February 23, 2024
Madeleine from San Diego, CA tells us what it’s like being a Behavior Technician for Autism Spectrum Therapies. To learn more and start your career with us visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-madeleine
Madeleine from San Diego, CA tells us what it’s like being a Behavior Technician for Autism Spectrum Therapies. To learn more and start your career with us visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-madeleine
By Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D
Anyone in charge of the family calendar knows how important it is to stick to a schedule. It helps keep life on track.
For children on the autism spectrum, a steady schedule is even more important. A daily routine can create a sense of structure and predictability. It can reinforce a sense of stability and allow them to focus better on learning and interacting with others.
When family schedules change — like the transition from summer to back-to-school — it can be anxiety-provoking. The sudden shift from a relaxed summer schedule to a structured school routine can be overwhelming. However, maintaining a consistent daily routine during this transition can help alleviate some of this stress and anxiety.
For children with autism, continuing with applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy when going back to school gives them a big advantage.
It helps to improve social, communication, and learning skills through reinforcement strategies. It also provides them with a set of tools to navigate the complexities of the school environment, helping them to learn how to interact with their peers, follow instructions, and interact in a classroom setting—all of which should be fun.
ABA therapy can be tailored to meet each child’s unique needs and goals, making it an effective way to support their overall development and learning. By incorporating play-based activities and strategies, children not only enjoy themselves but also experience the joy of learning through play.
For children with autism, transitioning back to school requires a careful balance between preventing skill regression and having fun. At LEARN, our goal is both. A collaborative relationship between your family and your behavior analyst can help you create a steady schedule that works during this time of transition and sets your child up for ongoing success in school and life.
Ashley Williams is a senior clinical director at LEARN Behavioral.
For more resources about ABA consistency, watch our video “How ABA Therapy Helped Our Children Succeed: Insights from Two BCBA Moms.”
In this informative video, two Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) moms, Heather and Trisha, share their personal experiences with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and how it has helped their children succeed. For more information about our ABA Therapy services, visit: https://lrnbvr.com/yt-aba-moms
Was your child recently diagnosed with autism? Are you beginning to navigate treatment for your child? Before you get started, check out these FAQs about ABA therapy.
ABA therapy is designed to support autistic individuals and their families, achieve their identified goals, and improve their quality of life. ABA-based interventions are supported by decades of research and enhance social, communication, play, and adaptive skills. Services incorporate the needs and interests of the autistic individual and their caregiver(s). A behavior analyst delivers the ABA services with the help of behavior technicians, who often provide direct care to the autistic individual. Services are tailored to the individual’s unique needs, with their feedback, and evolve over time. Services for children may look quite different than services for adults, given the individuals’ needs differ over time.
At LEARN, we refer to our approach as “contemporary ABA.” It is an evolved approach to ABA therapy that promotes individualized treatment, naturalistic and play-based teaching, and is person-centered. LEARN provides a contemporary approach that acknowledges the evolution of ABA, values the individual and their family, and creates space for individuality. Practicing contemporary ABA therapy means that our behavior analysts deeply understand their responsibility to positively and meaningfully impact the lives of the individuals served.
Your child’s hours will be determined between you and your behavior analyst. Your behavior analyst recommends hours based on assessing your child’s needs, other therapies received, and your feedback as the parent/caregiver. Focused programs range from 10-25 hours per week, and comprehensive programs range from 30-40 hours weekly. At LEARN, we provide home-based, center-based, and community-based services, and you can reach out to your local clinical director to find out which services are available in your area. Check out this video to learn about the number of hours clinically recommended for your child.
Absolutely! Each autistic person we serve is unique, and we believe that should be celebrated. Our goal is to promote individual interests and incorporate those into ABA therapy. Behavior analysts make individualized recommendations for services, including hours based on the child and customized goals that fit their needs. Behavior therapists receive training on how to understand the preferences of their clients and include those in sessions to make them fun, rewarding, and engaging.
Listening to the perspective of autistic folks has informed our approach to ABA therapy and led us to incorporate neurodiversity into our practice. Our goal is to elevate the autistic voices in our community, including the individuals we serve, our neurodivergent employees, and the greater neurodivergent community. We’re deeply committed to person-centered ABA therapy practices and promote assent-based care, meaning we validate the identities and experiences of neurodivergent folks and create space for autistic voices to be heard and upheld. Learn more about our commitment to neurodiversity here.
Not all autistic folks benefit from discrete trials or table-top work. For example, a two-year-old child with lots of energy may benefit more from a play-based approach with the therapist sitting on the floor and embedding learning opportunities in play with their favorite toy. Behavior analysts overseeing the treatment plan take time to assess the individual’s needs and work collaboratively with the family to identify an approach to treatment that will work best for the child.
We understand that not everyone seeks ABA therapy, feels it’s the best fit, or perhaps, thinks it’s the right time to try. As with other medical services, the patient (along with their caregiver, if a child) has the right to decide when, if, and what treatment is right for them. Not all ABA therapy providers have the same approach, either, and LEARN supports a family’s right to choose a provider that meets their needs and is a good match for their treatment goals. We want families and our clients to be excited about services and encourage collaboration on our journey together.
Reviewed by Dr. Ashley Williams, PhD, LABA, BCBA-D, Sr. Clinical Director
LEARN recognizes the critical role that effective training plays in the success of any program or initiative. As a result, we have invested heavily in redesigning our Behavior Technician (BT) Training program to ensure that all our trainees receive the highest quality training possible. With nearly 5,000 BTs working on the front lines each day to provide contemporary ABA services to children with autism and their families, it is essential that our BT training is up-to-date, comprehensive, and effective.
In the fall of 2021, LEARN undertook a significant endeavor to revamp our BT training program, focusing on providing all trainees with a thorough understanding of the core principles of ABA. We collaborated with renowned experts from ABA Technologies to guide the redesign of our program, ensuring that it meets all the requirements for the Registered Behavior Technician® (RBT®) exam and that our BTs are fully prepared to deliver exceptional services to our clients. Additionally, our BTs receive individualized, client-focused training provided by supervisors once they are in the field.
Our commitment to using the most effective training methods and incorporating the latest evidence-based practices sets our BT training apart from similar programs.
Our program includes five core components:
We believe high-quality training requires a strategic and deliberate approach grounded in evidence-based practice. Our training approach is based on direct instruction, a method that emphasizes carefully developed instructional sequences using explicit teaching techniques. With direct instruction, our trainers provide our trainees with clear and concise guidance on how to master new skills and knowledge while ensuring they are fully engaged in the learning process.
But direct instruction is more than just an effective teaching method. It’s also a dynamic and fun training experience that motivates trainees to learn and achieve their goals. Using this approach, we create an engaging and supportive learning environment that encourages active participation and fosters a sense of community among our trainees.
Of course, to ensure that our trainers deliver the highest-quality training possible, we have invested heavily in their professional development. All of our trainers participate in extensive training in direct instruction and receive ongoing support and feedback regarding their use of training techniques. This ensures that our trainers are always up-to-date with the latest best practices in training and can provide our trainees with the most effective instruction possible. At LEARN, we’re committed to providing a world-class training experience that is both effective and enjoyable, and we believe that our approach to direct instruction is a key part of that commitment.
We understand that the workforce is constantly evolving, and many people are now seeking meaningful and rewarding employment. With this in mind, we designed our new BT training program to provide trainees with the skills and knowledge they need to make a positive impact on the lives of their clients and their families.
The LEARN BT training program emphasizes the importance of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and its ability to create lasting change in our clients’ lives. Trainees will hear directly from BTs who work in the field and have experienced firsthand the triumphs and victories of working with families. The majority of the training program focuses on learning how to use a variety of techniques and strategies used in ABA therapy and implement them effectively to achieve the best possible outcomes for their clients. Throughout the training program, trainees will have many opportunities to demonstrate their skills and receive feedback.
By emphasizing the impact that ABA can have on clients and their families, we aim to inspire our trainees to approach their work with a sense of purpose and dedication. By providing our trainees with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed, we can help them build rewarding and fulfilling careers that make a real difference in the lives of others.
We take great pride in our team of highly-motivated, dedicated, and skilled trainers to ensure the success of our trainees. Our trainers are not only experts in their fields but also possess a wealth of experience working with trainees from diverse backgrounds with varying experiences. They have an in-depth understanding of how to create an effective learning environment that is supportive, engaging, and personalized to meet the unique needs of each trainee.
To achieve this, we use a highly interactive and engaging training approach that emphasizes hands-on learning experiences. Conducted in small groups, our live training sessions allow our trainers to provide each trainee with individual attention, support, and feedback. This approach ensures that trainees can practice and apply their new skills and knowledge and receive immediate feedback on their progress.
We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential to creating a positive and productive work environment. We understand that a diverse workforce not only brings unique perspectives and experiences but also fosters creativity, innovation, and growth. That’s why we’re committed to supporting robust DEI initiatives that enable all employees to feel valued, supported, and empowered.
Our approach involves facilitating access to various resources, affinity groups, and training programs that promote DEI in the workplace. These initiatives include regular workshops and training sessions designed to help employees better understand DEI issues and learn how to apply best practices in their day-to-day work. Our trainers highlight the importance of DEI initiatives and encourage active participation from all employees.
Moreover, we believe that DEI initiatives are not just a box-ticking exercise but a fundamental aspect of our organizational culture. We recognize that fostering a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion requires ongoing commitment, engagement, and action from everyone in our organization. As such, we encourage all employees to actively promote DEI and share their experiences, ideas, and perspectives with others.
At LEARN, we take pride in serving a diverse age range of clients, specifically young children. We recognize children are naturally curious and playful and that play is essential to their development. As such, we prioritize training our staff to engage children in meaningful and developmentally-appropriate play activities. We designed our training program to provide staff with the skills and knowledge they need to facilitate play-based learning experiences that are both fun and educational. We cover many topics, from the basics of child development to the latest approaches in naturalistic teaching. Our trainers work closely with staff to ensure they have a deep understanding of how to play with children at different developmental levels and tailor activities to meet each child’s unique needs and interests. By investing in our staff and providing them with the tools they need to succeed, we provide high-quality care to the young autistic children we serve.
Within LEARN, we’re committed to providing our trainees with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to succeed in their careers. Our BT training program is just the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning and professional growth. We believe that ongoing education and skill development are essential for staying competitive in today’s fast-paced and constantly evolving job market.
That’s why we offer a range of advanced training programs, workshops, and continuing education courses that enable our trainees to deepen their knowledge and stay up-to-date with the latest best practices in their field. We’re dedicated to supporting career advancement and providing our trainees with the resources and guidance they need to achieve their professional goals.
Whether you’re just starting your career or looking to take the next step, LEARN is here to support you every step of the way. We’re committed to providing a world-class training experience that empowers our trainees to achieve their full potential and positively impact their communities.
Interested in working with us? Search our careers here: https://learnbehavioral.com/careers
We’re open! 🎉 Check out the Grand Opening of our Chandler, AZ Learning Center! We are so excited to offer ABA services in a clinic-based setting at our new center in Chandler.
LEARN is committed to fostering a culture that embraces what makes us each unique—be it race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disabilities/abilities, or socioeconomic background. LEARN aims to acknowledge the lived experiences and diversity of perspectives of our staff and welcomes our teammates to share their story to help foster conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in our communities.
By: Asia Johnson, BCaBA, Autism Spectrum Therapies
Asia Johnson (she, her, hers) is an Assistant Behavior Analyst in AST’s greater New Orleans, Louisiana region and the co-chair of LEARN Behavioral’s DEI Employee Resource Group.
Walking on her tiptoes was interesting but cute. Rocking back and forwards raised my eyebrows. But the repetitive “I’m going to stop, I’m going to stop,” felt like weights pulling on my heart.
I had never heard the word autistic before. Little did I know that in a matter of months, the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) would be commonplace. I would sit in my living room with tears in my eyes and my phone in hand watching my daughter attempt to self-regulate. I felt helpless. For days this cycle would continue, leaving me uncertain if I was a good mother. I revisited each trimester of my pregnancy, actively attempting to re-evaluate anything I may have done wrong.
A mom of two with limited resources but a Medicaid card ready to go, I assumed it would be a walk in the park to get my daughter evaluated. I naively thought they would immediately tell me what was causing the concerns and provide tools to assist her. I imagined myself falling backwards into a hammock free from the weight of the world only to fall through the very net I assumed would hold me up. I was told there would be a nine-month wait before I’d receive a call about the evaluation. I was devasted. Even more, devasted to learn that if I had private insurance, I could have achieved a diagnosis in a few weeks.
As a Black woman who experienced medical malpractice during my pregnancies, I was on edge. I wasn’t sure I could trust clinicians to have my best interest at heart, let alone my child’s. With the pending evaluation, I wanted help but preferred help from someone who looked more like me. I kept wondering how a white female could relate to my child or me. Culturally we are different, from the way we comb our hair to how we greet another person.
When diagnosis day finally arrived, I was elated to put a name to all the restless nights. My daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I left that day with reassurance that I was indeed on the right track. But as I toured different facilities, I did not see anyone that looked like us. This feeling left me disappointed. No one in my family had walked this path, so I had no help with guidance or insight, but I was determined to obtain some help. As a parent, we are tasked with some minor and some major decisions to make on our children’s behalf; making the natural choice to seek applied behavior analysis (ABA) services was a significant decision in my eyes.
While I was grateful and relieved to finally have a diagnosis, I soon had a new concern. I quickly learned that the field of ABA lacked diversity within leadership roles. The most recent demographic data report by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), reports 70.05% of certificants are white, with the remaining identifying as Latinx (10.56%), Asian (6.85%), Black (3.93%), Pacific Islander (0.38%), and American Indiana (0.28%).
My daughter’s primary struggle was with receptive communication. She could speak but would often talk at people. Her conversations would lead to questions she overheard on television: “Did you know your heart is located in your diaphragm?” However, my child was rarely truly interested in the actual response; if she was, she didn’t wait long to receive the answer before jumping in with another medically driven question. It seemed as if her focus was on the oohs and ahhs or the “wow, how smart” conversations that would follow.
ABA was described to me as a treatment option using empirical studies to promote behavior changes among people living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA included various treatment settings, and my daughter was provided two options. Option one was to have a behavior technician come into our home. The clinician explained how they would use ABA practices to decrease her comorbid diagnosis of sibling rivalry. Option two was an after-school social skills group to target her ability to reciprocate verbal responses when communicating with others. However, both did not resonate with my lifestyle nor my views as a Black parent, especially with the syntactic structures and linguistics I noted in our brief conversation. I often wondered if my family’s values would be accepted or would I have to have a practitioner come into my home and encourage their societal norms, and that was not something I was willing to accept. As a single mom, I also pondered how I would be able to bring my daughter to a social skills group while working a full-time entry-level job.
I wasn’t wrong to worry. Research shows that Black Indigenous Persons of Color (BIPOC) families and those of low socioeconomic status may encounter issues with inappropriate treatment delivery because of different cultural perspectives. I knew BIPOC families receiving treatment from white practitioners could often face implicit biases because of the country’s systematic racism, which frightened me. Unfortunately, the data says white clinicians are likely to make assumptions regarding treatment based on stereotypes and their own lived experiences, leading to inaccurate recommendations. So, I did not move forward with ABA services. I did not feel any facility I visited had clinicians who knew how to properly teach my brown-skinned child how to speak the English language, consistent with my families’ syntactic structures.
This pivotal moment in my life shifted my perspectives and my professional journey. I decided that I could (and would) become the Black clinician I once sought. My journey has been harrowing, and often times I still feel like I remain the elephant in the room. But today, there is a peek of light at the end of the tunnel.
When parents embark on a journey designed to make socially significant changes in their child’s life, resistance is likely to happen when approached by a white clinician – especially in southern regions. The south has been known for racial divides and limited resources for Black communities. Southern states have long represented large Black populations and are often referred to as the Black Belt. Nonetheless, Black patients continue to fight a battle for health equity and justice. ABA services are no different; the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders found that African-American children with autism were diagnosed an average of 1.4 years later than white children and spent eight more months in mental health treatment before being diagnosed.
BIPOC patients deserve support in their fight for equal services. BIPOC patients deserve consideration when formingeffective treatment plans. After a long road to a proper diagnosis, families should not face additional challenges in teaching their children the tools necessary for productive and responsible citizenship consistent with their cultures.
My goal as a clinician has always been to inform the world of societal differences that may impact treatment modalities. One example is the lack of acknowledgment often witnessed when practitioners teach verbal and behavioral skills. Often, Black individuals are forced to code-switch. When practitioners not familiar with the cultural nuances in language, work in some homes, they may dictate using what they are familiar with. Code-switching is exhausting, yet many Black individuals are forced to use the “standard language” society deems acceptable in a field focused on effective treatment. As a Black woman, I’m aware of this struggle (and have had to do it in my own life and work). I’m even more aware and conscious that it may be more challenging for those who are autistic to change their behavior readily, let alone the spoken language they are accustomed to hearing.
My experience as a Black Medicaid recipient who crossed various obstacles with my daughter’s diagnosis and treatment process encouraged me to seek out a company devoted to expanding diversity when I finally received my certifications. I am now a Black clinician striving for continued growth with ABA services in the south. I am hopeful for change as I continue to acknowledge cultural differences within my treatment plans.
LEARN pledges to create a community centered around trust, respect, tolerance, and empathy. Read more about LEARN’s DEI journey in our 2021-22 DEI Annual Report and find out how we are investing in our clinicians cultural competence and increasing the diversity of our clinical team. Together, we’re better.
In September 2020, LEARN convened a group of neurodivergent staff to form our Neurodivergent Advisory Committee. The committee reviews and gives feedback on matters relating to neurodiversity and other person-centered ABA topics and was instrumental in the content, messaging, and visual design of LEARN’s Neurodiversity Values Statement. We asked Ash Franks, a member of the Neurodivergent Advisory Committee, to share her thoughts with us.
Supporting other autistic people while being autistic means listening to what they have to say, however they communicate it, whether it be through an AAC device, sign language, PECS, or verbal language. It also means giving them breaks if they need it, and allowing them to use tools to cope (e.g. stuffed animals, headphones, weighted blankets, etc.). Looking back on my experiences as an autistic child has been very helpful in trying to help children who are at AST.
Being autistic allows me to see different perspectives and ideas compared to neurotypical people, as they tend to think differently than I do.
Basically, we are trying to re-vamp ABA materials through a more neurodivergent-friendly lens, so we can make our treatment as effective as possible. Having autistic people and other neurodivergent people look at ABA therapy through their eyes allows them to explain what works and what doesn’t work. This way, we can work to have treatment be as effective, safe, and as fun as possible for everyone involved. Having BCBAs see the autistic perspective is important because we have direct experience with what worked for us growing up versus what didn’t and might be able to help streamline the treatment to be as effective as possible.
I tend to give feedback on the more artistic and creative side of things, as I am very geared towards having an eye for creative things in the world.
Including autistic people in ABA is super important because we need to account for neurodivergent perspectives to make treatment as effective as possible. Since I am autistic, I can give a firsthand account of what has personally worked for me throughout my life, and what hasn’t. I myself was never in ABA therapy growing up, but I did other types of therapies that I also have found helpful from time to time.
I think listening to autistic perspectives in the workplace would be very helpful. I think having a quiet room for staff that has sensory toys specific for staff would be very helpful, also maybe including a comfy place to sit with a weighted blanket would be good too. Another place it would be helpful to listen to autistic people is when it comes to shopping at malls, since malls can be overwhelming for most autistic people. I know some stores have “quiet” shopping hours where they reduce the lighting and turn off the music, and I really wish more places would do this.
Ash Franks is a Behavior Technician for Learn Behavioral. Ash works in AST’s Hillsboro, Oregon location. Outside of work, she enjoys photography, cooking, video games, and spending time with family and friends.
A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), managing technician, at LEARN’s Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST) in California’s Inland Empire region, Joshua Polanco provides supervision and behavioral intervention plans for clients in need of ABA services. He earned a master’s degree in psychology and ventured into ABA because he wanted to use that degree in a more direct and meaningful way. He’s also legally blind.
Here, he shares stories from his journey and experience working with children and young adults with autism—and his take on the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA).
A: I was working as a behavioral technician and providing one-to-one services with multiple clients. I was about to quit after the first two weeks of working in the ABA setting because I did not have any experience with children with disabilities and felt like I was not helping my clients. Ironically, the clients and their families are what made me stay. To me, nothing can beat the sensation of knowing you have made a difference in someone’s life, and I have had so many fun experiences that helped me realize the importance of ABA, and how prevalent it is in our everyday lives. All of these experiences are what drove me to continue pursuing ABA to the position where I am now.
A: Everything. I feel these concepts as a whole are very overlooked at times. It’s not only important to have diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace but to also recognize the benefits provided when DEI is incorporated into a work environment. In my case, I may be legally blind, but that does not make me useless in a work environment that relies heavily on vision. I am able to continue to make an impact on peoples’ lives through my work and can actually provide a different perspective and understanding when helping clients or co-workers because of my loss of vision.
A: Trying to comprehend various interactions that take place. Balancing the state of empathy and understanding, while simultaneously needing to support and accomplish work objectives that need to be achieved.
A: The short, easy answer is that I take a step back and just listen. Self-awareness and self-control over your own biases and habits go a long way. It’s important to me to recognize the limitations you have in the moment. For example, you may not always be able to truly understand the perspective of others. This is OK—we are only human. I feel like there are ways to still attempt to understand to some degree. Failure to truly understand someone should not give us permission to disregard their perspective.
I’ve relied, to some degree, on multiple psychology books, articles, and notes from when I obtained my master’s degree in psychology, with an emphasis in clinical counseling and marriage and family therapy. When communicating with colleagues and clients, I always try to review and remember the concepts I learned on the dynamics of communication, including those on cognitive distortions and positive feedback loops. Understanding these can play a huge role on how I understand and communicate during a conversation.
A: Without DEI, we would be refusing to grow ABA as a whole. ABA is a science that expands to more than any one individual population. Part of everything we do is to help, expand, and make a difference in the world. What better way to accomplish this than to recognize the different things people have to contribute.
A: One poignant instance in which I had to advocate for myself is the moment I was officially diagnosed blind, and I had to reach out to the HR department to figure out some resolutions and next steps forward. Luckily, I was part of a supportive team and was able to continue doing the core work I was educated to do and hired for, with some slight accommodations and adjustments.
A: I do not know how many people know that I am legally blind. My condition is called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). There is no treatment. With this condition, my vision will gradually worsen. There is no telling how much vision I will lose tomorrow…or over the next 30 years. I don’t only have to think about how this affects the work I do with clients but how I adjust my everyday life to prepare for this. Through my work with rehabilitation specialists, I am learning to use technology, to read braille, and even to cook without looking.
A: I was diagnosed legally blind less than a year ago. In that time, I’ve taken and passed the BCBA exam, which was the first test I’ve ever had to study for and take without my vision, while finding ways to balance my work, as I learn a new lifestyle. I hope the message from all of this is one of inspiration—that no matter how bad things may seem, it’s important not to let the events around you, define you. Take control of the things you can, adapt, and persevere through the adversity. Because this is what we ask of our clients each day.
For more from our Spotlight on Diversity in ABA series, read “An Interview with Angela Parker.”
Dr. Fred Volkmar, a professor at Yale University with over 40 years in the field of autism-related studies, joins us to provide perspective on how far we have come in the diagnosis, research, and services for individuals with autism. With all the gains, there is still a great need for more research. As Dr. Volkmar put it, “I think until we get more parents pushing for work on adults, we’re just not going to see it. You have to put your money where your mouth is and I think the federal government needs to fund more research on adults with autism”. Dr. Volkmar also discusses his latest book written with his wife, Dorothy Goodwin which aims to provide parents with practical help for their family.
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All Autism Talk (allautismtalk.com) is sponsored by LEARN Behavioral (learnbehavioral.com).