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About Me

My name is Audra Olazabal. I have a doctorate in Applied Developmental Psychology from Fordham University. Applied Development is a small branch of psychology that focuses on the processes of how humans develop, how one is shaped by their real-world environment, and what research-studied interventions can tell us about how best to improve desired outcomes.

Developmental psychology spans the entire human lifespan, looking at processes and issues encountered from infancy through old age, including those that are not chronological, like grief or identity confusion. By understanding the levers of development, the challenges associated with common disorders, and taking the time to learn a person's individual profile, I help people to understand what underlies behavior and to acquire strategies to alleviate challenges and improve their outcomes.

My primary areas of interest include autism, play, and creativity. You might think these areas of focus are distinct, but they have considerable overlap. Autistic individuals struggle to connect with others, to  communicate, and to think flexibly to solve problems. Truthfully, we all struggle to some degree with these activities. Play is a secret weapon that can be leveraged to help with a variety of limitations. Through a context of play people have a non-threatening environment in which to build rapport with a guide and to learn about themselves, the world, and how to engage with confidence. Play is the natural learning process for developing friendships, navigating interpersonal conflict, and learning how to abide by rules - both in games, and more broadly, in life. In addition to providing direct cognitive, social, and physical benefits, play creates opportunities to practice independent decision making and problem solving, aka self-determination and creativity. By understanding a person's approach to play, and how to leverage play as a mechanism for guiding development, I am able to help people unlock new perspectives, skill-sets, and approaches to problem solving/creative thinking.

At its core, a play-based approach invites parents and practitioners to follow the child's lead and take on a supportive role in their play - allowing the child to decide where the play goes, and making it rewarding to engage with others. It is only through practice that we gain experience - so our job as play partners is to foster the child's sense of self-agency, to engage with them warmly and responsively, and to help them to develop their voice and their ideas. As they do so, their conceptual thinking and physical skills will naturally gain complexity and depth. 

I am a mother of twin autistic boys. I am intimately familiar with the process parents go through -- from frustration with caring for reactive pre-verbal/non-verbal children, to the whammy of a diagnosis, to the slog of trying to obtain services, to the stress of family-wide cabin fever during throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic. Much of the information parents receive about autism is "deficits-based", focusing on what your child can't do, their weaknesses, the ways these challenges may impede a "normal life". I hope to help people see autism through a different lens, one that appreciates the many strengths that come with being autistic. While the early years can be intense and full of hard days, once an autistic individual learns to self-regulate and successfully communicate, they can flourish and thrive, often surprising others with their creativity and unique skills.

We're all in this together. While I make noble attempts to provide my children with the benefits of my extensively nerdy education, the truth is that we can all only do our best; that sometimes they just need to cry it out; and that for all of us, especially right now, it can be a struggle just to get through the day. I do not blame. I do not shame. I'm a friend, confidant and expert guide who is here to help.

A little about creativity: My doctoral dissertation built on a framework for understanding creativity called Possibility Thinking. This framework identifies eight core factors that underpin creative thinking. I created a questionnaire to measure possibility thinking, and tested it to confirm that it worked. I ran additional analyses to measure how parenting style relates to creativity and the key factors of possibility thinking. Through this process I gained expert knowledge on creativity and what levers can be manipulated to foster greater creativity in daily life and professional objectives.

I founded Development Through Play in order to use my expertise to address a wide variety of needs. Developmental psychologists often stay in academia as professors or in research, adding to the research knowledge, but far removed from those who need that knowledge most. I am drawn to applied development because I want to have an impact, helping people directly with their most important challenges and objectives, whether it's families learning how to best support their child with developmental delays, an individual facing their own challenges, or organizations working on the front lines to deliver programs and services.

My expertise pertains to:

  • Anxiety

  • Attention Challenges (ADD/ADHD)

  • Autism Spectrum (ASD)

  • Cognitive Development

  • Community Building

  • Creativity

  • DIR/Floortime(R) 

  • Identity Development

  • Life Transitions

  • Mindfulness

  • Navigating Grief/Loss

  • Parenting

  • Play Skill Development

  • Positive Youth Development

  • Problem Solving/Improvisation

  • Self-Regulation

  • Social Development

  • Stress Management

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