All posts by Brantley Bonnette

Brantley Bonnette

About Brantley Bonnette

When I walked into Bright Start, I knew that I had found what I'd been looking for: a group of caring professionals with a passion for delivering quality services to children and families. I have never had a job in which I didn't work with children and their families. This began at twelve years old, when I became a certified Babysitter. I continued to babysit well into my college career at Columbia College. I also worked at a Child Development Center and taught swim lessons during this time. Upon graduating with a BA in Social Work, I was a counselor at a Residential Treatment Facility and, later, a Shift Supervisor a a Residential Treatment and Evaluation Center. Prior to finding my passion for Early Intervention Services, I worked as a Community-Based Counselor, a Case Manager, and a Therapeutic Support Staff.

Family Spotlights!

My favorite blog topics are the “Family Spotlights”. I love hearing their stories and sharing their milestones. I had the pleasure of meeting one incredible little girl named Avery a few weeks ago. When I was looking for a family to spotlight, I asked my co-worker Elise Washington if she knew anyone that would be interested. Without hesitating, she told me that Avery’s family would be perfect and she was right! Elise talked to Avery’s parents, Betsy & Brian, and they were on board, so we arranged a time for me to join one of Elise’s Family Training sessions.

Avery is a beautiful 3 year old who immediately invited me to play with her. Right away, she wanted to show off her new skills of standing alone and navigating the stairs. A few minutes later, she even shared her Peppa Pig toys with me, so I knew I was accepted. Elise and I sat on the floor and played with her while I asked Mom lots of questions about Avery, their family, and their Bright Start experience.  Betsy, Brian, Cole, and Avery have been a Bright Start family from the beginning. Mom told me that they came home from the hospital in March and Elise started in April. Avery was born with Esophageal Atresia & Manibulofacial Dysostosis with Microcephaly. She also had a heart defect and faced several surgeries in her first six months of life. She has a feeding tube that she was so proud show me! Avery has recently made some pretty awesome progress! She has so many signs that she is now teaching Elise new ones. Avery demonstrated this by hiding a car in the tunnel and then signing “where?” to get us to look for it.  She is doing very well with her LAMP communication system, too! Avery is eating by mouth some now, so Mom said that the team is “starting to institute a tube wean plan to have her eat 100% by mouth”. This is huge news and quite the accomplishment for this tough little girl! Avery is such a happy child and I couldn’t help but smile the entire time I was there. Mom told me that Avery loves music, baby dolls, stacking toys, Paw Patrol, and pushing cars with her big brother Cole. A lot of time is devoted to Avery’s therapy, so Mom & Dad make sure that there is also plenty of time for fun family adventures. They love to go for golf cart rides, kayaking, and going out on their boat.

Elise was able to put together a phenomenal team of therapists for Avery. Her Occupational Therapist is Paul Tardy and her Physical Therapist is Patrick “Mr. Pat” Bowers. Avery is very fortunate to have two Speech Language Pathologists. Carrie Reynolds helps Avery with language and communication. And SLP Michelle Dawson, along with working on language and communication,  is teaching the team about feeding therapy and is leading the effort to wean Avery from her tube feeds. Elise sees the family two times every month for Family Training. We then talked about Bright Start. Avery’s nurse, Kathie, was also there and told me that “Bright Start is a wonderful agency” that has “helped Avery grow by leaps and bounds”. Mom said that “Bright Start has been instrumental in guiding our family through this process starting from when Avery was first brought home to now. I don’t think we would have known what to do without our wonderful EI, Elise. She has really worked with our family and our ever-changing needs and made sure that we always have the best therapies, therapists, referrals, etc that we need for Avery. We have been with Bright Start for almost three years now and I can’t recommend them enough. We have had a wonderful experience”.

Speaking of the best therapists, I agree with Mom and Elise when they said that Avery has some of the best! I have had the privilege of working alongside all 4 of them. This really is a “Dream Team”. This team is very fortunate to have Elise as its leader. Elise and I have known each other for 9 years. We both started working at Bright Start way back in 2008. She is a natural and her love for this job is clearly evident. When asked about Elise’s impact on her family, Betsy had a lot to say: “Elise has been working with Avery since the very beginning. She was instrumental in getting Avery set up with her team of therapists. She is always willing to adjust her schedule to our needs, whether it means seeing Avery on a different day or time or cutting back on visits during times in life when we may feel overwhelmed. Avery has recently started preschool and Elise was there with us during the IEP meeting to make sure all bases were covered. We appreciate her more than we could ever say!”

I know that some of you are just beginning this Early Intervention journey, so I asked Betsy if she had any advice for you. She said that “it can be scary and overwhelming at first—trying to navigate the world of being a special needs parent, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. There are so many wonderful people who can’t wait to help these children meet their milestones. Our therapists have become like our family and they love on Avery as is she was one of their own. They get just as excited as we do when she learns new things!”


It was truly a pleasure getting to spend time with Avery and her mom. I loved hearing how Bright Start has made a difference for their family. Thank you, Betsy, for opening your home to us and for being such an amazing, strong, and inspiring mom. We are forever thankful that you are a member of our Bright Start Family and I look forward to hearing about sweet Avery’s next big accomplishments.

Read the latest car news and check out newest photos, articles, and more from the Car and Driver Blog.

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We are in Charleston!!

Did you know that we are providing services in the Charleston area now? On September 6, 2016, Bright Start began offering Early Intervention services in Berkeley, Charleston, & Dorchester counties. This expansion is very exciting for the agency and for the new families alike! This also means that Bright Start is now providing services to 18 South Carolina counties! We are so excited to welcome new families into our awesome Bright Start Family!

The Charleston EIs are supervised by Kerri Wikel. Kerri has been with Bright Start since 2013 and also supervises some of the Midlands EIs. She had this to say about the Charleston-area expansion: “Bright Start is incredibly excited to be able to bring our quality services to parts of the Lowcountry! There are a lot of families that need our help and we are honored to be able to serve them.  Our EIs serve families from Edisto Island to Goose Creek. We have a great team of Bright Start Speech Therapists, too. Our team is extremely strong and we are excited to watch this program grow and to spread our services to families in need”.

I would love to introduce our Charleston EI Team to you:

Lindsay Betterton

Lindsay graduated from Wheelock College in Boston. She has a BS in Child Life & Human Development and a Master of Science in Child Life & Family Centered Care. She told me that she was drawn to the field of Early Intervention because “I love working with children and families by assisting them with achieving goals and finding community resources to meet their needs”. She is very excited that “Bright Start strives for the family-centered approach when working with the child and family”.  Lindsay has found that she enjoys “being a tourist in my own town while photographing the beautiful sights of the Lowcountry, eating at some of the best restaurants in the country, and walking on the beach with my husband and dog”.


Jillian Franklin

Jillian grew up in Ithaca, NY and went to Northeastern University in Boston. She majored in Human Services with concentrations in Family & Child Studies and Deaf Studies. She also has a minor in sociology. Jillian told me that she has “always gravitated toward helping those with special needs” and that, as she got older, found that she loved working with children. Her career began as a Case Manager, but found the Early Intervention field after realizing that she wanted to have a more hands-on role in her clients’ lives. Now that Jillian has been with us for a few months, I asked her what she loves about Bright Start. Here’s what she had to say: “I love that everyone is always so willing to help each other and that they really try to create a positive environment for their employees”. When she’s not busy being an awesome EI, Jillian enjoys spending time around the water and exploring all of the restaurants that the Charleston area has to offer.


Christine Larson

Christine is a proud Gamecock! She graduated from USC with a BA in Public Health with a focus on Communication Sciences & Disorders. Prior to becoming an EI, she worked for Bright Start’s sister company, Palmetto Autism Interventions (PAI) as an ABA therapist. She loved working with children with autism and soon realized her passion for working with children and families in their natural environment. She said that she decided to become an EI “to continue providing natural environment services to families and kiddos with a wider variety of needs and/or diagnoses. It’s the best feeling, being able to share in successes with families, no matter how big or small the milestone”. She added that “Bright Start has been the most amazing company to work for! Everyone always has a smile and is willing to lend a helping hand, whether to a co-worker or to our families or community. Bright Start truly invests in each and every employee and each family that we serve”. Christine served as an EI in Columbia prior to her December move to Charleston. She is enjoying everything about Charleston, especially “walking on Folly Beach and exploring all of the shops and restaurants on King Street. There’s always something going on here!”


Tina McClary

Tina is originally from Syracuse, so she’s naturally an Orange fan! She is a 2015 graduate of State University of New York at Postdam with a degree in Public Health and a minor in Children’s Nutrition. After SUNY Postdam, Tina moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where she worked as an educational specialist for children ages 6 weeks-5 years. She told me that she has worked with children with special needs for 8 years and is “so thankful to have found my passion so early in life. I love working in a field that allows me to, not only help the children thrive, but the families as well. I am so excited that I found Bright Start and became a part of this family. My Charleston team is amazing and I can’t thank them enough for all the support they have given me with my transition to the area and into my new career as an EI”. Tina, in her spare time, enjoys going to Folly, fishing, and exploring all of the antique stores, thrift shops, and restaurants that Charleston has to offer.


If you have any questions about Early Intervention services in the Charleston area, please contact Kerri Wikel at 803.261.6381 or And don’t forget to join us on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter!

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Family Spotlight!

Hello, Bright Start Families!

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying fall. I have the great pleasure of introducing one of your fellow Bright Start families today.  The Calderons are Natalia, Oscar, and their little Ariana. A few years ago, Bright Start EIs had the honor of having Natalia speak at one of our monthly staff meetings. I was instantly inspired by her strength and positive attitude. She truly made me, and probably many others in that room that day, realize that I am in the right job. When I had the idea to periodically “spotlight” different families for this blog, theirs was among the first that came to mind. I told Natalia that I feel like you all would love to hear her story and she was more than willing to share. Here are the Calderons:

Natalia and Oscar have been married for over 10 years. Natalia said, “For a very long time, we did like many other couples—we prayed for a sweet baby. It took a little help, but we were finally blessed with our Ariana. She is the light of our life and has opened our hearts to endless possibilities. She has helped us grow and learn about acceptance”.  Meet Ariana:

The Calderons have been a Bright Start Family since 2013. Ariana was born that May and had to stay in the hospital for three months. Of Bright Start services, Natalia said, “We are blessed to have had Bright Start from the beginning.” After finally being able to bring sweet Ariana from the hospital, “we had Tanvi knocking at our front door within a month’s time”. Tanvi Solanki was their EI until she moved out of town. Now, our Kathy Sykes gets the privilege of serving this awesome family. “There is no way possible to share all that Bright Start (Tanvi & Kathy) has done for us. All I can say is that we would not be where we are without them and we feel in our hearts that this has become a lifelong relationship.”

I asked Natalia what she would like to say to other parents of babies with Down Syndrome. She said, “It’s hard. It’s scary. The diagnosis, the doctors telling you how much your life is going to change… “. She now tells families that the doctors were right! “It IS hard and it IS scary…just like it is when any family brings home a new baby”. Bringing home your baby with Down Syndrome just takes you along “a different path”.  She describes the pace of this path as a bit slower in many cases, “but it’s a good slower pace. By no means is it easy, but with the right tools and people surrounding your family, it will be a grand, if not your best, journey in life!”.

I asked her about how Ariana is doing now that she is three years old. “Ariana is doing amazing! We have such an amazing team. She receives weekly therapies. And Mommy is getting great instructions and ideas to help Ariana meet her developmental goals.” She shared that Ariana “loves to play with her dollhouse and Barbies” and that “she does great with her homework and loves music and dancing”.

I then sat down with Kathy, the Calderon’s EI. I knew that this was a special family, but listening to Kathy talk about them, I realized that they are exceptional! Here’s some of what Kathy had to say, “Ariana’s success is proof of what a child can achieve when their parents set high expectations. Ariana’s mother has an attitude that Ariana can & will achieve everything her typically developing peers are achieving. Natalia has an unrelenting commitment to enriching Ariana’s development by making their home a learning environment. On any given day you can find the family engaged in art, crafts, pretend play or structured learning activities. You can also find Oscar singing Disney princess songs with his little girl, which is a labor of love and really fun to watch! They have cultivated this love of learning in Ariana from the beginning, which is why she is a thriving three-year-old bundle of joy & energy.”

Thank you, Natalia and Oscar, for choosing Bright Start!  You may think that you are just learning from us, but what we are learning from you is invaluable. We are honored to have you in our Bright Start Family and we know that Ariana is going to do great things!

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Meet our Speech Language Pathologists!

Hi, Bright Start Families! I hope all of you are doing well. You may recall that, in 2011, Bright Start ventured into the area of Speech Therapy after Beth and Teri recognized the need for more providers. This program was immediately successful and is only getting bigger and better. Since it’s a milestone 5th anniversary, I think it’s appropriate that they’re the spotlight of this month’s blog. It is a pleasure to introduce to you some of the finest Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) in the business! I’ll begin with our SLP Supervisors: Kelli Floyd & Sarah Myers.

Kelli Floyd started at Bright Start when she was six months pregnant with her first child in October 2011.  She recently said, “I’m coming up on my 5 year anniversary and have never regretted my decision to join the Bright Start team.” Kelli received a BA in Speech Language Pathology from Columbia College in 2004 and a Master’s degree in Communication Disorders from the University of South Carolina in 2007. When asked about her career choice, Kelli said, “I was in my junior year of high school when they had us take a test given by the military that indicated professions/jobs you would be good at based on your interests, skills, and cognitive abilities. One of the areas that was suggested to me was rehabilitation, so I started doing research to find out more about this field. I quickly found out that speech language pathology was a good match for me. I’d always wanted to be a doctor or a teacher, so this had a bit of each of those professions. I asked to shadow some local SLPs and was hooked from there. I made my college choice based on the SLP programs that were in SC and I’ve never looked back. This field suits me to a T.” I then asked Kelli to tell me about what she loves the most about being an SLP: “I love everything about being an SLP, but selfishly, I probably love the feeling that I get when I know I’ve really helped a family the most. There’s nothing like being able to help a family and their children to accomplish goals that they have set for themselves. Those goals are different for every family, just like every family and child I work with is different. And figuring out the best way to help them reach their goals is what keeps me coming back every day. It’s also what keeps me up late surfing the internet, reading journals & blogs, and talking with other SLPs to help me know how to best serve my families. I love it!”  Kelli’s love for Bright Start is just as evident! She says, “I love that Bright Start has encouraged me to change and grow and be better! We are a true team at Bright Start. And when I say ‘team’, I really mean it. The whole organization works as a team and helps and supports other parts of the team. I feel like Bright Start has pushed me to become a better version of myself and has definitely encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone again & again. A friend once shared a quote: ‘If you would change, everything would change for you’. Bright Start has helped me to change and step out of my comfort zone and to push my limits to be an even better me than before. I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity to work with this wonderful group of motivated and like-minded individuals every day!!” Kelli is married to Lee. They live in Charleston and have 2 precious children– a little boy named Jay and a little girl named Myer. They are very excited to have another baby girl this December.


Our other SLP supervisor, Sarah Myers, joined the Bright Start team in February of 2012. Initially, this was part-time on her days off to cover Kelli’s first maternity leave. She fell in love with Bright Start and the Early Intervention population and was full-time in 2013. Sarah went to Columbia College for years and then transferred to USC to graduate from the business school in 2003. She then went on to earn a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from USC in 2010. I asked Sarah about her career path: “After college, I worked in event planning and non-profit development before changing careers to pursue speech pathology. I had originally considered speech therapy when I started college, and after working for several years in these other positions, I decided that speech was the right direction for me. Looking back now, it was the best career decision that I could have made and I couldn’t be happier working in this field.” I also asked Sarah to tell me what she loves about being an SLP. She says, “There is so much to love about being a speech therapist. I really enjoy training and supporting our team of SLPs at Bright Start. I also love being able to help families. It’s always my goal to empower parents to help their children and I love seeing that happen. It is so exciting and rewarding to see parents and teachers help their children make progress with communication and feeding skills. When asked Sarah what she likes most about being on the Bright Start team, she said, “It’s hard to pick just one thing! I feel incredibly fortunate to work for such a supportive company and with so many wonderful, caring people. One of the things that I love most about Bright Start is our mission and approach to helping families and their children.” Sarah and her husband Matt live in Columbia and are the proud new parents to their baby girl, Millie, who was born in July.

I would now like to introduce Rupal Patel, Intake Coordinator. Rupal plays a vital role and is a big reason why our SLP program runs so smoothly and is so successful. Rupal started with Bright Start in October of 2010 and later joined the Speech Team. Some of her day-to-day duties include processing all incoming Speech referrals, managing all speech therapy billing claims, and credentialing new therapists. And since Rupal works in the Columbia office, I can tell you that she does way more than her listed duties. She is always willing to help out in any way that she can, from providing EIs with ST notes to being our unofficial IT expert (trust me, she’s helped with numerous “disasters”). Rupal always has a smile and makes our office a little more cheerful. Like Sarah said, “We wouldn’t be able to keep everything straight without Rupal! She’s been with us since the start of the SLP program and we hope that she continues to help us as we grow our program.” When asked about working here, she said, “I love being with Bright Start because I feel like we are all part of a big family. We all come together for the progress of the children that we serve. I am very proud to say that I play a small role in the progress of our kids’ therapies.” Rupal, her husband Sandi, and their daughter Anjali moved to SC from NJ in 2007.  They love living in Lexington and Rupal said that she will never get tired of our southern hospitality.

Since Bright Start SLPs span 6 counties, I asked Kelli and Sarah to introduce them to you.

We have a great team of therapists serving our up-state, midlands, and low country.  We’d love to introduce them to you!


Ashley Winters is one of our low country therapists serving Charleston and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from the University of Alabama and continued her studies at the University of South Alabama where she completed her Master’s Degree in Speech Language Pathology!  She joined our Bright Start team in the fall of 2014 and has been such an amazing SLP to have as part of our team!  Ashley is a dedicated SLP who loves helping families meet milestones both big and small.  She is always willing to help out the other members of our team in any way that they need.  We love having Ashley as one of our therapists and we often tell her that she just makes it all look so easy!!


Lindsay Gantt is another of our low country therapists serving Charleston and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from the University of South Carolina and after serving the low country as an early interventionist decided to further her studies with a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University in Speech Language Pathology.  Lindsay joined our team in December of 2013 as a CFY and has been instrumental in starting and growing the Bright Start name in the low country.  Lindsay has a passion for feeding therapy and has learned so much in the past few years in order to better treat and serve her clients.  Lindsay always has a smile and a kind word for her other team members and is a wonderful support to each of them.  We are glad to have Lindsay as part of our Bright Start team!


Rebecca Corbett is our third low country therapist and also serves Charleston and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from Winthrop University and after working for several years returned to school to pursue her Master’s in communication disorders from the University of South Carolina.  We were lucky enough to add Rebecca to our team last fall (2015) as a CFY.  She has been a great fit for our team and has such a positive attitude and takes such great initiative.  Rebecca has learned so much this past year and never shies away from a tough case.  She has also become quite proficient at toddler level Spanish in this past year!  We love Rebecca’s determination, enthusiastic attitude, and her dedication to her clients and the Bright Start team.


Dru Filter is one of our upstate therapists serving Greenville and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from Radford University and continued her studies at Old Dominion University where she received her Master’s in speech language pathology.  She comes to use with a vast amount of experience in pediatrics and has practiced in the hospital system for 15 years as well as in the pediatric home health setting.  She recently joined our Bright Start team in the spring of this year (2016) and we have been blessed to have her share her knowledge and skills in serving the medically fragile population, which is a passion of hers.  We look forward to learning so much more from Dru as she continues to grow and settle in at Bright Start!


Hailey Zehner also serves as an SLP in the upstate, serving Greenville and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from the University of Redlands in California and continued her studies with a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Nova Southeastern University.  We were lucky enough to convince Hailey to move from Oregon to join our team in the summer of 2015 and we are so happy that she agreed!  Hailey loves to share her knowledge on behavior and communication and as a result is a favorite around the office with all of the EIs. She is always happy to lend a helping hand or even give a presentation at the last minute to help her team.  We are really lucky to have Hailey as part of our team and can’t wait to watch her grow as she continues her journey!



Katie Harrison is part of our Midlands team and serves Columbia and the surrounding areas.  She graduated with her Master’s in Speech Pathology degree from the University of South Carolina.  We immediately snapped her up and Katie joined our team in the fall of 2015 as a CFY.  We have loved having Katie’s smiling face on our team this past year and have been amazed to watch her develop and grow into such a great SLP.  She has been willing to tackle any project we have given her and has as a result expanded both her skills and knowledge in the pediatric field of speech language pathology.  We can’t wait to see what the future will bring for Katie!

Kelly Hogan is also part of our Midlands team and serves Columbia and the surrounding areas.  She graduated with a Master’s in Speech Pathology degree from the University of South Carolina.  Kelly joined our team earlier this year and and has quickly learned her way around at Bright Start. Kelly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and has special knowledge in the area of fluency. Patients and their families love Kelly’s warm and caring approach to therapy, and many have already seen great progress. We are so glad to have Kelly as part of the Bright Start team!

Michelle Flynn is another of our Midlands’ therapists and serves Columbia and the surrounding areas.  She graduated from James Madison University with a Master of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders.  We were lucky enough to convince Michelle to be a part of our team last summer (2015) when she moved from New Orleans to Lexington, SC.  Michelle is our traveler and has practiced as a speech language pathologist in the various areas she was stationed with her husband and family including a diplomatic mission in South America where she ran a private practice.  We have greatly benefited from Michelle’s various areas of expertise as she is always willing to share her knowledge and new information that she finds to help grow the skills of our SLP team.  We are truly fortunate to have Michelle as part of our Bright Start team!

We’re also excited to introduce 2 SLPs that will be joining our Bright Start family very soon: Laura Hicklin & Amy Muzynoski!

Laura Hickin: Sarah told me that “Laura will be joining the Bright Start team in the Rock Hill area in September. She grew up in this area and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this new position. Laura is experienced with working with a wide variety of disorders including speech, language, feeding, and swallowing disorders. She has special training in the areas of feeding/swallowing, hearing loss, and apraxia. We are thrilled to welcome Laura and to begin providing speech therapy services in this area of the state!”

Amy Muzynoski: Of Amy, Sarah said, “Amy is a brand new graduate and has moved to Charleston from Milwaukee to join our Low Country team for her Clinical Fellowship Year. She has gained some awesome graduate school experience as well as outside experience that make her a great addition to our team. We are excited about having her join us and help to cover the areas of Summerville, Goose Creek, Ladson, Hanahan, and James Island.

It has been my pleasure to introduce this awesome team. If you are interested in their services, please contact Rupal: or 803-929-1112.

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I am so happy to introduce you to a very special group of women here at Bright Start. They’re our resident Super Heroes—our awesome Autism Team!

Hi, Bright Start Families! I hope you’re having a fun summer so far.  I am so happy to introduce you to a very special group of women here at Bright Start. They’re our resident Super Heroes—our awesome Autism Team! They are among the most caring and hardest-working people with whom I’ve ever worked. They truly go above & beyond every single day and love every second of it. Their love for the job and for their “families” is immediately evident every time I speak with them. They have a passion for our children with Autism and want to help their families in any way that they can. Every EI is faced with daily emotions, challenges, paperwork, meetings, and deadlines. It’s even more intense for the Autism Team, but you’d never know it because those things are greatly outweighed by their mission and desire to help. They have a passion and loyalty that is so admirable. Let’s meet them:

This is Micaela De La Cruz.

Micaela started at Bright Start in July 2015 and has been an excellent addition to our staff. She is full of life, seems to have endless energy, and is never without a smile. It’s impossible to not smile around her, especially when she tells stories about her pet hedgehog (yep, I said hedgehog) Kalu. Micaela graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2014 with a degree in Psychology. When I asked her why she started working with children with Autism, Micaela said, “During my junior year at Miami Ohio, my professor had us study Temple Grandin. I fell in love with her story & strength, sparking a need to research this more. I then took another course related to Autism and became friends with a peer who has a son with Autism. I began asking my professor about careers and/or programs where I can help children on the spectrum learn and feel good about themselves. I chose to work with children because I wanted to help them understand, at a young age, how awesome and important they are. She led me to ABA therapy and I have been working with children with Autism ever since. Micaela said that she loves being a part of the Bright Start Autism Team because “I love that there is such a broad spectrum and every child has their own special gift to share with the world. I love learning something new from each session and I love the strength these families have! There is something so rewarding about a family welcoming you into their lives and watching their child blossom! I honestly could not imagine myself in a different field. I laugh and feel proud after every session!” When I asked Micaela about her hobbies and how she spends her free time, I learned a lot about her: she’s a movie buff and can’t pick a favorite, but her favorite candy is Hot Tamales. She also loves pizza. Micaela can often be found hiking, trail running, or kayaking when she’s not snuggling with that hedgehog J. We are so happy to have you at Bright Start, Micaela. You definitely bring a lot of joy to your coworkers and to the families that you serve.

And this is Michelle Stewart.

Michelle, too, has been an awesome addition to the Autism Team. She is one of the most compassionate and patient EIs that I’ve ever known. Her families love her and so do her coworkers. Michelle is always willing to help guide other EIs when we have questions about Autism and/or the related paperwork.  She started at Bright Start in March 2015. She graduated with a BA in Psychology from Limestone College in 2014. When asked about why she chose the Autism field, Michelle said, “Learning and studying so much about it in college, I just knew I had a true passion for it. I started out doing ABA therapy and wanted to see how I could continue to grow and make a difference. She loves her job “because of the difference the children make in my life. Every day my kids teach me something new & extraordinary and I love everything about it”.  Michelle says that her favorite hobby is “being a mom. It’s truly one of the best things ever. My boys are my everything”.  In her spare time, Michelle may be found watching reality TV, as she’s a self-professed reality TV junkie, or eating her favorite cuisine: Mexican food. We are so fortunate to have Michelle with us! You are a vital team player and you’re making an incredible difference in the lives of so many!

Now it’s time to meet Brittany Robinson.


Brittany joined us in December 2014 after graduating from Winthrop University. Her degree is Family & Consumer Science with specialization in Early Childhood Studies. Brittany is the type of person that seems to always be happy. She is very friendly and a genuinely kind person. She is well-loved by all of her families and her coworkers feel the same. She is quick to offer help and her passion for her job is easy to see. When I asked Brittany how she became interested in the Autism field, I learned that she’s known her whole life that she wanted to work with children with special needs. Her cousin has Autism, so Brittany started doing some research. In her last two years at Winthrop, she had the opportunity to intern at a small ABA clinic near campus and says, “I’ve been in love ever since”. She told me that she loves this job because “every child is different. Seeing that light bulb go off during a visit is such a joy. To know that I can make a difference in family’s life is so rewarding”.  Brittany, in her downtime, may be found watching her favorite show—Law & Order: SVU. Brittany, we are so honored to work with you. Your energy, knowledge, and kindness make Bright Start a better place every day.

And here is Crystal Tuttle.

Crystal joined the Bright Start Upstate office in July of 2013. She graduated from Anderson University with degrees in Early Childhood/Elementary Education & Special Education. Crystal’s experience with Autism began in high school when she served in Teacher Cadets. Then, in college, she provided ABA to a family and realized her passion. Since then, she has worked with individuals with Autism in various settings. Crystal absolutely loves being an Autism EI and it shows!  As I was gathering some information about Crystal, Beth Deason and Teri Todd were quick to tell me about her drive, her dedication, and about how her families love her. Crystal says that this position has taught her “so much about not only Autism, but how to better serve families. I love working on the Autism Team because I not only get to meet some amazing kiddos, but I get to help bring hope & light to families when they are facing a very unknown future and a diagnosis they were not exactly prepared for”.  In her free time, Crystal may be found out for a run, watching Golden Girls, or enjoying green Jolly Ranchers. Her favorite role and pastime, though, is being a foster Mommy to her precious children. Thank you for being you, Crystal! You certainly are bringing “hope & light” to so many!

And now I present to you KelLeigh Dantzler.

KelLeigh is Bright Start’s longest serving EI. Our owners Beth & Teri hired her as the very first Autism EI way back in 2000. She is a graduate of Columbia College (go Fighting Koalas!) and has a Master of Rehabilitation degree from USC School of Medicine. While in college, she provided Lovaas-based ABA to a 5 year old little girl with Autism and this is where her passion was realized. KelLeigh had a strong desire to “understand how her brain worked and to understand what her behaviors meant” and to understand the little girl’s communication. KelLeigh “was amazed by her memory and the things in life that she loved (bowties, butter, fans, and the movie ‘Babe’) & the things that frightened her (Koosh balls and dogs)”.  In graduate school, KelLeigh did an internship at Midlands Autism Division. She says that her “passion for families and kids with Autism has continued to grow. I have learned so much from the kids and families that I have served over the years. Every child—every family is different. They have different needs, strengths, and priorities. But they all love their children and want the best services to help them grow and learn. I have been blessed to help so many families access services in our community to help their children blossom”. KelLeigh shared that one of her favorite parts of her job happens when “a child acquires a new skill and the excitement the family feels at seeing ‘he is in there’. I love seeing the pride on children’s faces when they see they have learned something new. Hearing a child’s first words or sound or seeing his first sign is a miracle. I love when the mom and I look at each other with that look on our faces that says, ‘did he just say that?’. It is an amazing thing to witness”.

On a personal note, KelLeigh and her husband Chad have been married for 9 years and have a lab named Baylee. On the weekends, they can usually be found on their boat having fun on Lake Murray. They enjoy watching TV—mostly crime shows, but when Chad’s not around, KelLeigh gets to indulge in reality shows like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Southern Charm’. She’s an avid reader and loves the escape that books provide. She also loves getting away to Edisto Beach.  KelLeigh is an invaluable team member and embodies Bright Start’s mission. She is loved and highly respected by her families, co-workers, and other professionals. KelLeigh, since she is our…(ahem)…most seasoned EI veteran, is often our go-to when we EIs need advice,  guidance, or just someone to listen.  We are better because of you!

Thanks for taking a few minutes to meet our awesome Autism Team! They truly are special people and have hearts of gold. They are among the best in the business and their families & coworkers agree. Thank you, Bright Start Super Heroes, for all that you do for our Autism Families!

As always, we hope to see you all at our next Playgroup!

Brantley 🙂

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Important tips to remember while in the water!

Happy May, everyone! I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful weather like I am. Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, is right around the corner. Before we know it, we’ll be looking for ways to beat the stifling SC heat.  And what better way to do this than a day at the pool, beach, or lake? It makes for a great family day filled with lots of laughter and memories. However, we have to take a look at some very scary numbers. Drowning remains the #1 cause of injury-related death in children aged 1-4 years old.  Children are naturally drawn to water.  We want them to have fun and enjoy being around water, but we have to remember that over 1,500 children and teens drown every year. Of these, 350 are children under 5 years old who drowned in pools.  In SC alone, 6 children died in pools in 2014.  The majority of these deaths occur between May and August. Memorial Day is when pools open and we start planning fun, water-based activities. We want everyone to get out there and enjoy a beautiful day on the water or by the pool, so here are some important tips to remember:

  1. Talk about water safety as a family. And revisit this topic often during the warmer months. Make sure that all caregivers know your family’s rules. A great rule of thumb is to always be within arm’s reach of your toddler. And for older children who can swim, always designate someone to watch them at all times. Even when lifeguards are on duty! It’s also advisable for parents and caregivers to be trained in CPR.
  2. Routine! Routines can prevent a child from entering the water without your knowledge. Depending on the age of your child, you can establish a rule such as, “before going in the water, we have to (change into a swim diaper/put on sun block/ say the code word)”.
  3. Life jackets! Establish a rule that your child must wear it at all times when near water (including on docks, boat ramps, boats, pool decks).
  4. Make sure that the pool fence is at least 4’ high and self-latches.
  5. Swim lessons! Lots of organizations provide swim lessons to babies under 12 months old, children of all ages, and adults. This is a priceless investment. Ask your EI or Case Manager about area programs.

Have fun out there! We can’t wait to see you at our Summer Play Groups. Stay tuned for details.

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