We are a small mental health practice specializing in working with children, adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, depression, executive functioning deficits and/or other social learning challenges.
After lots of thinking and many sleepless nights, Chris brought the SLC from Wallingford to Cheshire in the summer of 2014. It was the best move we could have made! The community of Cheshire is warm and inviting and the perfect place for a small private practice such as ours! Come and meet our staff and learn a little more about Chris and all the endeavors he is currently involved with.
Chris Abildgaard, LPC, NCC, NCSP is the owner and director of the Social Learning Center, LLC. located in Cheshire, CT. Chris has been in private practice for over 13 years. Chris is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, a Board Certified national Counselor, & a Licensed Professional Counselor with a specialization in Autism Spectrum Disorders. In addition to a Masters and 6th Year degree in School Psychology, he has earned a Graduate Certificate from the University of Massachusetts Lowell in Behavioral Interventions in Autism.
Adjunct Professor, University of St. Joseph.
School Psychologist, Benhaven Academy.
Clinical Trainee (Level 1, 2009 & Level 2, 2011) in Social Thinking.
National Speaker on ASD, Executive Functioning and Mental Health Counseling.
Watch his 2015 interview with “On the Spectrum”
Interview for a 2019 Article on Person Centered Therapy and ASD clients
Erica Ciarciello, M.S, NCC - Mental Health Counselor
Erica is a Board Certified National Counselor who has developed a specialty in the areas of counseling girls on the Autism Spectrum, clients with an ADHD diagnosis, and upper elementary/middle school aged clients struggling with anxiety or depression. Erica graduated in 2011 from Keene State College with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in both elementary education and psychology. She started work as an instructional assistant at Benhaven Academy in 2011, and started working as a Clinical Associate for the Social Learning Center in 2012.
In 2016, Erica began working at the Social Learning Center full time and fulfilled her clinical internship hours. She completed her Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Southern Connecticut State University in December 2017.
Since her time working with the SLC, Erica has co-authored several articles with Chris Abildgaard for the former website Special-Ism.
Erica assists with all of the scheduling for Chris Abildgaard’s school consultations. She also fills the role as our Intake Coordinator and will assist you in setting up and overseeing your initial visit to the SLC.
Pasquale Giordano, LPC
Pasquale (Pat) Giordano has over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families. He is a licensed professional counselor and works full time as a director at a mental health agency in Milford. Pat has been the president of the Connecticut Counseling Association twice and the Connecticut Mental Health Counseling Association in which he received the Counselor of the Year Award. He has held many leadership positions with the American Counseling Association. Pat is an adjunct professor and a member of the Advisory Board at Southern Connecticut State University’s Clinical Mental Health Program. In this role he instructs and supervises future counselors. He specializes in treating anxiety and depression in children and adolescents as well as their families.
Ashley Zagorski, M.S, NCSP
Ashley graduated in 2011 from UCONN with a Bachelor’s of Art degree in Psychology. In 2014, Ashley received her master’s in School Psychology, as well as her 6th Year Certificate in May 2015 from the University of Hartford. Currently, Ashley is a School Psychologist for the Middletown Public School district. She began her career at The Social Learning Center as an Intern in 2014 and was officially added to the team in September 2014 as a clinical associate. She began working as a group facilitator in 2015. Ashley has a passion for counseling and always finds creative and fun ways to implement social learning within group and individual settings. She is our specialist in working with children ages 4-7 years old and is currently pursing more clinical training in the area of play therapy.
Chris Gackenheimer, LCSW
Chris has more than 15 years of experience working with children and adolescents. He graduated in 2009 from Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Masters of Social Work and earned his clinical license in 2014. Before moving to Connecticut in 2013, he worked as a school social worker in Chicago Public Schools
He is a school social worker at Hope Academy in Orange, where he works with adolescents in both group and individual counseling sessions. Chris has extensive experience collaborating with adolescents to find ways to live rich and meaningful lives while navigating the challenges of autism spectrum disorder, clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and others.
Chris is also a musician and often uses music as part of his social work practice. He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. When he isn’t practicing social work, Chris is probably on an adventure with his family, playing ultimate frisbee, or playing guitar at too high a volume.
Geoffery Canales, MSW
Geoffrey graduated in 2016 from Central Connecticut State University with a Bachelor’s of Art degree in Social Work. In 2017, Geoffrey received his Master’s of Science in Social Work degree from Columbia University. Before entering the field of autism, Geoffrey previously worked at the Department of Children and Families for the state of Connecticut in the adolescent unit. There he worked with adolescents in foster care who had experienced trauma such as abuse or neglect and helped facilitate and establish permanency for them. In addition, Geoffrey previously worked at the Bronx Defenders in New York City, defending parents fighting against the painful and unnecessary removal of their children due to investigations by child welfare agencies. Geoffrey has extensive experience working with the child welfare system, especially inner city youth impacted by the over-criminalization of poverty.
Currently, Geoffrey is the school social worker at Benhaven Academy in Wallingford, CT. He works with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, ages ranging from 10-21 years old and facilitates individual and group counseling sessions. Geoffrey believes that every individual deserves to have a purposeful life enriched by impactful and meaningful social interactions. In life many people communicate, but few connect.
Alyssa Chouinard, M.S, BCBA
Alyssa Chouinard, SLC's Clinical Intern and Licensed Behavior Analyst, started her career in the field of autism intervention 10 years ago, working as an Applied Behavior Analysis therapist in Waterbury Public School district. From that experience, Alyssa felt she had found her calling in working with children with autism and decided to pursue her graduate degree from Nova Southeastern University in Mental Health Counseling and Behavior Analysis. Following graduation, Alyssa received her board certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and started working as the District Behavior Analyst for a local public school district. Although Alyssa enjoyed her experiences in public school, she still felt drawn toward the mental health side of the field, so in 2017, Alyssa decided to finish her credentialing in order to work towards licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Alyssa has been working with clients at the SLC for over a year now, running groups and seeing individual clients.
Lisa Dempsey, Office Manager
Lisa has been with the SLC since our move here to Cheshire back in 2014. Lisa is in charge of all accounts receivable and payable. If you have any questions about your bill, insurance or any general questions about our services, please feel free to contact Lisa directly.
Jocelyn Theriault, Administrative Assistant to the Director
Jocelyn is a 2017 Cheshire High School graduate. She attends UCONN and is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology.
Jocelyn began volunteering at the Social Learning Center in 2016. She was a teen mentor for Erica’s high school girls Social Cognitive Group. She continued working with this group until May 2017. Jocelyn rejoined the SLC team in February 2018 as a mentor for 2 groups run by Ashley.
She now takes on her new role as an Administrative Assistant and Research Assistant here at the SLC. Jocelyn will be doing all of Chris’ scheduling for clients and day to day activities. She will also be working closely with Chris on any publications/articles, all national presentations done by Chris, and other projects and research being conducted here at the SLC.
Jocelyn has a great passion for the workings of the human brain. Those acquainted with her can clearly see her sense of empathy, work ethic, and desire to help and care for others.
Kyle Scheyd, Office Assistant
Kyle is a student at Benhaven Academy in Wallingford, CT and started working at the SLC in the spring of 2019. He has years of volunteer work experience at local businesses like the UPS Store, Hometown Garden & Nursery, and Holiday Cinemas 14. Kyle is committed to his school as well, where he is relied on for several important weekly responsibilities.
Kyle lives an active lifestyle with many hobbies, interests, and activities. He enjoys reading, spending time with his family and dog Daisy, hanging out with friends, exercising, going to the movie theater and Broadway plays, and eating at different restaurants. Kyle is a movie buff and loves everything about cinema, new and old. He has an extensive video collection and loves to recreate movie posters using his drawing and art skills.
In his free time, Kyle is an aspiring actor and entertainer. He joined the Whitney Players theater group in 2017 and has acted in several showcases and plays since then. He recently participated in his first cabaret and looks forward to new adventures.
Stay up to date on various office happenings, Chris and the rest of the SLC staff on our social media accounts!!