Leap Ahead Professional Team
Leap Ahead’s Professional Team includes Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), Board Certified Associate Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) two Speech/Language Pathologists (SLPs) and one Occupational Therapist (OT). Our staff has expertise in working with varied functioning levels of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as well as other related disorders.
Please contact us to learn more about employment opportunities.
Talisha A. Sachlis M.S., BCBA, LBA
Executive Director, Founder
Talisha graduated with a Bachelor of Psychology from George Mason University and received her Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Phoenix. She completed her Applied Behavior Analysis coursework through George Mason University and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She began her career as a Behavior Therapist for Fairfax County Public Schools in 1998. After one year, Talisha was promoted to a supervising teacher for the ABA Pilot Program. She was responsible for supervision and implementation of in-home and school setting ABA services for children diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Despite the numerous efforts by the parents, the Pilot Program ended. Talisha opened Leap Ahead, Inc. in 2002. She served as a Board Member from 2014-2015 for the Autism Society of Northern Virginia and was the Chair for the Education and Support Committee.
Sherry Csutoros, M.ED., BCBA, LBA
Case Manager, Ethical Coordinator
Sherry began her journey in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis in the March of 2007 when she first began working for Leap Ahead. Soon after being exposed to ABA Therapy, Sherry became passionate about the impact ABA Therapy could have for an individual’s life, and soon decided to pursue this field as a career. While studying for her Bachelor’s Degree, Sherry interned at the Child Help Center in Fairfax and participated as a research assistant for a cognitive development study at the Head Start Program in Alexandria under supervision of George Mason University. Sherry also participated as a child assessment assistant in a study conducted by Virginia Technology and Georgetown University. Sherry received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2009 with a special concentration in Special Education for children with ED/LD. While working towards her Master’s Degree, Sherry became certified as a BCaBA in 2014. Sherry received her Master’s Degree in Special Education in 2016 and became certified as a BCBA in 2017. Sherry enjoys collaborating with family and team members to find creative solutions to behaviors so her clients may reach their full potential. She continues to be inspired by her clients every day! Sherry also serves as an Ethical Coordinator for Leap Ahead, Inc.
Andrea Taliaferro, M.S., BCBA, LBA
Andrea graduated from the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Jacksonville State University. She has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) since 2010, and began employment with Leap Ahead, February 2013. Andrea has experience with Applied Behavior Analysis, Precision Teaching, Direct-Instruction and consulting work in-home as well as within the school setting. Andrea provides clinical direction, case management, and direct supervision services to our Registered Behavior Technician as well as to those seeking BCBA and BCaBA supervision.
MistyAnn Harris, M.ED., BCBA, LBA
Case Manager, Clinical Director
MistyAnn is a licensed Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with over 10 years of experience working with children and adolescents with autism, other developmental disabilities, and behavioral challenges. Using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and Parent-Implemented Interventions, she works with parents to help them see that their child is truly capable of more than what they see on a daily basis. Her passion is to teach caregivers and parents that they have the power to help their child become a functional part of their family and community. Ms. Harris is assisting group therapy, oversees our RBT’s, parent training and provides consultations for our families with Leap Ahead. Misty Ann also serves as Leap Ahead’s Clinical Coordinator.
Tiffany Polifko, M.T., BCBA, LBA
IEP Advocate, Ethical Coordinator
Ms. Polifko graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2004. She earned her Master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Virginia in 2006. Ms. Polifko became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), licensed by the state of Virginia in 2014. Ms. Polifko began her experience with Applied Behavior Analysis in 2001 when she started working with children with autism spectrum disorder. She also has experience working with children and adolescents with learning and emotional disabilities, autism, and multiple disabilities in both public and private school settings. Ms. Polifko is passionate about special education advocacy in the public school setting and the need for aiding families in advocating for appropriate services for their children. Ms. Polifko seeks to ensure that individuals with autism and other disabilities are provided with high quality services that will enable them to become more functionally communicative and independent members of their communities.
Joseph Clem, M.ED., BCBA, LBA
Joseph Clem has been working with children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 2011. He graduated from George Mason University with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Special Education. He became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in 2016 and is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Joseph has practiced behavior analysis in several special education schools (public charter and private), provided home-based ABA and parent training; consulted with group homes, day programs, recreational programs and taught self-contained classrooms for young adults with disabilities. He enjoys taking a practical and contextual approach to helping children and their families, improve their quality of life and is grateful to be on the Leap Ahead team!
Dezira Dewhurst, B.S., RBT
Private Pay ABA Consultant, Assistant Director
Dezira is a mother of an adult son with autism. She has been employed with Leap Ahead since 2004, with extensive experience in providing ABA Therapy, guiding new employees by developing and implementing programs with the guidance of a BCBA. Dezira has assisted families in developing IEP goals and advocating for their children in IEP meetings. She is experienced with implementing toilet training, eating and desensitization programs and is knowledgeable and proficient in administering the ABLLS-R, VB-MAPP and AFLS Assessment. Dezira became a Registered Behavior Technician in December of 2014. She received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis from Purdue University Global. She provides Consulting Services for Self-Pay families.
Ashley Coates, B.S., RBT
Ashley graduated from Central State University in 2008 and commissioned as an Army officer through the ROTC program. Ashley worked for the military and government for eight years before discovering a passion for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in graduate school. She has practiced as a RBT for 3 years with ages 3-10. Ashley has completed coursework for a Master of Science degree in ABA at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Washington, D.C. Ashley loves children and strives to enable clients and families to explore their greatest potential. She joined the Leap Ahead as a Behavior Technician, August 2019. In her free time, Ashley enjoys cooking, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and feel-good family movies.
Kimberly Robertson, B.A., RBT
Kim graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from George Mason University. Kim has a passion for helping people and has always been interested in working with children. Thanks to a close friend, Kim was able to find her home at Leap Ahead in October 2018 and become a part of our team as a Registered Behavior Technician. Kim is looking forward to having an opportunity to make a positive impact on other's lives. She has a huge heart and has spent time as a volunteer helping disabled veterans. Kim donates several hours a week as a volunteer for a crisis line helping people of all ages in need of emotional support. She spends as much free time as possible with her family, friends, and her dog Brody.
Azeb Adere, B.S., RBT
IEP Advocate, Program Assistant
Azeb has been employed with Leap Ahead since February of 2013 providing ABA Therapy services. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with courses in Special Education, Family and Child Development, and Early Childhood Development from the University of Maryland College Park. She has worked with children with special needs for over thirteen years in both Maryland and Virginia. She has enjoyed working with this population of children both in the classroom and home setting with a high rate of success. After helping many parents with their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), related services, and placements, she felt she could make a bigger difference in the education setting by also becoming an Educational Consultant for our families. She is dedicated to giving a voice for special needs children, so they have access and opportunity to quality education and positive life experiences.
Carrie Hoffman, RBT
Carrie began her employment with Leap Ahead in June of 2014, she committed to making a lifetime career change shortly thereafter. In addition to working with Leap Ahead throughout the school year providing direct therapy and during summers as a Group Therapy RBT, she is employed as a Behavioral Assistant in the intensive program in a local County School System. Carrie loves working with this population and touching the lives of such amazing children - her enthusiasm is contagious!
Julie Hembree, B.S., RBT
ABA Junior Program Assistant
Julie has been providing services in the ABA field since 2016, working with children and young adults ages 2 months to 18 years in a variety of settings, since 2014. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis through Purdue Global University and looks forward to continuing her education in the field of ABA. Although Julie loves every aspect of working with children on the spectrum of autism, she especially enjoys implementing functional skills at the clinic, home and in the community. In her free time, Julie enjoys relaxing at home with family and friends. She is thrilled to be a part of the amazing team at Leap Ahead, since February 2017, and to work with other great technicians who make such a positive impact on so many lives.
Nicole Rattigan, B.A., RBT
ABA Program Assistant
Nicole was born and raised in Alexandria, VA. She began working in the Applied Behavior Analysis field in June 2016; she joined the Leap Ahead Team, January 2018. Her passion for ABA stems from wanting to help children reach their fullest potential in life. Her favorite motivational quote by Marianne Williamson is: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Since receiving her Bachelor of Science Degree in Hospitality Management, and changing her career course, Nicole desires to continue climbing the ladder of knowledge and success in the ABA field. She enjoys traveling, cooking and being around the company of friends and loved ones.
Katie Long, M.ED., BT
Katie graduated from CNU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and GMU with a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She is currently enrolled at George Mason University in their ABA Certification Program. Katie has three years of experience as an Enhanced Autism Teacher with the Fairfax County Public School System. Katie joined our Leap Ahead team in 2013. She provides services to our Self-pay families.
Karla Bush, B.S., RBT
Karla Bush is a United States Air Force veteran trained as a Surgical Technologist specializing in Otolaryngology and Plastics along with having served in the Air Force Honor Guard. She has received several Air Force good conduct and commendation medals and many letters of recommendation. In pursuing her dreams and maintaining a positive outlook, Karla received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Sciences from Stratford University, where she graduated summa cum laude. Her next educational goal is to become a BCBA. Karla was introduced into this field when her son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which has changed her outlook in life; for that she will always be grateful. Since early 2019, Karla has proven to be a dedicated team player that has a passion for providing high quality treatment to her clients. She has extensive experience in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), Natural Environment Teaching (NET), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and teaching a variety of vocational skills. Karla is bilingual (Spanish and English). In her free time Karla enjoys traveling with her son, reading, and doing research of any kind.
Belen Portillo, BT
Belen’s special education career began while working as a Paraprofessional for 5 years in public school system autism classes and in a Montessori school. She was introduced to the field of behavioral science through observing the evaluation process in the school setting. Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy has allowed Belen to find her career niche the past 2 years while positively contributing to the growth and development of those children she services. She will graduate in 2021 with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Psychology. Many parents tell Belen that they didn't think therapy would work, but once they see their child learn a skill, they are overcome with joy. Belen volunteers at Jill's House along with Kids Enjoy Exercise Now, an organization dedicated to helping children with disabilities participate in activities.
Halley Neal, A.S., BT
Ms. Neal graduated from Northern Virginia Community College with a degree in Criminal Justice May of 2019. She is currently perusing her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Psychology at George Mason University. She recently changed her career path to provide ABA Therapy and is currently working on her RBT Certification. She previously worked at a private day school where she had experience working with children who were diagnosed with ASD and other developmental disabilities. Working in the private day school setting allowed her to gain extensive experience with maladaptive behaviors, teaching functional and vocational skills. She enjoys spending time with family, crafting, interior design, cooking, and attending college. She also enjoys visiting the ASPCA every Thursday and volunteers her time to local homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters.
Christina Loran, M.ED, RBT
Christina graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology from George Mason University in May of 2018. During her time working towards her undergraduate degree, she completed the Honors Psychology program. She received her Master's Degree in Special Education with an Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate in December of 2019, also from George Mason University. She has been providing ABA services since 2018. She is currently working towards her BCBA certification. Christina is passionate about her behavior analysis career, and using those principles to make a positive difference in the lives of her clients. During her free time, Christina enjoys spending time with friends, trying new restaurants, and playing guitar or piano.
Kristin Heath, B.S., RBT
Kristin graduated from Bridgewater College in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences. Since graduating she has been providing direct services to children ages 18 months to 18 years old in various settings such as in the clinic, home, school, and community, since 2014. Kristin enjoys developing relationships with her clients and learning the ways in which they learn best, and what motivates them to learn. She often quotes “ If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn” by Ivar Lovaas. Her favorite skills to teach include functional communication, daily living skills, and social skills. She is inspired to continue her education by obtaining a Master’s degree in the near future. When she isn’t working, Kristin enjoys spending time with her family and friends, snuggling with her two dogs Poppi and Yoda, crafting, and soaking up the sunshine.
Isabelle Kessler, RBT
Isabelle was introduced to the field of Applied Behavior Analysis through volunteer work with special education students ages 15-18, while attending high school. She began her professional journey with Leap Ahead as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) in 2018 and has provided therapy in the Leap Ahead summer group program in addition to treating clients in their homes. She is currently working on her undergraduate degree in Liberal Arts. Isabelle is passionate about serving families and their wonderful children. In her free time she enjoys creating art and music and spending time with loved ones.
Speech Language Pathologist - Occupational Therapist
Bethany Rubinstein, M.S., CCC-SLP
Bethany received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Speech and Language Pathology/Audiology from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia; continuing her education at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, she was awarded a Master of Science Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders in December 2006. Her first employment was with Fairfax County Public Schools where she increased her skills within the public schools setting, treating communication disorders within the student age range of preschool to high school, in the areas of receptive-expressive language, pragmatic language, articulation, and fluency. Bethany also treated clients on a part-time basis through early intervention (birth-3 age range) for receptive-expressive language as well as feeding impairments using the parent-coaching model. Since FCPS and early intervention she has worked in private clinic and private day school settings. She has become a specialist in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) with a focus in servicing children with autism and other disabilities (i.e. Cerebral Palsy) with complex communication disorders. She is proficient at treating articulation/phonology disorders, apraxia, receptive-expressive language disorders and social communication disorders. In her free time Bethany enjoys traveling, seeing movies with friends, and spending time with her cats.
Gretchen Ward, M.S., OTR/L
Gretchen has been a practicing Occupational Therapist since 2009, holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Virginia in English and Biology and a Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy from Columbia University. She started her career in the New York City Department of Education and Early Intervention. While in school, clinical experiences in diverse settings include a men’s shelter for individuals with chemical addictions and mental illness, a sub-acute rehabilitation hospital and skilled nursing facility, and a pediatric therapy clinic and special needs school in Trinidad and Tobago. She has presented at local, state, national, and international OT conferences on a wide variety of topics and has traveled to Nicaragua to assist families of children with cerebral palsy and other motor and developmental delays. Gretchen has training in various self-regulation programs, including the Alert Program, Zones of Regulation, S’cool Moves, Mightier, and has recently become interested in how Interoception-the eighth sensory system impacts self-regulation and motor expression with neuro-diverse populations. She also has training in various hand writing programs, trauma-informed care, and a variety of motor learning techniques. She is passionate about her profession and helping her clients find their voice and serves in the state and national occupational therapy associations in various ways.