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Clinical Staff – California

Carmela B. Sanford , M.A., BCBA
Clinical Director

Carmela has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 1999 using discrete trial teaching approach with children with Autism, in-home and at school. She has several years of experience with program development, program implementation, data interpretation, functional assessment, employee training and parent training. Carmela received her B.A. in Psychology from San Diego State University and received her M.A. in Teaching as well as ABA Certification from National University. She is fluent in Tagalog.

Carmela has attended training workshops for:

  • PECS by Dr. Andrew Bondy
  • TEACCH Fundamentals Training by the Greenville TEACCH Center
  • Level 1 Training: Pivotal Response Treatment by the UCSB Koegel Autism Center
  • In-service Instructors in Professional Assault Crisis Training
  • Social Stories by Carol Gray
  • Wrightslaw Special Education Advocacy Training by Peter and Pam Wright

“Our children are God’s greatest gift to us. No matter how they are packaged, this truth does not change. Be grateful; love, honor, and cherish them. If your child is not perfect or what you hoped for, God has not punished you for past deeds. He has given you an opportunity that you may not yet understand. Make the most of the situation, for you are in it for a purpose, and there are rewards, that you never imagined possible.” — author unknown

E-mail Carmela Sanford at cboton@bestautismservices.com.

Monica Bernaldo, M.A., BCBA
Regional Manager

Monica Bernaldo is the Regional Manager for the greater Coachella Valley and the San Bernardino region. She began with B.E.S.T Services, Inc in 2004 after completing her education from California State University Northridge where she finished with a Bachelors of Arts in child development with an emphasis in special education. Monica has a solid background in Discrete Trial Teaching and TEACCH methodologies as well as a passion for working with children on the autism spectrum. Monica’s passion for her work is apparent in the community as she is an active member of the CVASA and volunteers her time to support the children in the child care room during the parent support group meetings. Monica completed a Masters degree in Teaching with a specialization in Applied Behavioral Analysis at National University. Monica is a member of the California Association of Behavior Analysis and attends their annual conference. Additionally, Monica received a Certificate of Completion for a two day training workshop for PECS facilitated by the Co-founder of PECS, Dr Andrew Bondy.

E-mail Monica Bernaldo at mbernaldo@bestautismservices.com.

Kristi-MaherKristi Maher, M.A., BCBA
Program Developer

Kristi Maher has worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 2002. She received her B.A. in Liberal Studies from CSU San Marcos in 2000 and her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential (Grades K-12) in 2001. Kristi later returned to school to earn her M.A. in Teaching from National University in 2011 followed by BCBA certification in January 2012.

Kristi joined B.E.S.T. Services, Inc. in 2002 working as a 1:1 tutor for the San Diego and Temecula regions, working within the home and school settings. In 2005 she became a Case Supervisor for San Diego County. Kristi has extensive work experience with children on the autism spectrum and continues to focus on expanding proficiency with developing social skill concepts. Kristi’s present position with B.E.S.T. Services additionally focuses on initial assessment and program development.

Additional training workshops Kristi has attended include:

  • The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) by Dr. Andrew Bondy
  • Social Stories™ by Carol Gray
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT) by Drs. Robert and Lynn Koegel
  • Social Thinking by Michelle Garcia Winner

E-mail Kristi Maher at kmillen@bestautismservices.com.

Monica GarciaRachael Donahue, B.A., BCaBA
Regional Manager

Rachael grew up in Boston, in a home that was very involved in Special Education. With a mother in the field and a close family friend with Autism, Rachael’s love and knowledge for this population began at an early age. She attended Franklin Pierce University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice. Her intent was to rehabilitate juvenile offenders but within a month of graduating, Rachael was working as a teacher’s aide in a classroom for children with Autism. After falling in love with her job, she continued working for Boston Public schools for four years. In 2010, Rachael moved to San Diego and began working at B.E.S.T., as a direct tutor. Not long after, she became a mentor tutor and then promoted to Junior Case Advisor. In 2014, Rachael completed her ABA coursework and became a BCaBA. Most recently, Rachael was promoted to Regional Manager of San Diego and plans to pursue a Masters Degree in Psychology, as well as become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

E-mail Rachael Donahue at rdonahue@bestautismservices.com.

Monica GarciaAmaris Elliot, M.A.
Senior RBT

Amaris has worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis since 2015. She received her B.A. in Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri in 2014. During her time as an undergraduate, Amaris worked at an elementary school where she was first exposed to working with children with disabilities. In 2014, she had a close family member diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. After doing research about ASD and observing ABA sessions, Amaris became passionate about the field and decided to pursue ABA as a career. She attended Ball State University where she earned her M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis with an emphasis in Autism. Amaris joined B.E.S.T. Services, Inc. in 2015 as a tutor. In 2017, she was promoted to Senior Behavior Technician. She is currently working towards obtaining her BCBA certification.

E-mail Amaris Elliot at aelliot@bestautismservices.com.

Stephanie SmithStephanie Davis, M.S., RBT
Senior Case Advisor

Stephanie was introduced to the field of Autism at the age of 17 when she observed an ABA session with a family member while vacationing in San Diego. After graduating from high school she decided to move from North Carolina to San Diego to pursue a career in the field of Autism. She then joined B.E.S.T. Services Inc. in 2007 working as a direct tutor, and was promoted to a supervisor in 2009 and has worked her way up to being a Senior Case Advisor.

Stephanie graduated from Capella University with a BS in Psychology and is currently pursuing a Master degree with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis. Her future goal is to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

E-mail Stephanie Smith at ssmith@bestautismservices.com.

MaraAikinMara Aikin, B.A., RBT
Junior Case Advisor

Mara Aikin graduated from California State University Channel Islands in May of 2010 with her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Elementary Teaching. She then continued her education at California State University San Bernardino to obtain her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and also her Mild to Moderate Special Education Teaching Credential. The University of San Bernardino is where Mara was first introduced to the wonderful world of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). After learning more about autism, she found inspiration and, in her heart she knew that a profession working with children with autism was her true calling. Mara began working with B.E.S.T. Services, Inc. in January of 2011 while still a student at Cal State San Bernardino. In December of 2012 Mara was promoted to Junior Case Advisor and is now in the process of obtaining her Master’s in Education as well as becoming a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst.

E-mail Mara Aikin at maikin@bestautismservices.com.


Lauren McAllen, M.A., BCaBA
Case Supervisor

Lauren graduated from Cal State Northridge with a BA in Deaf Studies.

Through college she worked primarily with deaf children. In her junior year she started volunteering at a social skills class for children, adolescents, and adults with autism. That experience inspired her to begin working in the field of Autism. She began working at B.E.S.T. as a Direct Tutor in September 2012 and later became a Mentor Tutor. She was promoted to Junior Case Advisor in 2013. In 2016, Lauren completed her ABA coursework and became a BCaBA. Her future plans include obtaining a Masters Degree in ABA strategies and principles as well as becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Email Lauren McAllen at lmcallen@bestautismservices.com.

karen-browneKaren Browne, M.A., BCBA
Case Supervisor

Karen received her Bachelors of Arts in psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a Masters of Arts in Education from Azusa Pacific University. While working as a substitute teacher, a friend introduced her to the field of applied behavior analysis. With roots in behavioral psychology, opportunities to teach children, as well as opportunities for parent education, Karen felt this was a much better match for her. B.E.S.T. Services, Inc. hired her as a tutor in September, 2012. She was promoted to Jr. Case Advisor in March 2014. Karen’s passion for the field and the opportunity to positively impact not only the lives of children, but also their families, continues. She is currently completing her coursework for BCBA certification.

E-mail Karen Browne at kbrowne@bestautismservices.com.

sarah-westSarah West, BA, BCaBA
Case Supervisor

Sarah West grew up in Northern California, and moved to San Diego where she graduated from San Diego State University with a BS in Kinesiology and a minor in Psychology. She has a family member diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and has always been passionate about working with this population. She began working for B.E.S.T. Services Inc. as a direct tutor in September 2013, and was promoted to Junior Case Supervisor in June 2014. Sarah completed her ABA coursework in April 2016, and took her board exam and became a BCaBA in May 2016. She is currently completing her Master’s degree in Child Development, and upon completion plans to become a BCBA.

E-mail Sarah West at swest@bestautismservices.com

K McClunney Website PictureKaitlyn McCluney, M.A., RBT
Jr. Case Advisor

Kaitlyn fell in love working with children with disabilities during her time conducting research for a non-profit organization in Nepal and Fiji. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from San Diego State University and continued her education to pursue a Masters of Arts in Learning Technologies through Pepperdine University. Having an immediate family member diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, she has had long term exposure to the condition. Kaitlyn started working as a direct tutor for B.E.S.T. Services, Inc. in 2014 and was promoted to Junior Case Supervisor in 2016. She is currently completing her coursework for the BCBA certification.

E-mail Kaitlyn McCluney at kmccluney@bestautismservices.com

Al KlughAl Klugh, BCBA
Behavior Consultant

Al came to BEST Services in 2012 via Virginia where he retired with 20 years of special education classroom experience, which included being the classroom teacher for the first autism program in the region, along with 10 years of administrative experience. His educational background includes earning his B.S. degree in Exceptional Children from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, and later earning his M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from Lynchburg College, Virginia. Al’s training has included a 2-week training by TEACCH in Chapel Hill, NC, attended 5 annual workshops by the Virginia Autism Resource Center in Winchester, Virginia, attended workshops by T/TAC, Virginia’s Training and Technical Assistance Centers, and PECS Level 1 training. Along with serving on committees at the state level, including the steering committee for Virginia’s Alternate Assessment, Al also helped form and co-led the county’s core autism group made up of parents, teachers, local businesses, and community leaders focused on autism education and training. Al is also preparing to sit for his BCBA certification exam.

E-mail Al Klugh at aklugh@bestautismservices.com

Al KlughHeather Lawrence, M.A., BCBA, LBA
Telehealth Consultant

Heather has been working in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism the last 12 years. While completing her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Child Development from California State University she worked as an ABA Tutor in Sacramento, California. It was there she saw the importance and positive impact that ABA services have on children and their families. From there, she moved to North Carolina and completed her Masters Degree in Health Education & Behavior while working for B.E.S.T Services under the mentorship of Dr. Wilson. It was under Dr. Wilson’s mentorship that Heather completed her BCBA Certification.

Heather uses a variety of therapy practices including Applied Behavior Analysis and Verbal Behavior. She also uses evidence based practices for those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder. Treatment includes: Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Natural Environment Teaching (NET), Functional Communication Training (FCT), Precision Teaching, and Social Skills Training.

Heather currently lives in Oregon and provides BCBA Supervision via Telehealth. She is passionate about providing quality support for Registered Behavior Technicians to build on their strengths. This creates a positive and effective environment for her client’s to learn.

E-mail Heather Lawrence at hlawrence@bestautismservices.com