Pediatric Developmental Therapy

Milestone developmental therapists are here to enhance engagement with peers and environment, foster age appropriate play skills, encourage communication skills, develop emotional regulation, address behavior skills, and develop a deeper parent-child relationship.

Developmental therapy uses the fun and spontaneity of play to address how a child develops globally (across all areas of development), including language and communication, cognition, fine and gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, and self-help skills.

A developmental therapist works to enhance a child’s relationships and daily functioning by working closely with other professionals, including speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and others. The focus of developmental therapy is to enhance engagement, play with peers, develop emotional regulation, and develop communication skills. Some developmental therapists specialize in academics while others specialize in infant development. Families are provided with tools to facilitate daily play and functioning.

Initially, a child’s development and daily functioning is assessed using a global assessment tool, which incorporates observation of play, family interview, and history. The family and developmental therapist then outline goals to address areas of concern and develop a plan of action that includes frequency of service and suggested activities. Each session begins with a review of the child’s progress and concerns and then progresses to play-based therapy. The therapist often models play-based intervention and then ‘coaches’ families in their own interactions to facilitate engagement, play, and communication. The developmental therapist consults with other disciplines to address other needs, such as positioning, sensory processing, visual processing, or auditory processing, and incorporate elements of other therapies into each play session.

Developmental therapy can begin as early in infancy as possible in order to address relationships, exploration, and communication. Intervention is individualized and flexible. Developmental therapists work with families to utilize each child’s strengths and interests to facilitate interaction, communication, and learning. For some children the focus might be on interaction, for others the focus might be learning basic concepts. The therapist, child, and family participate in a variety of activities, including large motor play, sensory play, pretend, puzzles and shape sorters, arts and crafts, and literacy.

Developmental therapists also help children learn personal and family routines, including washing hands, dressing, feeding, and bathing. Behavior is another component of therapy and developmental therapists often accompany families on community outings in order to address behavior issues. Families are vital to a child’s success, so parents, foster parents, siblings, and grandparents are encouraged to be fully involved. When therapy is provided in a daycare setting the therapist and child stay with the class as much as possible to facilitate social learning through class activities.

Interested in learning more about developmental therapy in the Early Intervention setting? Contact Child and Family Connections Services (Illinois) or First Steps (Indiana) to learn more!

Developmental Therapists


Michelle has 21 years of experience working with children and families. She was previously a First Steps Service Coordinator before transitioning to working directly with children as a Developmental Specialist.

She is also a fourth-grade teacher, which allows her to incorporate preschool readiness activities with her therapy sessions. She has experience working with children who have developmental delays, speech and language delays, Downs Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and sensory processing disorders. Her education includes a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology, master’s degree in teaching, M.B.A. and she is currently working toward her Ph.D. in developmental psychology.

Personally, her twins went through the First Steps program. Her daughter graduated from the program and her son transitioned into the Westlake Early Childhood program. Her experience in First Steps as a parent, service coordinator and developmental therapist allows for a well-rounded perspective of how the system works so she can best support the needs of every child.


Jessica has always had a passion for working with children and their families. She graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, with a specialization in Child Development. She has experience working with children under age five in daycare, preschool, Healthy Families and now First Steps.

She has a special passion for early intervention, as she believes the first years of a child’s life are the most essential in forming the fundamental building blocks of their future growth and development. She believes that play-based learning and parent-child interaction are essential components of child development. Jessica’s objective is to help children reach their full potential as they meet their goals and milestones, empowering them along the way.



Nikki has over 20 years experience working with children. She has been a
developmental therapist for seven of those years with Indiana First Steps. Nikki
began her career working as a kindergarten teacher after receiving her degree in
elementary education from Loyola University. She has worked as a preschool
teacher, an infant/toddler specialist, and a counselor for a residential facility for
children suffering from trauma due to abuse and/or neglect where she currently
also directs a program for children with special needs. Her range of experience has
enabled her to learn the tools necessary to help children reach their greatest
potential despite whatever difficulties and hurdles they face in their development.
Her desire to move from teaching in a traditional classroom to focus more on
children with developmental delays occurred when her niece, Melanie, was
diagnosed with Rett’s syndrome and Nikki was able to witness first hand how much
the First Steps team helped her niece and empowered the family to be advocates
and teachers for Melanie.

Nikki strives to make learning new skills fun and as natural as possible for the child
and family. One of her greatest joys is witnessing a big smile on a child’s face when a
new skill has been mastered and her hope is that she makes a positive impact on the
children and families she works with through Milestone.



Sarah McCarthy started her career in special education in 2004 and has been a Developmental Therapist for Milestone Therapy since 2013. She earned a B.S. in Special Education in 2004 from Illinois State University and a M.A. in Reading Education in 2008 from Concordia University. As a Developmental Therapist, Sarah works to empower families to facilitate their child’s growth, global development, and identify specific areas of need and areas of strength. Sarah collaborates with your family and other early intervention providers to develop play activities designed to help a child overcome their challenges and help them gain confidence in their own ability to learn and to acquire skills. Sarah worked in the public schools as a multi-needs teacher for 9 years. Through Sarah’s experience she has worked with families to help support students in and out of the classroom. Sarah is well-informed of the IEP process and can help families understand the transition process to the schools. Sarah is knowledgeable about autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, visual and hearing impairments, Angelman syndrome, dandy walker, speech delays, and sensory processing disorder. Sarah has experience using picture exchange communication systems, basic sign language, sensory and behavior strategies. She’s always felt fortunate in being able to work with children, as she lives daily the credo that “It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.”



Kathleen has been the Lead Developmental Therapist for Milestone Therapy since 2013. She began her career as a developmental therapist in 2002, shortly after earning her Master of Science Degree in Child Development with Infant Specialization (Infant Studies) from the Erikson Institute. Prior to earning her Masters, Kathleen was a childcare provider who worked in several childcare settings from 1990 to ­2002. She also has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Vocal Performance. Kathleen has experience treating children with many diagnoses, including Down syndrome, autism, prematurity, epilepsy, speech delay, developmental delay, and sensory processing disorder. She specializes in infant development, infant­toddler mental health, and use of the DIR­Floortime approach (Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model) to intervention. Kathleen believes that children learn best through discovery and that families are integral to intervention. She encourages families to participate in sessions by interacting with their children. She provides therapy in a natural, routine­based, and play­based way that allows children to explore and learn in a relaxed manner in order to encourage strong family relationships, curiosity, and imagination.



Yolanda attended St. Xavier University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education in 1996. She worked for the Chicago Public Schools for several years until she moved to Indiana. In 2009, she decided to pursue a career in Developmental Therapy after her son was in the Illinois Early Intervention program. She was extremely happy with the therapist’s hard work and dedication, and the impact it made in her son’s development. Since then, she has worked with children with a variety of delays. She believes in the importance of family involvement and establishing a good support system with families.