Speech and Language Development Center in Buena Park
Adrienne Kessler strives to help others do the right thing.
She was first introduced to autism spectrum disorders in 1995. Her work in the special needs community has evolved over the years and she now serves as CEO of Speech and Language Development Center in Buena Park.
“All too often individuals with special needs are looked over, forgotten or excluded from society, be it accessibility to places in our community to inclusion from activities, programs or events,” she says. “Individuals with special needs are just that — individuals like everyone else with dreams, wishes to be accepted and loved for who they are and valued as a contributing member of a team, a classroom, a group of friends, or a co-worker. Sometimes, our society needs reminding to slow down, look around and take stock to ensure we have included everyone.”
Kessler is Parenting OC Magazine’s Top Leader for 2023. Kessler’s nomination was submitted by a group of employees at the center:
“Kessler joined Buena Park’s Speech and Language Development Center in 2016 with the goal of revitalizing and expanding the 60-year-old legacy center. Under her leadership, the center now offers innovative education and therapies for individuals with disabilities and special needs at every stage of life, including adults through an adult day program — a need previously unserved in the area.”
Kessler says her day-to-day activities are a far cry from the direct therapy she once did when she first entered the field 28 years ago. Her daily activities are focused on ways to increase accessibility to services — either by expanding the center’s reach geographically or reducing barriers to access services by securing funding — and supporting innovative ways to better serve clients through original research or by being a training site for the next generation of clinicians.
She says she’s still motivated to do what she does because of a little boy years ago.
“I had a darling little red-headed, fiery boy who was added to my caseload,” she says. “He could not have weighed more than 40 pounds, but this spirited young man did not have the words to communicate what I would later discover was his complex intellect. As a result he would have extreme behavioral outbursts, that at times included breaking windows and attempting to skewer his therapists with standing lamp rods. But this little one won over my heart.”
They spent the next four years together upward of 24 hours a week. He learned to say his first words, how to use the toilet independently and how to make a friend.
“Today, he is a graduate of a prestigious university, and is working at a large, national financial firm,” she says. “If you met him, you would never know he was diagnosed with autism. He motivates me every day because the impact of receiving quality services is truly life-changing.”
She says after 28 years, there are many things she’s proud of. From her early days as an interventionist, it is the impact she made on the clients who are now leading meaningful lives as adults. From her mid-career, she would point to the programs she designed, deployed and grew, which created access to free or reduced-cost services through both the public school systems and private insurance companies.
“Now, it is how I can continue to be a conduit to support the advancement of the field, ensuring the next generation of clinicians are highly trained and innovative in their disciplines,” she says. “For the next generation of individuals touched by a developmental disability, it is the quest to continue to expand accessibility to exceptional services without forcing families to have to choose between food and therapy for their loved one.”
Jenny O’Grady, director of education at the Speech and Language Development Center, says Kessler deserves to be Top Leader because she’s very passionate with a commitment to bring much-needed services to children and adults with special needs throughout Southern California.
“She leads with grit and determination to make our services available to all who need them,” she says. “She inspires others to grow professionally and join her in continuing to make our services available to more and more individuals each year. She makes employee engagement a regular, year-round priority, showing appreciation for all we do.”
By Jessica Peralta