Applied Behavior Analysis is the practice of applying principles of learning in a systemic way to alter behavior (Cooper, Heron, & Howard, 2007). This sounds so complicated at the forefront, but it is much simpler than the technical words allow you to believe. ABA is the science of lasting, socially significant behavior change. When I first heard about the field of Behaviorism I was in my bachelor’s program. I can say that I did not pay much attention, but I remember that the ideas and principles stuck in my brain rather easily. Remember the concepts was great when it came time to the test for the ONE chapter dedicated to Behaviorism. In retrospect, this seems rather small for a field that has dedicated its time to bettering lives all around the world. This was YEARS before ABA even appeared on my radar as my end all, be all.
The true beginning of my story happens in my very last semester of undergrad. Prior to my current job as an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) I managed a retail store at my local mall. Obviously, this job was so cool and so fun and exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life after earning a BS in Psychology *please allow for the sarcasm to sink in*. Luckily, I had an opportunity fall into my lap because of how close I was with my advisor. An email about a new job opportunity was sent to three or four students. The job was with an ABA company. My advisor later admitted to not knowing much about the job or the company, but I decided this was my chance to finally get out of retail, I was DESPERATE.
Long story short, before I was officially hired, I was asked to shadow a few sessions to see if this field was the right fit for me. I will say that I am a hard person to get close with or to get emotional responses from, I pride myself in my professionalism especially in new situations. The child that I shadowed was nonvocal up until the Friday before I showed up at his home. I got to experience some of this child’s first words. I left his house in tears, immediately calling my husband to tell him that I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Now I am the program lead on that case. That client is my heart and soul.
Let me preface, I do not have a background or any experience in ABA other than the almost three years I have put in with my company. My plans for after graduating with my bachelors was to take two to three years off to figure out what I wanted to do with my life because the counseling program my school offered just didn’t feel like the right fit for me. Well, we all know what happens when you plan…. I was hired on as an RBT and within a month I knew that I wanted to begin a master’s program in ABA. By the fall of 2018 I had started my master’s program at Simmons university. I finish my master’s degree in August, and I don’t think I have ever been more ready to fully step into the next season of my life. I am so very lucky that I work in an environment that wants to see me grow and succeed and has provided more than amazing supervision as well as exceptional training that better prepares me for my transition from RBT to BCBA.
I will say that I had never anticipated working with children in any capacity. I did not fully know what working in this field entailed. I had no idea that I would be giving every last piece of myself to ensure that the children and their families that I serve get the very best of me at all times. Life is hard, working is hard, graduate school is hard. Truly, I think all these things would be so much harder if I didn’t have those precious gems to see every single day. Life would be harder if I didn’t KNOW that what I do every day makes a huge difference in people’s lives. The internet likes to challenge me, it likes to make me question what I do for a living and the intentions of people in the field of ABA. There is a lot that can help us improve, no doubt. I continuously come back to my “why” for choosing this field and the reason I fell in love with it. The every day small victories that make up the strides of progress that we see in our clients; the kids and their families. My companies’ mission statement is “Building strong foundations for bright futures” and this is what reminds me of why I do what I do when it feels like people want to believe that all ABA does is cause harm.
I have seen the other side. I have seen the strides of progress. I have seen the tears of the families, both in grief and in complete joy. This is why we do what we do. This is what I saw that first day three years ago and why I chose to throw my whole self into the field. I believe in our science. I believe in dissemination so that others can see it and love it in all the same ways that I do. I think it is so important to love what you do and alongside that, to fully believe in it. Buy in is so important in our field. We talk about parent buy in all the time, but you also need to have practitioner buy in, whether it is at the RBT level or the BCBA level. What we do works, it changes lives. This is my why. I took a chance on a field I knew nothing about and fell head over heels in love with it, and I will never look back.
Cooper, J., Heron, T. and Heward, W., 2007. Applied Behavior Analysis. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, Nj: Pearson.
About the Author
Cierra is an RBT in the last semester of her MS program, waiting on graduation so that she can sit for that DAMN test. She loves reading, writing, and spending lots of time cuddling with her dogs. You can follow her on Instagram at @cierra.a.jackson.