About Us

Embrace is the vision of friends and colleagues who share a passion for working with children with autism and share the belief that love, humor, and evidence-based practices are the best way to teach children with autism spectrum disorders who have struggled in traditional settings. Synergizing the diverse theoretical orientations and training, we believe not in adhering to one method, but utilizing a variety of evidence-based instructional and autism intervention practices.

See our Curriculum section for a full list of evidence-based practice utilized at EMBRACE.


Ms. Jennifer Vrieze:

Jennifer Vrieze - Embrace Autism Now

Ms. Vrieze lives in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her BA in Education and Cultural Studies from Antioch College in Ohio where she participated in their co-op program, travelling and working in a wide range of settings from an independent school in Washington DC to building homes in rural Guatemala. She then received her MA in Education along with certification in Secondary Social Studies from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.

In 2004, while pursing her masters degree, Jennifer began working with students with autism. She has worked in many settings with toddlers, kids, teens, and adults at all levels of the spectrum. Her current focus is on creating opportunities for social engagement, generalization of skills and shaping positive educational experiences for students. 

Jennifer works with families in the home, schools, clinic, and community settings. She conducts functional assessments, provides supervision for other professionals in the field, is a certified CPI trainer, and is passionate about supporting meaningful social interactions.  Her other interests include singing, yard work, sports, social justice organizing, and traveling with family. 

Jennifer attended Florida Institute of Technology and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Ryann Riggs:

Ryann Riggs - Embrace Autism Now

Ryann and her family moved from Michigan to North Carolina in 2009. She has over 15 years of experience in early childhood education and development. She has taught in various preschool and elementary settings, which include mainstream, inclusive, and self contained classrooms for children with autism.  Ryann has been working with children with autism and special needs since 2009.  She provides support for children with autism in academics, social skills, and behavior management within classroom & group settings, home, and the community. 

Ryann has a degree in Early Childhood Development and received her Bachelors of Science in Psychology, emphasis in Applied Behavioral Analysis, in 2014. She is a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA).

She has a natural passion and talent for helping children to grow and develop to their fullest potential.

Ms. Casey Okoniewski:

Casey Okoniewski - Embrace Autism Now

Ms. Okoniewski is a Licensed Psychological Associate. She is currently a doctoral student at North Carolina State University pursuing her PhD in School Psychology. She moved Western New York to North Carolina in 2009 to obtain her Masters at UNC-Chapel Hill. Upon graduation she worked for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School district as a pre-k and elementary level school psychologist, with a focus on assessment, intervention, and consultation.

Casey's interests lie in early childhood development, assessment, and intervention. She has had specialized training in working with children with Autism and is knowledgeable about a variety of support and intervention services for this population. Her training as a school psychologist also allows her to conduct psychoeducational evaluations and provide consultation to parents and families navigating school based supports. 

Sarah M. Young:

Sarah M. Young

Sarah graduated cum laude from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC with her BFA in 2003. While living in Boone, She began working as an in-home therapist for children on the autism spectrum. In 2005, she began her post-baccalaureate studies in speech and hearing sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sarah went on to earn her M.S in Speech Language Pathology from UNC in 2009. While completing her graduate studies she received 3 scholarships from the UNC School of Medicine, participated in a variety research studies (early literacy in preschools, evaluating and intervening joint attention and symbolic play skills in children with autism), and worked as a teaching assistant.

Her Clinical Fellowship Year was completed at a private practice in Raleigh, NC, where she continued working for the next 5 years (2009-2014). During this time, she received her Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of North Texas and earned her Board Certification in Applied Behavior Analysis in 2013. She has since gone on to start her own company to provide evaluation and treatment of speech, language, and behavior skills to a variety of populations. She currently lives in Hillsborough, NC and enjoys metalsmithing and power lifting.

For more about Sarah Young, visit her website https://www.speechandbehavior.com.

Dr. Aurelie Welterlin:

Dr. Aurelie Welterlin - Embrace Autism Now

Dr. Welterlin earned a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and her Board Certification in Behavior Analysis at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Her clinical internship and post-doctoral fellowship were completed at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Dr. Welterlin is a clinical psychologist and a doctoral level Board Certified Behavior Analyst. In addition to private practice, she works at the UNC School of Medicine as an Adjunct Assistant Professor and as the Director of the DiagnoseFirst Research Project.

For more about Dr. Welterlin, visit her website www.spectrumservices.org.

Rhonda Franklin:

Rhonda Franklin - Embrace Autism Now

Rhonda's professional experience includes both public and private educational settings. For over a decade, she served as the Director of a public charter school which she co-founded, leading staff and implementing cross-curricular programming for a unique student population.

Earlier in her career, Rhonda worked as a special education teacher, social studies teacher, residential counselor for at-risk teens, and director of Exceptional Children's Programming. Supporting students and their families as they navigate life's transitions and plan for the future is her strength. At the end of the day, helping others inspires and motivates her.

Rhonda's educational background includes an undergraduate degree in Social Work from Virginia State University and a master's degree in Special Education from NC Central University. Born and raised in a military household across the Southeastern US, she has enjoyed living in the Triangle for the past 20 years and traveling on adventures around the globe whenever possible.


EMBRACE is currently located in southern Durham County at:

5501 Fortunes Ridge Drive
Suite H
Durham NC 27713