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.