About us

The Sterling Institute for Autism (SIA), founded by Dr. Lindsey Sterling, is a private group practice dedicated to supporting autistic youth, teens and adults and their families.

Our mission

Dr. Sterling has worked in the field of autism for twenty years in clinical practice, as a tenure-track professor, and as a director of a university autism center. She heard again and again from families that they did not have a ‘roadmap’ and felt overwhelmed with finding providers who could coordinate support for their child, teen, or young adult. Treatment has felt disjointed for many families. Many adults are also seeking answers, pursuing diagnostic assessments or individual therapy for themselves, but having a difficult time finding autism experts who specialize in working with teens and adults or who understand autism in females. Dr. Sterling founded SIA in 2021 with the mission of providing a ‘home base’, where clients can consult with experts, get diagnostic clarification, and find good treatment options all in one place.
Dr. Lindsey Sterling
Man in individual therapy session
Doctor sitting with young girl

Our approach

We serve children, adolescents & adults.

Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for autistic individuals. But they often experience a ‘services cliff’ in later childhood and adolescence, as formal supports drop off right as life gets more complex! Social and academic pressures, life stressors and transitions, and other events can make it seem like symptoms flare up because the challenges of life are exceeding the coping or masking strategies that may have worked when someone was younger. We are here to support individuals when life gets complicated!

We are neurodiversity-affirming.

Autism and ADHD are examples of neurodiverse conditions. It can be important to identify these conditions to facilitate self-understanding, communication and connection with others, and access to services. Having a diagnosis can provide a framework to help understand someone’s experiences and behaviors. That said, we strongly believe that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or behave. The characteristics that neurodivergent individuals possess are not viewed as deficits that need to be “fixed”, but rather a reflection of the essential diversity in human thinking and processing. We celebrate these differences while affirming and validating our clients’ unique experiences.

We are scientifically minded.

Dr. Sterling comes from academic settings. She held academic positions at UCLA, Claremont McKenna College, and California State University Long Beach, immersed in research. All of the clinicians at SIA value research-driven practice and have trained in academic settings. Our approach to diagnostic assessment and treatment is rooted in and guided by science. This means that we use approaches that are evidenced-based.

We are individually focused.

While science and data drive our approach, there is nothing like real clinical experience with real people. Over the years, we have learned that no two neurodivergent people are the same. Our assessments and treatment are personalized to meet the unique needs of each client and family, by understanding and celebrating strengths while acknowledging and supporting weaknesses and differences. Our goal is to support you in achieving your goals, whether it be in therapy or seeking answers through assessment. At the end of the day, it’s the relationships we have with our clients that makes our work effective.

We have a personal approach.

Testing is not ‘outsourced’ to trainees or divided among our team. The clinician who does the intake with you will also do the testing and discuss feedback with you. Psychological assessment is not just about test results; it’s also about getting to know you directly and personally.

Meet our team

The Sterling Institute for Autism is made of a group of psychologists and clinicians who have specific training and expertise in autism and neurodiversity. We have backgrounds in academia, directing University autism centers and publishing in our field, driven by a common goal to serve our clients directly through clinical work. As a team of clinicians, we have the benefit of collaborating and consulting with each other, drawing on each clinician’s expertise to deliver the best possible care to the families we serve. We value personal connection and meeting each client’s unique needs, whether that be through assessment or therapy.
Dr. Lindsey Sterling, Founder of the Sterling Institute

Dr. Lindsey Sterling

Founder & Director
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

CA License # PSY25162

Dr. Sterling is the director and founder of SIA. She is passionate about serving the community of autistic children, teens and adults. Dr. Sterling is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in autism. She earned her undergraduate degree in Psychobiology from UCLA and her Masters degree and Ph.D. in Child Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington (UW) Autism Center.

Read more +

At UW, Dr. Sterling obtained her own grant funding to conduct research on the physiology of social and emotional processing among autistic adults; while she was interviewing research participants, it became clear that the ‘comorbid’ symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression) that are frequently associated with ASD were often the most distressing aspects of life for autistic individuals. It became her passion to support autistic adolescents and adults struggling with emotional symptoms.

She went on to complete her predoctoral Clinical Internship in Developmental Disabilities at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, where she treated adults with developmental disabilities and children and adolescents with a range of psychiatric conditions. Dr. Sterling continued her training at UCLA as a Postdoctoral Fellow, where she obtained grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and from the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment to study the physiology of anxiety and stress response in autistic youth. As part of her postdoctoral training, she also pursued specialized training in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) targeting anxiety in autistic youth.

Following her training, Dr. Sterling served on the clinical faculty in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and as a Staff Psychologist at the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic. She then became an Interim Assistant Professor and Director of the Autism Center at Claremont McKenna College before serving as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) for three years. At CSULB, Dr. Sterling directed a research laboratory where she and her team investigated depression, anxiety, and factors related to quality of life, including romantic relationships, among autistic college students. She loved working in the university setting but left academia in 2018 so that she could serve the autistic community more directly through clinical work.

Dr. Sterling has been conducting comprehensive diagnostic evaluations for youth and adults with suspected autism for almost 20 years, and has extensive experience and expertise providing individual therapy for autistic individuals, especially those who are also experiencing anxiety, depression, or other co-occurring symptoms.

In addition to her published peer-reviewed articles, Dr. Sterling has co-authored a 10-week group intervention to support the development of romantic relationships and dating skills for autistic adults, she has published a book on social skills for autistic teens, has and consulted with human resources and staff at large companies to provide education around neurodiversity in the workplace. She has delivered keynote addresses, conference presentations, and community talks on topics ranging from autistic adults in the workplace, comorbid psychiatric conditions among autistic teens and adults, the transition from adolescence to adulthood, dating and relationships among autistic adults, and neurodiversity. She has also appeared as a guest on podcasts discussing these topics.

Since transitioning from academia to full-time clinical work, Dr. Sterling has grown the practice to meet the need for teen and adult support in the community and founded the Sterling Institute for Autism in 2021.

When she is not working at SIA, Dr. Sterling is enjoying time with her husband and two children. She loves helping other parents who are working through the challenges of parenthood!

View CV

Dr. Lindsey Sterling, Founder of the Sterling Institute

Dr. Elizabeth (Lizzy) Karp

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

CA License # PSY32067

As a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) trained psychologist, Dr. Karp uses a strengths-based, family-centered approach to work collaboratively with families to set and reach goals for treatment. Dr. Karp is a licensed psychologist who has trained and worked at some of the top academic medical centers in the country. She specializes in the assessment and treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). She has an expertise in helping individuals with ASD and co-occurring anxiety disorders.

Read more +

Dr. Karp received her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle and completed her APA-accredited predoctoral internship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in the School of Medicine and the TEACCH Center. She completed her APA-accredited postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University in the School of Medicine in the Division of Child Psychiatry. Dr. Karp previously served as a psychologist in the Center for Developmental and Behavioral Health at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As a component of Dr. Karp’s commitment to evidence-based care, she continues to participate in clinical trials research and serves as an ad hoc peer reviewer for scientific journals.

Dr. Jade Starleaf

Dr. Jade Starleaf

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

CA License # PSY32814

Dr. Jade Starleaf is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents and their families. Her specific areas of clinical expertise include autism, pediatric OCD, selective mutism, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and other mood/anxiety related disorders. Dr. Starleaf is skilled at providing comprehensive diagnostic assessments, including administering the ADOS, which is considered the gold standard for assessing autism in children, adolescents, and adults.

Read more +

Dr. Starleaf has extensive experience and training in the most innovative evidence based treatments in psychology including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Social Anxiety and Depression, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) for OCD, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Panic Control Treatment for Panic Disorder, Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), and Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). Over the past several years, she has provided these treatments at some of the most respected training sites in Southern California including Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Harbor UCLA, Kaiser Permanente Orange County and Tarzana Treatment Centers. She now works in private practice doing individual therapy, group therapy, and psychodiagnostic assessment.

Dr. Starleaf earned her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University in Los Angeles. She completed an intensive APA accredited pre-doctoral internship at Pacific Clinics Behavioral Health where she specialized in treating high risk youth with severe and persistent mental illness in an intensive outpatient setting.

As a former professional musician, Dr. Starleaf is passionate about helping others find their voice. She strives to help teens begin carving out a positive identity for themselves during what is a very challenging developmental period, despite neurodevelopmental or other mental health challenges. She strongly believes in a collaborative and strength-based approach to assessment and treatment. She uses humor, warmth, and creativity to connect with her patients, and strives to empower adolescents to become independent, functional, and self-sufficient adults.In her spare time, Dr. Starleaf still enjoys playing music and spending time at the beach with her husband, son, and two black Labradors.

​California Psychologist License #: PSY32814

Ms. Cathy Brock, MA, LPCC, LMHC

Dr. Anjam Bahl

Child, Adolescent, & Adult Psychiatrist
Medical Doctor

CA MD License # A122035

Dr. Bahl is a double board certified psychiatrist who earned her undergraduate degree from Columbia College of Columbia University and Medical Degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Read more +

She went on to complete her Adult Psychiatry Residency from Stanford Hospital and Clinics. Dr. Bahl then pursued specialty training in autism and related neurodevelopemtal disorders through her Child Psychiatry Fellowship at UCSF.

Throughout her career Dr. Bahl has been praised for her comprehensive, integrative, empathic approach incorporating therapy into medication management and evaluation. In her spare time, Dr. Bahl enjoys time with family and friends at the beach, going to museums, and playing with her two young kids.

Ms. Cathy Brock, MA, LPCC, LMHC

Ms. Cathy Brock, MA, LPCC, LMHC


CA License # LPCC9692

​Ms. Brock has been working with neurodivergent children, teens, adults, and their families since 1995. She has been a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) in the state of Washington since 2005 and a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) in the state of California since 2021. Ms Brock is able to see clients in Washington state (telehealth) and California (telehealth and in-person).

Read more +

She is a proud University of Washington alumna and received her MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in Seattle. Throughout her career, she has specialized in autism and related conditions while working in a variety of settings, including academic and clinical centers, research programs, private and community health clinics, and in private practice.

Ms. Brock has been the Executive Director at University of California, Irvine’s Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders since 2014. Prior to this position, Ms. Brock served for 20 years as the Associate Director at the University of Washington’s prestigious Autism Center.She has a range of clinical experience, with training in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy techniques. Ms. Brock has worked as a clinician at Cadence Child and Adolescent Therapy in Kirkland, WA in addition to maintaining a private practice in Washington for over 15 years. She is excited to have a similar practice serving neurodivergent youth and adults in Long Beach, CA.

Ms. Cathy Brock, MA, LPCC, LMHC

Leticia Palos-Rafuse, M.S.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

Leticia has provided neurodiversity-affirming care for autistic individuals for over 27 years. She has vast experience developing, implementing, and training others to implement evidence-based interventions in the home, school, community, and clinical settings. This includes years of expertise with progressive applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Read more +

This progressive method is based on in-the-moment assessment, does not follow rigid protocols, and is flexible in its approach based on the individual’s progress. It emphasizes clinical judgement to aid in teaching functional skills that translate to meaningful outcomes. The goal of Leticia’s approach is to discover what tools the person needs to thrive and help empower them to build on their strengths and develop the strategies and skills that work best for them. Leticia earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in special education, from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She then received her master’s degree in ABA from St. Cloud State University, Minnesota. Leticia has consulted nationally and internationally with families, service agencies, and school districts, sharing evidence-based methodology, including ABA, to promote social skills. Additionally, she has contributed to scholarly publications, research, and books, and has presented at professional conferences. Throughout her career, Leticia has ensured the highest quality services are available to families by providing comprehensive training to therapists, teachers, paraprofessionals, and parents. She believes the best way to empower others is to provide them with the most effective strategies possible. Equipped with these strategies, parents and providers can develop stronger critical thinking skills, and create meaningful change.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Leticia joined Autism Partnership (AP), where she continued educating others in effective strategies to support neurodivergent learners. While at AP, she had the privilege of working with pioneers in the field of autism treatment. Under their mentorship, and alongside other incredible clinicians, she incorporated her playful engaging style and critical thinking skills to make learning fun and naturalistic for her clients. She became lead therapist for several social skills groups, implementing effective teaching strategies to develop and enhance social awareness, engagement, verbal/nonverbal communication, and social interactions. Later, she transitioned to a supervisor position, where she led and coached others in the implementation of individualized therapeutic interventions. A major portion of her role as a supervisor involved working with parents and helping them implement strategies to support their child at home. The passion for providing quality intervention fueled the work, which resulted in empowering autistic people and their families.

Leticia was selected to consult with families, other service agencies, and in school districts nationally and internationally. She especially enjoyed the challenge of presenting and providing consultation in Spanish in Latin America, including Honduras, Columbia, and Panama. As a consultant for Autism Partnership, she relocated and worked within the Maui school district teaching and providing on-site continuous management of a pre-school model classroom program while training district employees. Additionally, she co-taught an elementary school model classroom in Orange County, providing ongoing mentoring and training to AP personnel and school district staff.

Among her various roles at Autism Partnership, Leticia also served as Director of Staff Training and Development, ensuring all agency staff were well equipped to provide the highest quality services for all AP clients and families.

Outside of work, Leticia enjoys spending quality time with her husband, teenage kids, and Aussie fur baby. She is excited to embark on a new journey at the Sterling Institute for Autism, using her unique approach to support neurodivergent clients and their families!