MEET OUR STAFF

Elisabeth Thurlow
Elisabeth ThurlowPsy.D.
Staff Psychologist PSY# 31761
Specialist,Child/Adolescent/Adult Psychological & Psychoeducational Assessment

“Hans Asperger once said, ‘Not everything that steps out of line, and thus is ‘abnormal’, must necessarily be ‘inferior.’ I strive always to respect and appreciate the unique strengths and gifts of every client I meet.”

Dr. Elisabeth Thurlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in the psychodiagnostic assessment of all ages. Dr. Thurlow has over 25 years of experience evaluating children, teens, and adults with a variety of neurological, genetic, learning, behavioral, emotional, and autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Thurlow has been sought out widely for her expertise in conducting gold-standard diagnostic evaluations of autism spectrum disorders and is trained in administering the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).

Dr. Thurlow earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she developed an interest in personality testing while conducting research on the factor models of personality. She earned a Master’s degree and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University, Los Angeles. While there, she completed an intensive clerkship in psychological assessment. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Department of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Thurlow has been a staff psychologist in the Department of Neuropsychology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and in the Autism Spectrum Assessment Clinic at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida. She has also been on faculty in the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Thurlow is known for being an astute diagnostician with a compassionate, collaborative approach to working with families.

Dr. Thurlow lives by the beach with her husband, son, daughter, rescue dog, Agatha, and three cats, Mabel, Gladys, and Cosmo. She speaks French, Spanish, and English, and she loves the sounds and flavors of the tropics. When she’s not in the office, she loves exploring new places, hanging out with her family, going on long walks, reading crime novels, and laughing with friends.

Sheri Friedman
Sheri FriedmanM.A.
Educational Therapist

“Each child comes to me with their own unique story, their own set of circumstances. But what every child has in common is that each is the source of limitless opportunities for support, structure and success.”

An Educational Therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Sheri is dedicated to meeting the emotional, social, and academic needs of struggling students. She works with a wide range of the pediatric population (and beyond), providing targeted intervention to children and teens with ADHD, learning disabilities, executive dysfunction and weak cognitive, auditory, and/or visual processing skills. With all her clients, Sheri’s mission is to provide each child with limitless opportunities for support, structure, and success.

Sheri lays the foundation of success begins by creating a warm and trusting rapport with students, parents, teachers, physicians, and allied professionals. Sessions are individualized and specialized, integrating a variety of effective, creative methodologies along with evidence and brain-based therapeutic learning tools. In this way, Sheri prevents and circumvents the cycle of frustration, failure, and despair that affects so many children and their families—and replaces that it cycle with joyful learning.

Sheri holds a B.A. Child Development and an M.A. Psychology, as well as credentials in child mental health, teaching and special education.

Outside of work, Sheri partakes of beach walks, hiking, kayaking, writing, reading and Reiki. She adores spending time with her three sons, family, and friends, all of whom bring her great joy.

Kim Brownell
Kim BrownellLCSW
Staff Clinical Therapist (In-Office/Home Visits)
Child/Teen Therapist (ages 10 and up)
Adult/Family/Couples Therapist
Group Therapy Facilitator
IEP/504 Expert Consultant

”I feel lucky to do what I do for a living. With each client, I work hard to achieve balance between humor, creativity and diverse effective treatment modalities. I meet each client where they are, using treatments that best fit their individual needs. I collaborate frequently with outside providers and school personnel to provide the best support. I look forward to speaking with you!”

Kim is a Licensed Therapist (LCSW, LICSW) with more than a decade of experience working with children, adolescents, families, couples, and adults in a variety of settings. She brings key experience from working within school districts, allowing her to effectively guide families in navigating the district to obtain optimal support for their child. Kim offers Saturday appointments, and also in-home appointments on Mondays and Thursdays.

Kim takes a systems approach, understanding each patient—and helping them to understand themselves—as a product of family, culture, organizations, religious affiliation, academic settings and more. Customizing her work with each client, she integrates traditional approaches with creative, dynamic modalities.

As a staff therapist at Rady Children’s Hospital Outpatient Clinic, Kim learned the inner workings of many elementary and middle schools in the Poway Unified School District—not to mention previous experience with almost a dozen schools in New York State. Kim has worked as a clinician and as a trainer for educational staff. Her background as a licensed therapist includes extensive experience in the field of eating disorders, including work with the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the UCSD Center for Eating Disorders. She continues to provide therapy to people in recovery from eating disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Disordered Eating. Kim has special expertise in mood disorders, body image, self-esteem, life transitions, marriage/family/couples therapy, bereavement, distress tolerance, sleep hygiene, stress management, school advocacy and LGBTQ issues.

Kim holds an MSW from New York University and clinical licenses in New York (LMSW), California (LCSW) and Massachusetts (LICSW). Additionally, Kim is certified in DBT, CBT & Trauma-Focused Positive Youth Development, and is Gottman certified for Couples, Marital and Family Therapy. In addition, she is certified in EMDR for trauma (children through adults).

Earlier in her journey, Kim spent more than a decade working as a professional singer, dancer, and actress in New York City. She performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and has toured with national and international Broadway productions. When off duty, Kim can be found engaging in all things creative (including singing loudly, reliving her days on stage for an audience of one small elderly Yorkshire terrier), painting random furniture, binge watching Pinterest videos, dancing and spending far too much time roaming the aisles of Home Goods to feed her passion for decorating.

James Rivet
James RivetEd.D.
Educational Consultant
Executive Functioning coach, Academic/Study skills Coach

“When students struggle in school, families struggle as well. Left unaddressed, academic and social problems compound into LIFE problems. Triangulating between students, parents and teachers, I can turn things around quickly—at school and at home.”

Dr. Rivet provides private, at-home sessions to empower families with customized strategies to ensure their child’s success in school. Through time management, organizational skills, communication skills, study habits, note-taking, test taking techniques and many other skills, Dr. Rivet provides hope for families grappling with the ever evolving challenges of today’s classrooms.

Dr. Rivet’s in-home educational consulting sessions are ideal for any child, teen, or family struggling with education, homework, curriculum, study habits and more. To schedule an appointment, please email Dr. Rivet directly at drrivet@sdkidsfirst.com.

An educator, consultant, and researcher, Dr. Rivet has a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He has worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Follett Corporation, and taught graduate courses in Education. He has also taught grades K-12 in the San Diego Unified School District. He serves on several advisory committees and is a frequent speaker on education at conferences throughout the country. 

Outside of work, Dr. Rivet enjoys spending time with his grown daughter, Pia. He can often be found swimming La Jolla Cove, a passion he has pursued for more than 35 years.

Anna Williams
Anna WilliamsM.A., L.M.F.T.
Clinical Therapist
Behavior/Parent Coach Specializing in Behavioral Modification, Depression, Anxiety
Certified Specialist in Pediatric and Adult OCD

“Every time we ask questions of our children or recognize a teaching moment, we resist simply rescuing our children from their problems; instead, we teach them skills that will last them a lifetime.”

Anna is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 15 years of experience in Behavioral Therapy & Parent Coaching, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Behavioral Management for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Anna Williams is certified through the International OCD Foundation BTTI to specialize in pediatric and adult OCD. She has been trained in cutting-edge treatment modalities, including Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and Cognitive Therapy.

Anna works with families in their home, helping parents and children to produce lasting changes in the most naturalistic setting. She believes the parent-child connection is the most important intervention.  Anna is skilled and experienced in rebuilding this connection for healing.

Anna received a Bachelor’s Degree from Cal State Monterey Bay and a Master’s Degree at Alliant International University School of Professional Psychology. She is an AAMFT Board-certified supervisor. Anna previously worked at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she specialized in depression and anxiety treatments for children and adolescents, frequently employing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Anna also treats ADHD, ODD, and other childhood mood disorders. She has worked with very severe populations of children who also possessed Co-Morbid diagnoses. She serves as clinical faculty at University of Phoenix, teaching in the Health and Human Services, Psychology and Masters in Marriage Family Therapy programs.

Anna volunteers for the Fleet Family Support Center and VVSD, providing pro bono counseling for returning sailors and their families.

Anna has two sons, a dog named Buddy and a husband who retired from the Navy. When she is not working, Anna loves to hang out with her family, watch sports and explore the beauty of San Diego.

Jacqueline Gamboa
Jacqueline GamboaPsy.D.
Staff Psychologist PSY # 22784
Specialist, Child and Adolescent Assessment and Psychotherapy

“I strive to create a warm, positive, and fun testing environment for my clients so they can work to the best of their ability and we can achieve the most optimal results.”

Dr. Gamboa is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and young adults. She offers mid-day and after-school appointments for psychotherapy, counseling and consultation.  Dr. Gamboa contributes key expertise to the assessment team, particularly in standardized testing for children and adolescents with developmental and/or educational challenges, including Autism Spectrum Disorders and ADHD.

Dr. Gamboa received a B.A. in Psychology from La Sierra University and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. She has broad experience working with children, adolescents and families, and is an expert in treating Anxiety Disorders, Anger-Management and/or Behavioral Challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Parenting, Family Relationships, Depression and Substance Use/Abuse. Dr. Gamboa has provided psychotherapy and assessment services in her role as psychologist at the San Diego Regional Center, Rady Children’s Hospital Outpatient Psychiatry, St. Vincent de Paul Villages, and the College Counseling Centers at USD and SDSU. Dr. Gamboa’s approach is primarily psychodynamic, but she also offers play therapy, family therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and attachment and affect regulation-based interventions.

When Dr. Gamboa is not in the office, she enjoys traveling, hiking, riding her bike, playing guitar and spending time with her friends and her large Bengal cat, Gilby.

Deborah Pontillo
Deborah PontilloPh.D.
Owner/Director, San Diego Kids First
Pediatric Psychologist PSY #18934
Child Development, Behavior, and Learning Specialist
Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, UCSD

“Every child is unique. To help children overcome social, emotional, behavioral, developmental, and/or academic challenges, we must not become preoccupied with simply assigning labels. Rather, we need to identify the child’s individual strengths as well as their weaknesses, to design effective strategies that suit their needs. I work very closely with parents, schools and other professionals to establish a comprehensive picture of the whole child. This collaboration creates the most significant and dramatic change.”

Dr. Pontillo is Owner/Founder and Director of San Diego Kids First. She has over 25 years of education, training and experience in pediatric psychology and is regarded as an expert in the field of child and adolescent development, behavior, and learning.

Dr. Pontillo received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia. She went on to earn a Master’s and Doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, rated one of the top Clinical Psychology training programs in the U.S. She completed an internship in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and then a specialized pediatric early childhood post-doctoral training program at the Developmental Evaluation Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital. Dr. Pontillo opened San Diego Kids First in 2005, with the passion of identifying children’s strengths as well as their challenges, enabling them to maximize their developmental potential.

In addition to her work at San Diego Kids First, Dr. Pontillo is a Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego, Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine. There, she supervises Child/Adolescent Psychiatry Fellows in their final year of training. Additionally, Dr. Pontillo has developed several online training courses (entitled “Bright Stars”) for parents and teachers of children with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has participated in numerous speaking engagements, media interviews, and podcasts. Click here to learn more about Dr. Pontillo’s other professional activities.

Dr. Pontillo’s specialties include: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD/attention issues, learning disabilities/differences, giftedness, anxiety, emotional regulation skills training, social skills training, stress management, oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), behavioral challenges, and other child developmental delays or concerns. She is trained in CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), short-term solution-focused therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. She is an expert in diagnostic assessment and conducts both abbreviated and comprehensive batteries, depending on the needs of the family. She provides consultations, treatment planning, and follow-up sessions, and is directly involved in all evaluations conducted at SDKF. Dr. Pontillo consults regularly with all staff clinicians at SDKF to ensure all SDKF families receive the highest quality of care.

Dr. Pontillo holds office hours Wednesdays only for consultations. She is not accepting new regular therapy clients at this time. 

Dr. Pontillo lives with her daughter, her son, an aspiring therapy dog Labradoodle named Maple, and with her cat, Pina Colada. She speaks Spanish and English, and loves sushi and Indian food. When not working, she can be found with her kids at baseball and softball practices and games, taking long walks with Maple, or visiting with her kids and friends.

Cori Cotner
Cori CotnerM.A.
Office Manager

“Treat people the way you like to be treated. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.”

Cori brings a wealth of experience in executive and office management, having worked several years with UPS Corporate and Father Joe’s Villages. In addition, Cori holds a degree in Early Childhood Education and Human Behavior.

From her earliest days, growing up in Chicago, Cori has been motivated by a deep-rooted desire to help those in need. She immensely values treating people with love and kindness.

Cori lives a very active lifestyle, and loves spending time outdoors. She enjoys taking long hikes and being under the sun. You can frequently find her on a soccer or softball field, accompanied by her three youngest girls. Cori and her family volunteer in several homeless outreach programs yearly.

Linda GriebelInsurance Biller/Bookkeeper
619-224-6343

San Diego Kids First contracts with Linda Griebel at Griebel Billing Services in order to provide complimentary insurance billing services to all our families with PPO plans. If you would like to take advantage of this free service, please call Linda at 619-224-6343, mention San Diego Kids First, and provide her your insurance information. Griebel Billing services obtains reimbursement for the vast majority of our clients with out-of-network benefits.

Linda has been a bookkeeper for mental health professionals since 1987. She has been a wonderful asset to the San Diego Kids First team since 2005 and we are so grateful to her for providing such a wonderful and unique service to our families!

Madhuri Agashe
Madhuri AgasheOnline Modules Support

Madhuri has been with San Diego Kids First since 2014 providing technical know-how in the smooth running of the office systems. She has assisted in the development of the Bright Stars Video Series for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum, and the ABCs of ASD, Video Training Series for Mainstream Teachers of Children with ASD. She also helped to create an autism spectrum disorder parent buddy program. Formerly, Madhuri worked as a Research Technologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has attended Clemson University, South Carolina, where her studies focused on Bioengineering.

In addition to working with us at San Diego Kids First, Madhuri is a credentialed Science teacher and a great mother to two wonderful daughters!

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What Others Say About Us

I am a general pediatrician with a special interest in ADHD, spending about 20% of my clinical time caring for ADHD patients. I have known Dr Pontillo since 2005 and have an enormous respect for her clinical skills and insights. She is my “go to” psychologist for more complicated developmental issues and for diagnosis of subtle high functioning disabilities. Dr. Pontillo’s interest in her patients and her ability to clearly delineate developmental problems allows parents to move forward with establishing a treatment plan. She is an invaluable resource to the San Diego Pediatric community.

Nicholas Levy, MD, Medical Director, El Camino Pediatrics, V. Asst Clinical Professor, School of Medicine, UCSD

Dr. Pontillo is an exceptional, and one-of-a-kind child psychologist. I have referred many children of my patients to Dr. Pontillo and she has always given them the best care and attention. Referring a patient to another professional is a big responsibility. I always look for a colleague who is efficient, professional, experienced and one who is able to come up with a clear diagnosis. I keep referring to Dr. Pontillo because of her expertise, efficiency and especially her warm and caring personality that is extremely necessary when dealing with children. I very highly recommend Deborah Pontillo, Ph.D as a child diagnostician, developmental and behavioral specialist, and therapist.

David Kravetz, M.D., Professor of Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine, UCSD

I’ve been referring my patients to Dr. Pontillo for the past several years with the utmost confidence that she will care and understand their developmental needs. Dr. Pontillo always provided them with a balanced and age appropriate intervention to help not only the child but the family as a whole.

Chrystal de Freitas M.D., Pediatrician Carmel Valley Pediatrics