The Future of ABA

Patricia Chong

by Sarah Glass
Photos by Erin Leong #erinleongphotography

This is a post I wrote for the Global Autism Project on my latest SkillCorps trip to the Dominican Republic this past February.
When one speaks of inspiring women that are creating social change in the world they should include Patricia Chong. Patricia is like many other ABA therapists that are working in the field while pursuing BCaBA certification. She is passionate, brilliant, driven, caring, and like many other candidates would likely benefit from an extended vacation. But Patricia is different from most students~ she is a trailblazer in the Dominican Republic. She is on track to become one of the first BCaBAs in her entire country.

It is easy to allow Patricia Chong’s quiet demeanor to hide the passion and drive she possesses to make huge changes in her community. By the age of 29, Patricia has already risen to clinical operations supervisor at the Aprendo Center. Patricia’s first experience in the field was as a paraprofessional working in a preschool. In this experience, she saw the challenges families and children face in education.

Patricia originally intended to be a doctor and studied pre-med at Intec University. In the midst of her coursework, she began to worry a career in medicine would not be as satisfying as she once perceived. “Doctors solve organic problems. I wanted to heal the whole person and family” she told me. Patricia switched majors and graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2013. She began working for the Aprendo Center for Autism in 2015 as an ABA therapist for children with autism. Her dream is to first become a BCaBA and then BCBA.

Can you imagine becoming the one of the first BCaBAs your in your country? Mind you, the Dominican Republic is a country of almost 9 million yet they have only one BCBA in the entire country. Imagine the struggles you would have to overcome to obtain training, supervision and clinical experience. Meeting Patricia really got me thinking about the BCAB certification process, the importance of our work, and what the universal goals and values that we should share as an organization.

While our profession is rapidly growing in the States, in many other parts of the world ABA services are simply unavailable. If you placed all the current BCBA and BCaBA practitioners on a map, you would notice that the vast majority live in the USA. While many just assume that this is a reflection of the natural progression of the field, there are actually a variety of barriers that exclude qualified individuals from obtaining certification. It also leaves many unqualified individuals to provide ABA without the training and support they need to provide quality services.
Patricia faces many roadblocks that most Americans would never consider in pursuit of this dream. BCBA coursework is not even offered in the Dominican Republic.When searching the web, I could only find three universities that offered the pre-approved BCBA coursework in any Spanish speaking countries. Patricia is currently taking classes through ABA Espana to qualify for BCaBA coursework. Although the classes are in Spanish, it is very different from the Spanish spoken in North and South America. This makes accessing materials, in vivo models, asking course related questions in the moment and finding mentoring a challenge.

Another barrier is that many individuals educated outside of the United States struggle with is getting the degrees they earned to count towards the education requirement (MA or BA in psychology, ABA, Teaching, etc.) by the BCAB. This is a requirement that every candidate must meet even if they take their BCBA coursework separately. If an individual’s university program is not pre-approved, they can apply for an approval process that requires payment regardless of the outcome. If the degree is not approved, the candidate may either have to earn a degree from another university, sit for BCaBA exam even though they have a masters degree, or be required to take additional coursework before beginning the BCAB coursework.
While Patricia has been able to overcome these hurdles by making significant personal sacrifices, many others do not have the same support. It makes me wonder if this process is causing more harm that it does good. I understand that we want only the best of the best to hold the certification of BCBA. But instead of training more individuals to become qualified practitioners, we are excluding many that could be assets to our profession. Who does this really hurt? In my opinion, it hurts all of us in this field. Fortunately, Patricia is paving the way for young women in the Dominican Republic. Hopefully, her journey enables others to follow in her path.

Improving Self Help Skills With Video Modeling

I whole-heartedly admit that I love using video modeling to teach new skills to individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. Today’s learners love technology and are typically more willing to try harder tasks when I use this method.  But this is only one of the reasons I use this technique. There is a plethora (yes, I said plethora) of research that supports the use of video modeling effectively teach a variety of skills.  I also find it to be ideally suited to teach the skills parents are most interested in improving: hygiene,  self-care tasks, chores, and cooking.

With guidance from a qualified practitioner, parents can also use this method to provide additional learning opportunities and help individuals become more independent with these skills. Students typically perform adaptive skills in the home environment so it is natural to learn those skills there. Working in the home allows learners to form routines and eliminates any confusion that may be caused when teaching a skill in an environment where not likely to be performed.  For example, teaching an individual to independently cook a meal in a clinical setting poses problems because the kitchen is set up differently, ingrediants may be different,  and the items will be stored in different locations.   Some skills, like hygiene routines,  require a level of privacy that make it difficult to teach in a school or clinical setting. Video Modeling

Video Modeling can also help individuals learn skills that many parents are uncomfortable having outsiders teach.  Some skills, like hygiene routines,  require a level of privacy that make it difficult to teach in a school or clinical setting.  Video modeling programming allows these skills to be practiced within the home. They can be taught by family or trusted therapists to ensure privacy and also reinforce personal boundaries for the learner. Ultimately, learning to perform self-care tasks independently fosters greater freedom and improves the chances of independent living.

With years of research supporting the use of video modeling, many people question why this method is underused. With more and more schools providing iPads and tablets for instructors, video programs are very simple to create. Some educators also assume that the time and money required to make video modeling materials is too high. However, the cost and time required to create a video modeling program are also considerably less than those associated with traditional teaching methods. Videos can be saved and used for many students used over many years. Implementation of video modeling programs can also reduce the overall cost of services since these programs can be delivered by paraprofessionals, behavior technicians, and family members.

For free Video Modeling materials click!video-modeling/j6x4qhere.

Tips for Traveling with a Child with Autism

With a little bit of preparation, families with children with autism can have exciting vacations enjoyed by all. The first thing families should consider, is their child’s specific needs. Since every child with autism is different, following a pre-written strategy or guide may not be helpful. The following post will discuss how my family individualizes our vacation preparation to meet our son’s needs and the supports we use that help him cope with unfamiliar experiences.

My family typically opts to rent vacation homes with a pool rather than staying at a resort. Cities and vacation destinations can be noisy and unpredictable. Renting a house allows my son a quieter environment similar to his own home. We also do not have to worry that his loud vocal stims, that typically occur when he is over stimulated, disturbing people in adjacent hotel rooms.

Our son is a natural born swimmer and is happiest when surrounded by water. For this reason, our vacation plans always include opportunities for water play. Even when we travel to large cities or plan visits to museums, we schedule breaks throughout the day for the pool. We have found that our son is best able to handle the hustle and bustle typical of most vacations when he is given time to recharge and find his center.

We always make sure to bring noise canceling headphones when visiting museums or touring loud city streets. Prior to our visit, we check location maps to find quiet spaces to retreat in case of overstimulation. I have also found it helpful to map out locations like parks or recreation centers where people will not mind if he becomes loud. While sight seeing we encourage engagement at his level. But we also build in 15 minutes of video or music time for every half hour of sightseeing.

My husband and I love to eat in trendy restaurants and explore local cuisine. We have worked hard to find a balance that allows a comfortable experience for everyone. While we still eat in restaurants throughout our visit, we typically eat out during lunch to avoid less crowded eateries during the dinner rush. Eating dinner at home also helps him stick to our usual night-time routine.

Safety is a huge concern for families that have children with autism. Before renting a vacation home, we carefully consider safety hazards. We avoid homes with balconies or without enclosed yards. We also choose not to rent the fancy homes that I prefer if they are positioned next to the ocean or a lake. The temptation for a late night swim may be too strong for our son to resist. I typically call property owners to discuss locks on windows and doors. Generally, they are very kind and have even sent pictures.

These are the supports that have allowed our family to successfully travel around the country. Remember, each child is different and may need more or less supports based on their comfort levels. I have found that it is better to over-prepare and not use a strategy than to be ill-prepared and deal with a tantrum. Good luck and happy travels!