’s syndrome when Dr. David-Nicolas was 16 years of age, she is dedicated to the field of Special Education not only professionally but personally.

Dr. David-Nicolas received her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute, in Berkeley, California in June 2001. Prior to this, she received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology in June 1998 from the same university, and her Bachelor’s degree in Communication, in June 1994, from University of California, San Diego.

Dr. David-Nicolas’s professional experience entails working with a variety of populations and age groups across different diagnostic classifications (e.g. psychiatry, counseling, education, etc). Most of her professional career has been devoted to working with the Autism population, whereby, Dr. David-Nicolas has provided Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services for individuals diagnosed within the autism spectrum for 20 years. In March 2001, she founded Stepping Stones Center for Autistic Spectrum Disorders, in the United States, and an international affiliate branch in Dubai in December 2006.
Dr. David-Nicolas has undergone over 5000 hours of supervision throughout her clinical training and has been cited in various news and magazine articles noting her expertise in the field of Autism and contributing important information about best-practices in the field. Further to this, in 2007, she completed seven specialized graduate level courses in Behavior Analysis to work towards receiving certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Dr. Vivian David-Nicolas is a strong advocate for Special Education as she firmly believes that each individual deserves a quality life, regardless of race, religion or ability.

In April 2011, Dr Vivian was awarded ‘Outstanding Clinical Psychologist’ and ‘Employee of the Year’ at the Princess Haya Awards for Special Education, in U.A.E.

Sharon Venezio, M.A., BCBA- Regional Manager- Southern California Branch

Sharon Venezio is the Regional Manager of Stepping Stones in Los Angeles. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has been working in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 1995. She began her studies in autism as an undergraduate at California State University, Northridge, where she studied psychology and began working with children with autism. Her graduate studies were completed at San Francisco State University. She also studied behavior analytic principles at the University of North Texas. She is a member of Southern California Consortium for Behavior Analysis, as well a subcommittee devoted to education and training. Sharon is committed to using evidence-based treatments for the early intervention of autism.

Debbie Ellis- Director of Operations- All US Branches

Debbie Ellis is responsible for leading and directing all accounting and human resources initiatives for Stepping Stones. She has over 25 years of experience in finance and accounting, program/project management, systems design and implementations. Her extensive experience in all aspects of human relations, benefit administration, organizational behavior, training and development are additional assets she brings to the Stepping Stones team.

In addition to her experience in management, Debbie believes strongly in a commitment to giving back to the community she serves. She volunteers as a Kindergarten teacher’s aide in a low-income, public school. She also serves on the board of the Autism Hope Foundation: an organization created to help families with young children affected by autism spectrum disorder.

Linda Kim-Stewart, M.A., BCBA,-Regional Manager-Northern California Region

Linda Kim is the Regional Manager of Stepping Stones in Northern California. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who is committed to developing effective treatment plans for individuals diagnosed with autism and related disorders.

She has been working in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 1999.  She studied autism during her undergraduate work at UCLA and continued to work in the field after graduation. She obtained a Master’s degree in Human Behavior from National University and studied behavior analysis at University of North Texas. She has provided consultation for school districts, non-public agencies, and regional centers located in Northern California.

She is a member of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA) and California Association for Behavior Analysis (CalABA). She is dedicated in implementing best practice methodologies and providing optimal level of service to her clients.

Laura Rodrigues- Parent Educator- All US Branches

Laura Rodrigues is the Parent Educator for Stepping Stones and provides supportive services to all our client families both here in the US and abroad. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism. Over the last 16 ½ years she has devoted much of her time and energies in educating herself about autism, evidence-based treatments, and how to best attain services for her own child. In doing such, she has researched a variety of different treatment options for children on the spectrum, she has attended numerous conferences, trainings and workshops to increase her own knowledge and abilities and she has and continues to research various publications, newsletters, websites and clinical studies on autism spectrum disorders.

In 1994, she began serving as a parent mentor through Parents Helping Parents to help assist other families with children recently diagnosed on the spectrum. Before coming to Stepping Stones in 2002, Laura worked for Kaiser Permanente for 14 years and has extensive background in the medical insurance industry. Laura is committed to continuing to support and assist other families that are desperately trying to attain appropriate services for their children and work toward a positive and successful outcome.

Paul Zager, M.S., MFT- MFC License #33929 Northern California Branch

Paul Zager has been working in the human services field all his adult life. He has been licensed as an MFT (Marriage, Family & Child Therapist) for over 13 years, and maintains a small private practice in San Francisco. He enjoys supervising MFT interns and trainees, and is excited to be able to offer his counseling and supervision services to Stepping Stones. Paul also has been a credentialed Special Education teacher in the SFUSD for 25 years. For the last four years, Paul has coordinated a Schools Partnership Special Olympics Program (in conjunction with Special Olympics Northern California) in the SFUSD, which now involves 600 students with special needs from K-Transition. With Paul’s experience as a therapist and as a Special Education teacher, he is uniquely qualified to offer specific services with Stepping Stones.

  • Educational & Professional Achievements
  • AA and BA in Humanistic Psychology
  • Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential (K-12 self contained)
  • Specialist’s Credential (Learning and Severely Handicapped)
  • Master’s of Science in Counseling (Marriage, Family, and Child Emphasis)
  • Resource Specialist’s Certificate
  • Marriage and Family Therapist’s License (MFT)

Janet Rios, OTR/L-Occupational Therapist- Northern California Branch

Janet Rios graduated from San Jose State University in Occupational Therapy and has been working in the field of occupational therapy for over 25 years. Janet has worked in acute rehabilitation and community-based programs for head injury. She continued further training and worked in a private pediatric clinic and school-based settings working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Differences and ADHD. Janet has completed further education as it relates to children in the areas of fine motor and gross motor development, handwriting techniques, visual processing vestibular functioning, interactive metronome and therapeutic listening. She currently is the consulting Occupational Therapist at Stepping Stones San Jose and San Mateo and the Program Coordinator for San Jose Shining Stars early intervention program. She also maintains a small private practice in the Palo Alto area in Northern California.


Alison Bagneschi, M.S.-CCC-SLP-Director of Speech & Language Program Services- Northern California Branch

Alison Bagneschi received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology from California State University Sacramento in 1997 and a Master of Science Degree in Communicative Disorders from San Francisco State University in 1999. She has been working and/or involved in the field for 17+ years and started out by serving clients in a local private practice who contracted her out to various Bay Area schools. Additionally, Alison has provided in-home consultation, assessments, and therapy services to several families as an independent contractor. She has been working with Stepping Stones since 2002 where she has acted as our Director of Speech and Language Services. Since coming to work for Stepping Stones, Alison has developed, run, and overseen our center-based speech and language program for children between the ages of 3-5 as well as our infant-development/center-based early intervention programs for the birth to age 3 population. She directly supervises our Program Coordinators and Program Assistants who work in our birth to 3 programs and provides consultation to our in-home ABA programs.   

UAE Affiliate

veronica bioVeronica Micalizio, M.A. – Program Director – Dubai Branch

Licensed as a Couples and Family Counselor in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0730-12

Veronica received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco (California) in 2005 and continued her studies to earn her Master’s in Counseling Psychology (emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy) in 2007.  Since 2004 Veronica has been dedicating herself to working with children and adults with special needs, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, in various capacities such as classroom assistant, school counselor, independent living counselor, and ABA therapist. Further to being a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, Veronica also completed a series of graduate level coursework in Behavior Analysis in order to satisfy the requirements to apply for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam to become a Certified Behavior Analyst in 2013.

Veronica joined Stepping Stones’ Northern California branch in October 2008 as an ABA therapist, an was quickly promoted to the position of Behavior Consultant/ Case Supervisor in January 2010, providing case supervision, IEP goal setting and parent training on behavior management skills. Following a brief leave of absence, Veronica was offered the position of Program Director for the Dubai affiliate branch, where she began in November 2012.

Veronica’s enjoyment of and extensive experience in working with children of various ages and their families has given her a comfortable and natural style in relating to both children and adults and enables her to develop rapport and positive relationships easily with these individuals and the parents that she supports.

sharon bio picSharon Daly – Speech & Language Pathologist – Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as a Speech and Language Pathologist in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0651-12

Sharon graduated as a Speech and Language Therapist from the University College of Cork (UCC) in Ireland. She subsequently decided to specialize in the paediatric population, moving to Dubai in 2009, and joining Stepping Stones in 2011. She is qualified to administer a wide variety of internationally recognized assessment tools, and has experience working with a number of childhood delays and disorders. Sharon has completed all 8 modules of the British Makaton (Sign Language) course, and implements these augmentative communication strategies in her practice. She is well practiced in the use of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), and is familiar with the Hanen approach to early intervention. She also demonstrates a keen interest in the use of apps and mobile technology in speech and language therapy, and is currently working to develop some apps of her own, in keeping with Evidence-Based Practices.

Masnoena Allie – Occupational Therapist-Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as an Occupational Therapist in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0652-12

Masnoena Allie graduated from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa in 2005 and joined Stepping Stones as an Occupational Therapist in 2011. Masnoena has many years experience in Pediatric Occupational Therapy and has worked in the assessment and treatment of children with a broad range of disorders including: Global Developmental Delay, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebal Palsy, Downs Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, learning Difficulties, along with limited Fine & Gross Motor skills. Masnoena is registered through the Health Professionals Council of South Africa and Dubai Healthcare City & Dubai Ministry of Social Affairs.

Hiba latest Picture (2)

Hiba Bahsoun – Director of Special Education & Inclusion-Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Hiba Bahsoun graduated from The American University of Beirut (AUB) where she received a BA in Psychology and a diploma in Special Education.  Hiba continued her studies to receive an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Columbia University, New York. Hiba always had a passion for working with children and adults with special needs, and has worked with a diverse population including Autistic Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, Language Delays, Behavioral Disorders, Learning Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, and Emotional Disturbances, across different settings in the USA.

In 2011, Hiba joined the Stepping Stones team as a Senior Behavioral Therapist. After a year in Dubai, she returned to Beirut where she worked at LEAPS Center for Special Needs in the dual role of branch manager and therapist. Here she took a special interest in the Lindamood Bell programs for language and literacy, which she implemented often with her students. In 2013, Hiba rejoined Stepping Stones as Director of Special Education and Inclusion. Her role is to help mainstream the students with special needs and include them in the regular education classroom. Hiba is a strong believer in inclusion and believes that all students have the right to an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.

Maria Quirke – Occupational Therapist – Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as an Occupational Therapist (under supervision) in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0687-12

Maria graduated from the University of Limerick with a 1st Class Honors Masters Degree (MSc) in Occupational Therapy. She is a member of the Association of Occupational Therapists of Ireland and is currently undertaking a Post Graduate Certificate in Sensory Integration with the University of Ulster and the Sensory Integration Network. She has worked with children in a variety of settings on a voluntary basis including shelters for children in Uganda and an orphanage in a township in South Africa. Maria has an Honors Degree in Psychology (B.A.) and Masters in Business (M.B.S.) from University College Dublin. She has conversational French and is currently learning Arabic.

Adam head pic for websiteAdam Griffin – Occupational Therapist and Vocational Educator – Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as an Occupational Therapist in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0772-13

Adam graduated from University of Dublin, Trinity College in 2011 with an Honors Degree (Bsc) in Occupational Therapy after working for nine years in the health and fitness industry. Adam joined Stepping Stones in 2012 to develop, design and run the Dubai Vocational Program for teens and young adults with disabilities.

Since graduation Adam has completed a post graduate qualification in Sensory Integration with the University of Ulster as well as additional certification in Handwriting Without Tears, Therapeutic Listening and OT supervision. Adam has a broad range of experience in the assessment and treatment of issues including Intellectual Disability, Physical Disability, Sensory Processing Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Global Developmental Delay, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Downs Syndrome.

Adam has a special interest in vocational rehabilitation and transitioning skills. He works with teens and young adults to build the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will enable them to be safe and independent while achieving the highest possible quality of life available to them.

Francine Haddad – Psychologist Assistant/Counselor - Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as a Counselor in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0680-12

Francine originates from Switzerland, and completed her Psychology studies at Paris University. She has devoted the past 10 years to working with children, adolescents and their families, both directly and indirectly. She has been heavily involved in a number of social work projects in Switzerland, France and Hungary. These projects have focused on scholar support and orientation, counseling, and academic and psychological assessment. Francine has been working with the special needs population in Dubai for the past two years, conducting developmental, educational and psychological assessments, as well as support services.

not pictured_femaleAisha Khan Hanif – Speech and Language Pathology Assistant – Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as a Speech and Language Pathology Assistant in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH 0799-13.

Aisha graduated as a Speech and Language Therapist from Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales in 2012. Previously, she worked as a teacher in a UK primary school, as she has a strong personal interest in interacting with children of various ages and abilities. During her time as a teacher, she gained extensive teaching values and experience, most of which assists her now in her current position as a Speech and Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA).

As a student Speech and Language Therapist, Aisha has had extensive experience in working with a variety of social and communication disorders in both the adult and paediatric population. Subsequently, she chose to specialise in the paediatric population as her passion and joy lie within this. Aisha is currently registered with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy (RCSLT) in London and Dubai Healthcare City and is delighted to be a part of the Stepping Stones team.

sharon rodSharon Rodrigues, Speech and Language Pathologist – Dubai, UAE Affiliate

Licensed as a Speech and Language Pathologist in Dubai Healthcare City, License No. AH0823-13

Sharon received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, with a minor in Psychology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2007, and a Master of Science Degree in Speech Language Pathology from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College in 2009. She has been working in the field for more than 4 years, providing Early Intervention Speech Therapy services for the birth to age 3 population, in-home consultation, and assessments in the state of New York. She currently holds a NY state professional Speech Pathology practicing license, as well as a Teacher of Student with Speech  Language Disabilities (TSSLD) certification. Additionally, she is a member of the NY State Speech Language and Hearing Association (NYSSLHA).

Sharon is qualified to administer a wide variety of assessment tools, and has experience working with a number of childhood delays and disorders. She is familiar with and has used the Hanen approach, as well as ABA multidisciplinary approach to early intervention. She joined Stepping Stones in September 2013 and is delighted to be part of the team.