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
Co-Owner/ Co-Director/ San Diego Behavior Solutions
Site/Clinical Supervisor at Alliant International University
Clinical Supervisor for Alliant Educational Foundation Sponsored Site: Head Start/Early Head Start, Neighborhood House Association.

“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 is a Site/Clinical Supervisor at Alliant International University where she provides guidance and supervision for doctoral students. Dr. Pontillo has also developed a downloadable online parent training course (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 is not accepting new regular therapy clients at this time. 

Dr. Pontillo lives with her daughter, her son, our SDKF 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.


Kaydon Schanberger
Kaydon Schanberger M.Ed.
SDKF Director of the Educational Psychology Department
Specialist in Educational Psychology
San Diego Kids First Clinic Coordinator

“Kaydon was a dream to work with during the summers at Camp Jaycee. She worked directly with me on implementing supports for kids with special needs and behavioral challenges creating an incredibly inclusive environment for every single child in her care. She always had ideas to solve problems that arose and kept the children’s growth and social emotional development always at the forefront of every day.” Wendy Smith, Inclusion Director LFJCC

Highlighted Services: Individual Social/Emotional Learning Sessions, Academic Support, Targeted Academic Assessment, Multidisciplinary Evaluations

Kaydon Schanberger earned her Masters Degree in Educational Psychology from Texas A & M University and earned her Bachelors Degree in Integrated Studies with an Emphasis in Education from Point Loma Nazarene University. Additionally, she possesses a  dual teaching credential in General Education and Mild-Moderate Special Education, and Associate Degrees in both Child and Human Development. Kaydon has had extensive training and experience working with children (within classroom and extra-curricular settings) in order to foster their  successful inclusion in mainstream environments. She follows a relationship based management style, taking the time to get to know her students and families individually.

At San Diego Kids First (SDKF), Kaydon fills two important roles. First is her role as Specialist in Educational Psychology, offering the following individual and small-group services: Targeted Academic Assessments, Multidisciplinary Evaluations in conjunction with SDFK Clinical Psychologists, Social/Emotional Skills Development (Social Emotional Learning Curriculum), Dysgraphia/Fine Motor & Handwriting Skills  Development (Learning Without Tears Curriculum), Dyslexia/Reading Skills Development (Orton Gillingham Curriculum), Individual academic support for Elementary School Learners in all subjects, Participation in 504/IEP planning, participation in 504/IEP meetings;  504/IEP design and implementation, School observations to assist in IEP/504 development, inclusion support, or educational planning, Executive Functioning Skills Development (e.g Homework Completion, Project Completion, Time Management, Study Skills and Inclusion support.

Second, in her role as San Diego Kids First’s Clinic Coordinator, Kaydon assists in the development of new clinical services, provides support to SDKF staff , clinicians, and parents, and is the central liaison in establishing and maintaining SDKF’s relationships with  community agencies, clinics, and our referring provider partners.

In her free time, Kaydon loves to spend time outside with her dog Bayder, exploring San Diego.

Heidi Joachims
Heidi JoachimsOTD
Occupational Therapist

Highlighted Services: Occupational Therapy

Heidi is a board-certified Doctor of Occupational Therapy. She has worked with diverse populations but really flourishes when working with children. Heidi believes her purpose is to instill confidence and hope in the children and parents she works with through collaboratively identifying how to best improve functioning and independence.

Heidi received a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology from San Diego State University and then continued to receive her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.

Heidi completed her level I doctoral residency at Del Mar School District. She worked with children of diverse abilities, specializing in fine motor skills, handwriting, sensory processing and integration, social and peer interaction skills, and emotional regulation.

She completed her level II doctoral residency at Urban Street Angels, a residential transitional housing facility, where she worked with adults diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. Her areas of focus included teaching healthy coping skills, leading crisis planning, running self-care groups, teaching mindfulness, and educating staff and clients on the importance of self-regulation.

Heidi’s doctoral capstone project involved developing a sensory-based regulation curriculum for various populations, including traditional elementary schools, schools for adults with intellectual disabilities, universities, and the general population.

Heidi utilizes play-based therapy, a powerful tool that allows her to tap into children’s worlds and understand their unique needs.

Play is a natural way for children to interact, and through this model, she helps children work on the skills they need to grow, such as:

  • Daily Self-Care Skills
  • Visual Motor Integration
  • Visual Perceptual Skills
  • Social & Peer Interaction Skills
  • Self-Regulation & Attention
  • Sensory Processing
  • Strength & Coordination
  • Motor Planning
Jenaya Vasquez Aguirre
Jenaya Vasquez Aguirre B.A.
Office Manager
Social Emotional Learning Instructor

“I am overjoyed to begin a new journey with SD Kids First and learn from every single clinician and member of our team! I cannot wait to further explore the world of counseling, therapy, and consultation.”

Jenaya Vasquez obtained her Bachelor’s Degree from San Diego State University in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Elementary Education. Jenaya brings four years of dedicated student teaching to our SDKF Educational Psychology Department. Working with elementary-aged children and adolescents from TK through middle school, her passion for guiding young learners toward holistic development is evident in her commitment to fostering growth in academic, social, language, and motor skills every day.

With a certified background in Social Emotional Learning instruction and School Supports, Jenaya specializes in empowering children to cultivate crucial skills like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship building.

Under the direct guidance of our Director of the Educational Psychology Department, Kaydon Schanberger, Jenaya is dedicated to fostering a vibrant community of learners. Together, they create an atmosphere where growth is celebrated amidst positivity and engagement.

Currently available for in-office sessions, Jenaya eagerly looks forward to embarking on new journeys of learning and development with her clients. Collaborating closely with Kaydon, they ensure that clients thrive through the Social/Emotional Skills Development curriculum, nurturing essential social and emotional competencies.

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.”

Highlighted New Service: Dyslexia Screening

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

What sets Sheri apart from other advocates is that she always has first-hand experience working with the child before requesting an evaluation or entering a school meeting. As a result, she can offer the school her informed observations, beneficial strategies, and specific recommendations unique to each child. Additionally, Sheri has held the unique position of working with IEP teams as both a school-employed Educational Specialist and a private Educational Therapist, quite literally sitting on both sides of the table. Over the years, Sheri has successfully secured specialized services and appropriate accommodations for hundreds of K-12 students in public and private sectors.

Sheri views each child from a holistic perspective, considering emotional, social, and behavioral issues that may impede learning. By exploring additional contributing factors, such as physical, sensory, speech, language, or processing delays, Sheri can offer the IEP team valuable information and feedback. Sheri starts by working with each student individually to identify the challenges that may impact or prevent academic success then formulates individualized and targeted recommendations for specific evaluations, treatment plans, and services.

Educational Advocacy is multi-faceted. Sheri’s services include: Parent meetings, Review of records, One-on-one educational therapy sessions with the child/teen, Writing a letter to the school requesting an evaluation, Providing referrals to private evaluators and specialists, Ongoing communications, and follow up with the parent and school, Parent coaching and consultation, Consultation with physicians, psychologists, SLP, OT, and school personnel, Administrative work/preparation for the meeting, IEP meeting-full participation, Debriefing immediately after the IEP concludes.

Sheri lays the foundation of success by creating a warm and trusting rapport with students, parents, teachers, physicians, and allied professionals. Sessions are individualized and specialized, integrating a variety of practical, 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 cycle with joyful learning.

Sheri graduated with a B.A. in Child Development with a specialty in Child Mental Health. She went on to earn both Multiple Subjects and Special Education Teaching Credentials and a Master’s Degree in Psychology. 


Priscilla Tebelman
Priscilla TebelmanLMFT, PMH-C
Director of Postpartum Support Services
Clinical Therapist
Specializing in Family and Children

“I want you to get excited about who you are, what you are, what you have, and what can still be for you. I want to inspire you to see that you can go far beyond where you are right now” -Virginia Satir

Highlighted Service: Postpartum Support Services

Priscilla is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has experience working with children of all ages but especially loves working with the little ones (ages 0-5) and their caregivers. She is passionate about helping families find ease and joy in the ups and downs of their life. When working with families, Priscilla’s hope is to use reflection, curiosity and play as avenues to strengthen parent-child connections as well as support caregivers to gain new insights about their children and how to manage the challenging moments that arise.

Priscilla received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology while also studying Early Childhood Education at Vanguard University of Southern California. She earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy at Azusa Pacific University. She is currently a candidate for the California State endorsement for Infant and Family Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist.

Priscilla completed advanced training in Integrative Regulation Therapy (iRT) based in attachment, neurobiology, affect regulation and developmental theories. iRT has shaped her ability to create a safe, attuned therapeutic space for children and parents. While using iRT, she implements interventions from her experience in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Parent-Child Relationship Program (PCRP), Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation training as well as techniques from play based therapies such as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Theraplay and Circle of Security. In addition, she has trained in Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders and loves supporting parents during the perinatal and postpartum periods. She enjoys helping caregivers connect with their babies while finding hope and strengthening their confidence during their transition into parenthood. Priscilla is a Certified Perinatal Mental Health Professional through Postpartum Support International.

In her free time, Priscilla loves finding the best cup of coffee in town, planning her next camping or travel adventure, and practicing yoga.

Jordan Ko
Jordan KoPh.D.
Clinical Psychologist
Specialist in Early Childhood Development, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other Neurodevelopmental Differences

“Wherever there is a child in need, there is an opportunity for kindness, for treating the child as an individual with unique strengths, and for making a difference.”

Highlighted New Service: Multidisciplinary Evaluation

Dr. Jordan Ko is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children, adolescents, and families in psychotherapy and assessment. 

Dr. Ko majored in Child Development at Tufts University. She completed her Ph.D. in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and her doctoral internship at UCLA Semel Institute. She acquired specialized training and experience in autism intervention and assessment at the UCSB Koegel Autism Center and UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) Clinic.

Her 2-year postdoctoral fellowship took place at San Diego State University and the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center at Radys Children’s Hospital. She has experience in assessing and improving the social communication skills of young children, and served as the lead clinical trainer in San Diego, training therapists across California in a parent coaching intervention called Project ImPACT for Toddlers. 

Dr. Ko has a diverse background providing services to children and adolescents with various presenting concerns, such as autism, ADHD, behavior concerns, trauma, developmental delay, social skills, mood concerns, and anxiety. She utilizes a collaborative, strengths-based approach when working with children and families to partner with them to reach their goals. She aims to foster a safe space for clients to feel heard and validated, as well as build insight, skills, and confidence. Her goal is to provide culturally sensitive care that is informed by evidence-based practices, which are supported by research but tailored to the individual needs and values of each child and family.

She has experience with a range of evidence-based practices, including cognitive behavioral therapy, parent coaching interventions (Project ImPACT, Parent Child Interaction Therapy), autism interventions (Pivotal Response Treatment), and social skills interventions (UCLA PEERS® for Adolescents, the UCSB START Program).

Dr. Ko has conducted research on interventions to improve social communications skills in toddlers through young adults with autism, as well as implementing interventions in community settings. She has published in peer-reviewed journals and presented her findings at international research conferences, including the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR).

Dr. Ko was born and raised in Southern California and enjoys cooking, tennis, and a variety of outdoor activities with her husband and rescue pup (a beagle- terrier mix). 

Cassidy O'Brien
Cassidy O'BrienLCSW
Child & Adolescent Therapist

“In working with families, I utilize a transparent and collaborative approach; YOU are the expert in your child, and therapy works best when we work together as a team to support your child. Similarly, when working with children, I take a child-centered and strengths-based approach, meeting each child with warmth, empathy, and acceptance of their own individual life experience. I believe that children, no matter how young, are deserving of respect and understanding, and I strive to create a safe space for children to heal – and to have fun in the process.”

Highlighted New Service : Virtual Parent Consultation & Coaching

Cassidy O’Brien is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker whose professional experience includes helping children cope with anxiety, depression, trauma, and difficult life transitions. She has experience working with children and adolescents of all ages, and specializes in working with “littles” (ages 0-5), with extensive training in early childhood mental health. Cassidy also specializes in working with children and adolescents experiencing anxiety, using a cognitive-behavioral approach to support children in learning adaptive coping skills and developing a sense of mastery over their anxiety symptoms. Additionally, Cassidy has a passion in working with individuals who have experienced trauma; supporting children and families in understanding the impact of traumatic experiences and walking hand-in-hand towards healing.

Cassidy earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Ohio University and her Master’s in Social Work Degree from the University of Southern California.She previously worked at Rady Children’s Hospital, where she specialized in trauma and early childhood mental health, while also treating children with anxiety, depression, ASD, ADHD, and emotion regulation challenges.Cassidy’s therapeutic approach is informed by several therapeutic modalities, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), AIM-HI(An Individualized Mental Health Treatment for Children with ASD), Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF CBT), Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP), Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and Mindfulness-based Interventions.She is completing her certification as a Registered Play Therapist and enjoys incorporating play therapy interventions into her work with children.

Cassidy approaches her work with children by viewing them in the context of the whole family, using a family-systems lens to cater to the unique relationships and dynamics within the family and to support the strengthening of those relationships. Drawing from her training in early childhood mental health, Cassidy strives to promote attachment in child-caregiver relationships, knowing that secure attachment with a caregiver is the foundation to a happy and healthy childhood – and beyond! Cassidy is passionate about supporting parents in developing tools to feel equipped to manage the ups and downs of parenthood.

Cassidy offers Telehealth services to children and adolescents of all ages, specializing in Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, and ASD.

Cassidy also offers virtual parent consultation and coaching, utilizing a strengths-based, individualized approach to teaching parenting tools, designed to improve challenging behaviors in children and strengthen the parent-child relationship.

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.”

Highlighted New Service: Collaborative and Positive Co-parenting Skills 

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, Anxiety Disorders, and Depression.

Anna is a parenting specialist who focuses on positive co-parenting skills for collaborative and cooperative parents who are in the process of separating and/ or getting divorced. 

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, parents, children, and teens to produce lasting changes in the most naturalistic setting possible. She believes the parent-child connection is the most important intervention.  Anna is skilled and experienced in rebuilding this connection for healing. Anna provides Telehealth and in-office appointments. 

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.

Jacqueline Gamboa
Jacqueline GamboaPsy.D.
Clinical 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.”

Highlighted New Service: Multidisciplinary Evaluation

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.


Nicolette Herrera
Nicolette HerreraBCBA
Behavior Interventionist

Highlighted New Service: In-home behavior interventions

Nicolette is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has over 6 years of experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. She utilizes behavior analytic techniques to support children, parents and families to make meaningful changes and reach their family goals.

Nicolette received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Grand Canyon University and a Master’s Degree in Professional Behavior Analysis from Florida Institute of Technology. She possesses prior experience providing behavior analytic services to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Nicolette created personalized goals to support challenging behaviors as well as to increase skill acquisition across social, language, executive functioning and cognition domains. To foster the family unit as a whole, parent interviews were conducted alongside teaching parents to implement behavioral techniques in the home and community settings. Goal progress was also monitored by Nicolette using a variety of assessments to measure developmental milestones and skills. Nicolette is available for parent appointments via telehealth or in the Carmel Valley office. She also is available for in-home appointments for direct assessment and intervention with children and their caregivers.

Nicolette lives with her husband and one-eyed pup Tori in San Diego. In her free time she loves to dance, try new food, be at the beach and travel!

Alexandra Padilla
Alexandra PadillaBCBA
Lead Behavior Interventionist

“My mission is to share the principles of Behavior Analysis to empower families and to help their children reach their full potential. Every child is unique. I take a personalized approach to ensure that the power of reinforcement is used only to enrich the lives of children while maintaining who they are as individuals.”

Highlighted New Service: Parent enrichment sessions and in-home behavior interventions

Alexandra Padilla is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst “BCBA” with over 6 years experience in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. She specializes in providing behavior analytic and parent enrichment services to empower parents by supporting the entire family. She develops treatment plans as a team to ensure all learning and teaching opportunities embody individual family values.

Alexandra received a Bachelor’s Degree from San Diego State University and a Master’s Degree at Florida Institute of Technology in the field of Behavior Analysis. Before joining San Diego Behavior Solutions, Alexandra was a BCBA Supervisor at an ABA company. This role included a multitude of skills such as Functional Behavior Assessments, a variety of milestone/skills assessments, and parent interviews. She has experience creating individualized unique goals for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder , children with other social or behavioral challenges, and their parents to support treatment gains across the home and community environments. Across treatment Alexandra was able to support parents with implementing the same skills that were being taught during 1:1 sessions such as teaching replacement behaviors to increase functional communication and decrease maladaptive behaviors. Alexandra is available for parent appointments via telehealth or in the Carmel Valley office. She also is available for in-home appointments for direct assessment and intervention with children and their caregivers .

She lives in San Diego with her husband and their mini Australian Shepherd Winston. Alexandra enjoys spending her free time hiking, camping and finding every Alpine lake and hotspring she can with her family!

Lauryn Hall
Lauryn HallBA, RBT
In-Home Behavior Interventionist
In-Home OCD Treatment/Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) Provider

“When faced with challenging behaviors, look for the corresponding strength, and focus on nurturing that gift while providing gentle guidance and coping techniques for the challenging areas. That is the essence of working with, instead of against, our children” – L.R. Knost

Highlighted New Service: In-Home OCD Treatment/Exposure Response Prevention

Driven by a desire to make a meaningful impact, Lauryn pursued academic studies in Psychology and Nutrition at Chapman University located in Orange County, California. After completing her studies, Lauryn embarked on a professional journey dedicated to mental health advocacy, where she gained experience with several subject groups.

Lauryn has grown her knowledge through a variety of different certifications and relevant job experiences. Some of her specialties include Behavioral Intervention, Mindfulness, Equine-Assisted Therapy, and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). Lauryn has worked with young adults and children of all ages to help them with Behavioral Management for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Anxiety and Depression, and PTSD.

Working side by side with Anna Williams LMFT, Lauryn will broaden her practice to provide families with in-home Exposure Response Prevention (ERP), which is the leading empirically validated treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). ERP is shown to significantly reduce debilitating and impairing symptoms of OCD, and Lauryn is excited to make this treatment modality available to families in-home, where the most dramatic gains can be realized. Bringing hope, independence, and restoration of relationships between loved ones, she is excited to bring individuals a sense of empowerment and mastery over their anxiety.

Lauryn grew up in Palm Springs, California, and enjoys hiking, yoga, camping, and spending time at the ranch. She grew up riding and competing in equestrian sports, which she now does for leisure. Lauryn also has a puppy that loves to go on runs and adventures with her.


Brooke Schuman
Brooke SchumanM.A.
Clinical Psychology Doctoral Student (Psy.D)
Developmental Assessments for Children and Adolescents

“I’m so grateful to have spent the past few years growing with the San Diego Kids First team. I’m passionate about this amazing organization and am inspired by each clinician’s hard work and dedication. I’m thrilled to work alongside Dr. Pontillo and look forward to providing the best level of care for each of our families.”

Highlighted Services: Developmental Assessments for Children and Adolescents

Brooke is a dedicated and compassionate doctoral student specializing in child and family psychology. She obtained her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Alliant International University, where she is also pursuing her doctoral degree. Brooke also holds a dual Bachelor’s degree in Communications and Psychology from the University of California, Davis.

With extensive experience working with children and adolescents in various settings, Brooke is committed to fostering a positive and supportive learning environment. She utilizes a collaborative approach in her practice, ensuring that all perspectives are considered to help clients achieve their unique, individualized goals.

Brooke works directly under Dr. Pontillo, the director and founder of San Diego Kids First. In this role, she administers developmental evaluations to children, helping them uncover their strengths and unlock their true social, emotional, and academic potential.

Brooke is currently available for in-office assessment appointments only.

In her free time, Brooke enjoys going to the beach, listening to podcasts, exercising, and traveling.

Emma Benske
Emma BenskeDoctoral Student
Doctoral (Psy.D) Student, Alliant International University
San Diego Kids First Practicum Student

Emma is a practicum student at San Diego Kids First. She has a bachelors degree in clinical psychology and a minor in industrial/organizational psychology. Emma is currently completing her doctorate at Alliant International University. She is from Washington state and graduated from Eastern Washington University in 2022.

Emma’s previous experience includes working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and adults in crisis homes. Currently, she provides individual assessments and therapy to young children under the supervision of our San Diego Kids First Director, Deborah Pontillo, Ph.D. In Emma’s free time, she enjoys going to the beach, skateboarding and hiking with her labradoodle.


MapleFacility Dog

“Maple is loved by so many clients here at San Diego Kids First. Maple is amazing with the kids; cuddling, playing games and participating in sessions. She provides a calming support, often sensing and responding to a child’s innermost feelings before a clinician. She patiently participates in games like headbands (pictured here!) wearing the headband and making the children smile. She will also curl up on the couch or beanbag with the blanket and support a child processing big emotions. She is able to break down barriers with the children who are reserved and ground children who are easily elevated or easily triggered. One day in the office, I had a client; although this doesn’t happen often, hesitant to come in. When I shared we had a friend joining us-Maple-the little girl immediately changed her tune, her face lit up and she burst though the door. The children ask where she is and request her to join, she quickly has become the office celebrity.  Maple is also a calming influence on our full time therapists who work tirelessly providing support to children and their families . Maple makes the rounds , intuitively picking each and every office to go to and greet each clinician one by one , as if she wants to be sure no clinician is left out ♥️. We are so appreciative to our donor , to Patricia at Love Heels, and to Cynthia at Talakiridge Labradoodles for making such a profound impact on so many children , families and providers!”

Meet Maple, our San Diego Kids First Love Heels Facility Dog! We could not be more thankful for Cynthia Williams at Talaki Ridge Labradoodles for matching us with Maple, and Patricia Dibsie at Love Heels (and her generous sponsors), for providing us with training and certification to allow Maple to be a facility dog!

Maple is trained to accompany Dr. Pontillo in her professional duties which include individual in-person sessions, as well as volunteer opportunities in San Diego Schools, Head Start Programs, and in other community projects. 

Linda Griebel
Linda GriebelInsurance Biller/Bookkeeper

San Diego Kids First contracts with Linda Griebel at Griebel Billing Services in order to provide monthly super bills for out of network benefits, to all our families with PPO plans. If you would like to take advantage of this free service, please call Linda at 619-889-4513, mention San Diego Kids First, and provide her your insurance information. 

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!

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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