Employee Spotlight: Allie Wyatt

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I stumbled into my job at Behavior Frontiers the way most people find employment these days – a help wanted ad on an online job board. The available position was for an Administrative Assistant, a job that I was definitely qualified for, having worked in similar positions for the past twelve years. I eagerly applied, and hopefully waited for a response.

The response was quick to come, and a job offer soon to follow. When I started work, I had the incredibly exciting responsibility of essentially opening a new office. The clinical staff had received keys to the office just a week before, so I walked into the kind of chaos I thrive on: phones and internet hadn’t been set up yet, most of the furniture was still in boxes, and all we had in the way of a break room was a coffeemaker in an office in a back corner. I got right to work, doing my best to “make a house a home”. I built furniture, set up filing systems, got our kitchen and break all set up, and got our clinical staff settled in.

After things calmed down a bit, I found something new to do that allowed me to flex my creative muscle: making stimuli for our clients. I loved spending time making intricate token boards specially tailored to the clients’ interests, and I loved even more when our case managers would come in and tell me how much the kiddos had loved them, how much more attentive they were, and how much more motivated they were to earn their tokens.

On my first Administrative Professionals Day with Behavior Frontiers, my clinical staff brought me flowers, and I cried. In all of my years of working these types of jobs, I have never worked for a company that did any more than send out an email for the day, if they acknowledged it at all. This was the first day that I really understood the company culture of Behavior Frontiers. Not just because of the flowers (though they were very nice), but because all day, 90 percent of the emails I received were company-wide shout-outs, from clinical staff singing the praises and listing the accomplishments of the administrators in their offices. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew just how incredibly valuable their admins were to all of their efforts.

My responsibilities quickly started to change. Our Regional Clinical Director came to visit our office, and she saw something in me that I had never really seen in myself: a capacity for more. She started assigning me work, and I became her unofficial assistant. Three months later, she called me.

“What do you want from your future with Behavior Frontiers?” she asked. I was completely stumped. I wasn’t sure what I wanted for my future at all, much less anything specific. “Well, I want you to think about it,” she continued, “because whatever you want to do, I’m going to help you get there.” And she was true to her word. She worked tirelessly to find the right spot for me. She introduced me to other people within the company, who also had faith in me, and who then also worked on my behalf.

Finally, about a year ago, I was promoted to Expansion Coordinator. With Behavior Frontiers opening new offices all the time, they needed someone to help make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible, and so this position was created. I work a lot on marketing, business development, training, you name it. Every day is different, and most days are exciting (in a good way, I promise!).

The moral of the story is, I never imagined that this is the kind of work I would end up doing. It took people that saw and believed in my abilities, and a company that was willing to stand behind those people.

It took management who actively look for ways to promote from within and to bring people up within the company. And it took a wonderful group of people, who believe so strongly in the inherent skills of their administrative assistants. I’m still not sure what I want for my future, but I know that it will be with Behavior Frontiers.

Allie Wyatt joined Behavior Frontiers as an Administrative Assistant for the Bakersfield, CA office in 2016. She began working as the Expansion Coordinator in 2018, responsible for assisting in all operations involved in opening a new location.

June 18, 2019

Choosing a Quality ABA Agency for Your Child with Autism

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There are countless agencies that advertise themselves as providers of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) based therapy services, but finding a good quality service is not always easy. How should a parent of a newly diagnosed child navigate the field of behavior intervention service providers?

Here are some questions to ask of potential agencies:

1.     "What are the minimum educational requirements for the direct interventionists?"

Direct interventionists, also commonly known as behavior therapists, specialists, technicians, or instructors, are the people who will work with your child on a daily basis. It is reasonable to expect that the behavior technician have at least a bachelor's degree in psychology, education, or a related field. Ideally, your child’s behavior technician should be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), Board Certified Autism Technician (BCAT) or Applied Behavior Analyst Technician (ABAT). RBTs, BCATs and ABATs have taken comprehensive training in autism and ABA methods and have demonstrated their competence by passing written and/or field examinations. If the technicians are not certified, you may want to ask about the training the agency has provided. All ABA technicians, regardless of their certifications, should be consistently and regularly supervised.

2. "What are the minimum educational requirements for supervisory staff?"

All ABA technicians should be supervised by a person who holds a master's degree in psychology or a related field with experience in the fields of autism and ABA. Ideally, this person should also be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). This means s/he has taken the specific required coursework in behavior analysis and met the experience requirement of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. The BCBA (or BCaBA) is certified to design and supervise behavior analytic programming and intervention plans.

3. "What type of training is required for direct intervention technicians?"

An agency should provide new ABA technicians with training in ABA methods as well as field training where the trainee observes an experienced technician and then has to demonstrate competency in several skill areas before being sent off to work on his/her own. Initial training should cover the topics such as reinforcement, discrete trial teaching, prompting, naturalistic teaching strategies, data collection, and reductive interventions.

4. “What is your supervisor to client ratio and how often will the supervisor provide direct supervision?”

Lower supervisor to client ratios mean more time for your child’s supervisor to address your child’s needs. In order to for the supervisor to be able to keep your child’s program running smoothly, it is best that supervisors have no more than 15 clients at a time. Frequency and amount of direct supervision may vary by the number of funded hours and the needs of the child; however, a good general rule is that the supervisor should observe your child directly at least 1-2 times per month. It will help to know how many supervision hours the funding source has authorized for your child so you know what to expect. Most behavioral agencies also offer the option to pay privately, in which case you may be able to pay for supervision hours separately if you choose to do so. The effectiveness of behavioral programs may be diminished by the lack of or insufficient supervision. 

5. “What resources does your agency have to address my child’s needs?”

When interviewing potential agencies, keep your child’s age, diagnosis, and unique needs in mind. Express your main concerns in detail. Is your child exhibiting dangerous self-injurious behaviors or aggression? Is your child able to communicate well with adults, but has difficulty relating to peers and making friends? Does your child have another diagnosis such as ADHD, emotional disturbance, or Rett Syndrome? You will want to ensure that the agency has experience with your child’s diagnosis and age level and that the agency has curricula targeting all of your child’s skill deficits. Also, you will want to be aware of the type of reductive interventions the staff might use to address your child’s problem behaviors. While agency staff members will not be able to give specific recommendations until your child is observed and assessed, they should be able to tell you about general techniques that the agency uses to reduce problematic behaviors. You will want to ensure that you are comfortable with those techniques and that they are research-based before selecting your agency. If you are interested, you may also want to ask if the agency offers parent training, which will help you to create the most consistent environment possible for your child.

Regardless of who you choose to provide your child’s behavior intervention program, you will want to ensure the following once the service is in place:

1.     The direct technicians should be taking data on any problem behaviors as well as on your child’s acquisition of new skills and progress towards their goals. You should also receive reports on your child’s progress based on this data (this happens quarterly, semi-annually or when report cards come out for school district services).

2.     The technician should follow established by the BCBA supervisor and communicate with the BCBA supervisor frequently. Becoming familiar with your child’s behavior intervention plan will help you to know that the technician is in fact following that plan.

3.     As the parent, you should be informed of the techniques being used with your child and have the opportunity to agree or disagree with the use of those techniques and request changes to the existing program. Keep up to date on the names of specific strategies being used in your child’s program. These can, will, and should change from time to time as your child progresses or shows differing needs. Make sure that all of the strategies being used with your child are research-based (e.g., discrete trial training/teaching (DTT), naturalistic teaching (NATS), etc.). There are many research-based strategies within the field of ABA, but if you are skeptical, you can always ask your BCBA supervisor to point you in the direction of research that supports a specific technique.

4.     Most importantly, make sure you feel comfortable and satisfied with your child’s progress. If not, the BCBA supervisor should be willing to set up a meeting with you to discuss possible changes to your child’s behavior intervention program.

June 11, 2019

Behavior Frontiers BCBAs turned out in force for the ABAI 45th Annual Convention in Chicago!

The amazing opportunity to attend the event was offered as part of our popular Conference Benefit, which covers professional conference registration fees, travel, accommodations, CEUs, and even a fully hosted appreciation dinner. The conferences are a rare and wonderful opportunity for members of our clinical team from Behavior Frontiers’ offices across the nation to come together, connect, learn, and share their experiences with other members of the ABA community.

A particular focus this year was on our national expansion efforts. Behavior Frontiers has offices in 19 states, with additional locations in the works. With this in mind, ABAI offered a fantastic platform. “It was so great to be able to talk to people from all over the country.” says Heather Hettinger, Regional Clinical Director. “People are really so excited to talk about where in the U.S. -- and beyond -- they would be interested in working with us!”

This year our staff was particularly enthusiastic about highlighting Behavior Frontiers’ new and improved benefit offerings. These include an improved, above industry-standard, 401K plan with company match, employee assistance program with travel benefits, and extremely generous PTO, as well as tuition reduction programs, employee discount offerings and location specific perks and activities.

As always, front and center were our superior quality ABA services and expertly trained staff, as well as our new logo, celebrating fifteen years of providing autism treatment inspired by science and compassion.

We can’t wait for next year -- see you all at ABAI’s 46th Annual Convention in Washington, DC!

June 4, 2019

Engaging in Play and Toy Exploration with Young Children

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Engaging in play as an adult, whether as a parent or a teacher, can be somewhat challenging. You may have forgotten how to interact with a toy, or find it difficult to really engage in imaginative ideas with a child during an unstructured play activity. This can create an awkward and uncomfortable feeling for the adult and an under-stimulating or aversive environment for the child that is, frankly, not very reinforcing for either the adult or the child. As we know, reinforcement is incredibly important to increase the frequency of a behavior, so engaging in play and exploring toys needs to be reinforcing, ideally to both the adult and the child! We can help accomplish this goal by learning more about the different types of play, and the basic function of some common toys, thus making engaging in play more rewarding for everyone.

Children with special needs, such as autism, are often not naturally or socially reinforced by play, so specific teaching or structuring play can help create more opportunities for learning. Additional reinforcement can also be used to create a more pleasurable environment for the child. These rewards should be anything the child naturally likes, such as time with parent, snacks, preferred juices, etc. If they don’t naturally enjoy playing and find the situation upsetting or aversive, this can lead to them not wanting to play with toys or can result in the child exhibiting problematic behaviors such as tantrums during play scenarios.

When looking at young children, from ages 6 months to about 2 years (either their chronological or developmental age), types of play can be somewhat limited. The main focus is on exploration: exploring the environment, exploring items, tactile activities, moving into some beginner cause-and-effect play and beginner pretend play, using objects, characters, and play sets.

Exploring various toys with your child can help them improve their communication, social engagement, motor skills, and cognition skills such as problem solving, reasoning, and perspective taking. By engaging with your child through play, you can help connect to your child on a personal level and help enhance skills that will truly benefit your child’s development. 

Selecting toys can be overwhelming, as there are so many options out there. Some may look overwhelming or too advanced, while other toys may seem too boring for your child. It is important to try and capture the child’s interest by making the interaction fun, dynamic, and imaginative. Be clear on what you are trying to teach, such as motor skills by stringing necklaces, or cause-and-effect by filling and dumping sand. Provide opportunities for sharing and turn-taking, while providing rewards and treats when the child starts to pick up the idea of what you are teaching. Continue to shape the child’s learning by slowly increasing the length of play, number of steps, or complexity of the toy. As the child learns, reward them and remember to praise them. Be excited and show them you are happy for their successes!

Here are list of toys that can be helpful for social and independent play. Keep in mind that in order to reap the most benefits from these toys, your interaction will play a significant role. Try building conversations, modeling play, and giving necessary prompts.

  • Puzzles - Puzzles are great for improving your child’s cognitive skills, hand-eye coordination, and definitely fine motor skills. Remember to start with easy, peg-board puzzles and work up.

  • Dough or Clays – Practice motor skills such as rolling, pinching, smashing, and using the standard plastic tools for these items are good exercises for various parts of the hands. Make common objects or themes for play, such as a blanket for Barbie or a sword for an action hero.

  • Bean Bag Toss Games - Visual orientation, gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination are some of the skills that are targeted as your child aims and throws. Totally fun and great for outdoor play!

  • Kitchen Play Sets - Playing with a kitchen set provides plenty of opportunities to enhance socio-dramatic play, functional pretend play, parallel play, and language. Begin with imitation, then labeling items, then simple conversations to help shape the child’s skills.

  • Figurine Play Sets – These toys allow for endless possibilities from farm life to multi-sequence stories. Opportunities can be contrived to target various skills like pretend, labeling, echoics, imitation, sharing, storytelling and so much more.

There are endless ideas for play, and it really comes down to using your imagination and being creative with it. Have fun, be flexible with play, yet create opportunities for the child to practice new skills. Remember to reward the child and yourself - after all, play should be fun!

Carrine Pilkington-Moore, M.S., BCBA, LMFT, LBA
Regional Clinical Director
May 28, 2019

Behavior Frontiers Grad Expo – Cultivating our Own!

Behavior Frontiers hosted representatives from several universities for an internal Grad Expo for our Behavior Technicians, Registered Behavior Technicians, direct service and administration staff. The schools were on hand as part of the company’s University Partnership Program -- a highly rated employee benefit -- which provides reduced tuition rates to employees enrolled in a variety of Master’s Program.

The Grad Expo, held on site at Behavior Frontiers Los Angeles Office, afforded employees a convenient and accessible way to learn about advanced degrees that could further their career opportunities in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). 

“Between all of our partner universities, there is an incredibly diverse offering of programs, to ensure that all of our employees can find a path that fits their passion,” explains Rosi deDomenico, Regional Clinical Director. “[Because] we have made higher education part of our company culture, they know that they will get the support that they need as they move forward with their schooling, including company-sponsored BCBA supervision.”

 “All I can say is WOW! It was a huge success. Even more Behavior Technicians showed up than we expected, and all were very eager to learn about the programs at each of the universities in attendance,” deDomenico exclaims with delight. She and her fellow clinical directors, along with Behavior Frontiers’ recruiter, Paola Garcia, are already planning the next University Partnership event. “This type of event is the best way we can contribute to our staff to advance their careers, and, in turn, help more kiddos!”

May 21, 2019