giraffeOur Team

Aaron

Aaron DeNardo – OTRL, RYT, CMT – Occupational Therapist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Certified Massage Therapist, Owner/Director

Aaron completed the Occupational Therapy program at San Jose State University in 2002. For his first few years as an OT, Aaron explored working with different populations in a variety of settings. Then he discovered pediatrics and hasn’t looked back since. He has been working as a pediatric OT in the South San Francisco Bay Area since 2004 in private clinics, public schools, and non-public schools. He specializes in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADD/ADHD regulation challenges, social challenges and learning differences.

Aaron with kid

Aaron uses a holistic approach, helping children become more aware of their bodies, thoughts, and emotions. Through the use of intense movement activities and creative games, Aaron supports his kids in developing gross and fine motor skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, mindfulness, and confidence. Woven deeply into his therapeutic style is the use of NonViolent Communication (NVC). Aaron has been studying and practicing NVC since 2003 along with many other personal growth techniques and approaches. He has been leading the weekly NVC practice group at The Giraffe since it opened in 2015. NVC helps Aaron connect deeply with his kids so that they feel safe and understood. This place of heart connection facilitates and underlies all of his work.

Aaron has received training in the DIR/Floortime Model, Integrated Listening Systems, Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI), Rhymthmic Movement Training (RMT), Brain Gym, Bal-A-Vis-X, Interactive Metronome, SOS Approach to Feeding, HANDLE, Therapeutic Listening Program, Brazelton Touchpoints Approach and Astronaut Training Program. Aaron became a Registered Yoga Teacher in 2019.

Margarita

Margarita Gomez – MS OTRL, ATMHP, RPF-I – Occupational Therapist, Advanced Transdisciplinary Infant-Family Mental Health Practitioner, Reflective Practice Facilitator I

Margarita completed her Master's degree in Occupational Therapy at Tufts University in 2000 and has dedicated her entire career to working with children with special needs and their families. Much of her career has focused on Early Intervention (working with infants and toddlers from birth to 3 years of age), but she has also built strong skills and had the privilege of working in public medical therapy units, schools, assessment clinics, and in homes and embraces both consultative and direct intervention models.

Margarita with kid

She specializes in supporting the development of young children's global, social emotional, and sensory processing skills and fostering their families' abilities to understand and facilitate their unique developmental experiences.

Margarita is passionate about serving children and their families and strongly values the principles of infant-family and early childhood mental health. She recognizes that social- emotional learning is the foundation for all development and firmly believes that forming trusting, collaborative, and respectful relationships with children and families is the first step in providing successful, high quality, and effective services.

By partnering with children and families, and by engaging them in fun, movement-oriented, creative games and activities, Margarita fosters fine and gross motor development, self-regulation and sensory processing skills, and social skills that contribute to a child's confidence and competence. Margarita's approach to working with families is reflective, family-centered, and relationship-based and recognizes that parents are the experts of their child and have critical contributions to make at every developmental stage.

Margarita is dedicated to furthering her knowledge and experience and to constantly growing her skills to support the children and families with whom she works. She is a member of Santa Clara County's Brazelton Touchpoints Training Team, is a California Endorsed Advanced Transdisciplinary Infant-Family Early Childhood Mental Health Practitioner and Reflective Practice Facilitator, and has training in sensory integrative approaches.

Mackenzie

MacKenzie DeLoren – MS OTRL, CYT – Occupational Therapist

MacKenzie fell in love with working with children with special needs in high school, and hasn’t stopped loving this work since then. She completed her Bachelor’s to Master’s program in Occupational Therapy at San Jose State University in 2013. After internships in geriatrics, she returned to pediatrics, first as a school-based therapist working with people with disabilities ages 3 to 22, and then in a private clinic.

She has received training in Handwritting Without Tears, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, the DIR/Floortime model, the Toolbox socio-emotional curriculum, autism as a psychomotor regulation disorder (combining Neurologic Music Therapy and Sensory Integration), Julia Harper’s STAR training for modulation and sensory regulation disorders, and is Brazelton Touchpoints Individual Level Certified. She achieved her 200-hour certification for teaching yoga in February 2017. She also holds certificates for Reiki Levels I, II, and III and is a certified Reiki Master. She firmly believes that the relationship is the cornerstone of any therapeutic change.

Ann

Ann Brownstone – MS OTRL, SWC – Occupational Therapist

Ann is an occupational therapist with 20 years of experience in pediatrics specializing in sensory processing disorders, motor development, and learning challenges. She has worked in a wide range of settings treating many populations, including: premature infants in the NICU, children in schools with sensory motor and learning challenges, children with cochlear implants and other assistive hearing devices, and teenagers and adults with chronic pain and mental health challenges.

Ann is an Advanced Practitioner and Advanced Trainer for Integrated Listening Systems internationally. Additional areas of extensive study and certification include Masgutova Neuromuscular Reflex Integration (MNRI), Rhythmic Movement Training (RMT), DIR/ Floortime Model, Brain Gym, SOS Feeding Approach, Yoga Therapeutics, Brazelton Touchpoints Approach, biofeedback for HRV coherence and motor control, and Handwriting Without Tears. Keeping in mind the principles of neuroplasticity, she prioritizes building relationships based on safety and trust and optimizing the power of creativity and play with her clients.

Karina

Karina Salenger – MS OTRL – Occupational Therapist

For Karina, being an occupational therapist is much more than a job. It means showing up each day with understanding, perspective, patience, humility, flexibility, creativity and energy. Showing up in a meaningful way requires a commitment to being of service and to having integrity, as well as a commitment to personal self-care, wellness, mindfulness and reflection. In her practice, she uses relationship and play to motivate the children she works with. She provides education, support, and encouragement to parents and invites them to engage in the therapeutic process at home. Her preferred style of therapy is a child-led, adult-directed approach that provides a safe, child-friendly structure as needed to alleviate anxiety and minimize avoidant behaviors.

Karina specializes in movement-based therapy, incorporating reflex and sensory integration techniques and games that re-pattern the central nervous system. This re-patterning, or organization of the sensory-motor system, improves postural awareness, sensory processing, fine-motor and gross-motor skills, self-regulation, social engagement, anxiety and attention. Karina has also developed a novel technique, utilizing an adaptive pencil, which has been helpful to her clients for improving their handwriting skills.

Since completing her master’s degree, Karina has invested a lot into her professional learning and she continues to do so. She has received training in SOS Approach to Feeding, Interactive Metronome, Get Permission Approach to Feeding, Building Blocks for Sensory Integration, Auditory Defensiveness, Integrated Listening Systems, Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration, Wilbarger Therapressure Protocol, Positive Discipline Approach, Trauma Informed Care, ALERT Program, Zones of Regulation, Social Thinking Superflex Curriculum, Handwriting Without Tears, Size Matters, Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome and Picture Exchange Communication System.

Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly – MS OTRL, SWC – Occupational Therapist

Erin began her higher education at UC Davis with a B.S. in Psychobiology and a B.A. in Dance. She went on to earn her masters in Theater Arts in 2005 before going on to graduate with a masters in Occupational Therapy from San Jose State University in 2012. Erin gained experience in two diverse internships in poly-trauma rehabilitation and mental health before starting her OT career in pediatrics.

Erin with kid

As a pediatric OT, Erin is thrilled to find a career that so beautifully blends her varied background of science, art, movement, improvisation, play, and education. She uses these different elements to connect with her kid’s varied interests and backgrounds. She believes creating a rapport with her kids and their families is the key to creating a trusting and safe therapeutic relationship. She has worked in both school and private practice settings with kids ages 2-14. Erin is an avid runner and yogi and she does her best to incorporate gratitude, joy and mindfulness into her days and her treatment sessions.

Erin has continued training in Astronaut Training Program, Sensory Defensiveness: Wilbarger Protocols, Masgutova Neuromuscular Reflex Integration (MNRI), Therapeutic Pediatric Yoga, Yoga Neuro-mechanics, Trauma Informed Approach to Sensory Processing Disorder & Arousal Regulation, and Bal-A-Vis-X.

Erin DeNola

Erin DeNola – MS OTRL – Occupational Therapist

Erin received her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Dominican University of California. Erin has always worked with children, but her passion for working in pediatrics as an occupational therapist developed throughout her undergraduate time as a psychology major.

Erin participated in a year-long service-learning course during this time, where she worked with many families in their homes who have a child and/or children on the autism spectrum. After spending much time with a child and their occupational therapist, she knew that this was the career for her.

In between her undergraduate and graduate career, Erin worked as a paraprofessional at a special needs school in Sonoma County, and volunteered each summer at a special needs camp in the area as well. Throughout Erin’s time in graduate school, she explored other domains of occupational therapy, such as, physical rehabilitation; completing one of her internships in hand therapy. However, after her last internship at a non-public school, she came full circle and knew that pediatrics was where she belonged.

Erin has received training in many sensory integration strategies, emotional regulation supports, and academic supports while working at Laughing Giraffe Therapy and Morgan Autism Center. Erin is also knowledgeable in various manual therapy techniques and kinesiotaping.

Elizabeth Calvetti-Garza

Elizabeth Calvetti-Garza – MS OTRL – Occupational Therapist

Elizabeth was born, raised, and educated right here in San Jose, California. She has 3 children of her own ages 13, 10, and 5. Her Occupational Therapy education comes from San Jose State University where she received both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees.

Elizabeth has 14 years experience providing school-based occupational therapy to students with special needs in the educational programs of public school districts, private schools, non-public schools, and in-home schooling. Elizabeth has been responsible for interventions with individuals and groups to

address specific areas of dysfunction. Elizabeth has administered occupational therapy assessments to determine student’s level of function relative to age and educational placement in: sensory-motor integration, fine/gross motor skill development, and activities of daily living.

Before joining LGT, Elizabeth had 7 years experience providing clinic-based occupational therapy having administered occupational therapy program(s) as needed, and 13 years experience peer mentoring. In the course of her work, she was responsible for interns from volunteers through level II occupational therapy students.

Elizabeth completed 20 volunteer-hours at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Spinal Cord Injury Unit. She completed my Practicum student assignment at Simoneon Pediatric Development Center, observing Cranio-Sacral, Auditory Therapy, and Sensory-integration Therapy, Supervised by Executive Director, Mary Scholer. Elizabeth completed her first required 3-month internship at San Jose Medical Center working with ICU, TCU, Out-patient/In-patient Rehab, and Skilled Nursing settings. Elizabeth completed her second required 3 month internship at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Barbara Aaron’s Pavilion working in acute psychiatric setting.

Teresa Ponikvar – Office Manager

Before coming to Laughing Giraffe, Teresa managed one of the largest food pantries in the Bay Area for six years. In the past, she has earned two degrees in environmental studies, and has worked as a nanny, an English and Spanish teacher to students from preschool through university, a freelance travel writer and editor, a community organizer, and a botanical field technician. She is currently a full-time graduate student in Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University.

In her free time, Teresa enjoys playing board games with her son, doing art projects, running, and being in nature.