A Decade of Work, A Decade as a BCBA

A Decade of Work, A Decade as a BCBA

Over the course of the past year, I’ve been writing to you about standing in your own worth, your truth. I’ve taken you down many paths in the forest of life and shared both challenging and joyful paths that I have walked down. Through writing to you about personal experiences I have healed and still seek to heal further. Life is full of encounters and experiences that can deliver this; for us to hold each moment of being human in our hearts to live a life of freedom. 

What I haven’t written to you about in detail is my career and the work that started my journey. This past week I was recertified by Board Certification as a Behavior Analyst for a fourth time marking a decade as a BCBA. This summer I will celebrate a decade as a BCBA entrepreneur as the owner of Instructional ABA Consultants. It was emotions and injustice that brought me to my career and success. This week I’d like to share my professional journey.

Starting a Career Helping with ASD

My work in the field of autism began fifteen years ago when I was obtaining my bachelor’s degree at the Ohio State University (OSU) in human development focusing on early childhood. I was curious about how environments shaped the developmental outcomes of children. During my time at OSU, I worked in their preschool program and was a home-based therapist for two children with autism using applied behavior analysis (ABA).

This was back in the early 2000s and in both cases, the children were accessing services but their ASD symptoms were not being treated. The ABA program I was working under was state-funded and both children I worked with had high levels of physical aggression. Neither child had a treatment plan that actually alleviated the aggression. I was passionate about the kids and knew from my undergraduate work that environments mattered. In the fall of 2009, I began my master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

My choice to begin a master’s degree stemmed from a desire to understand why aggression, as well as other aberrant behaviors, occurred in children. I also wanted to understand how applied behavior analysis treated autism symptoms in early childhood. During my master’s degree, I worked as an early childhood line therapist and joined the Illinois Crisis Prevention Network (ICPN) as my internship. I had to work during my degrees to pay my bills and at the time was focused on nothing outside of my career. I was thirsty to learn so I could create change for children.

Working at the ICPN

As I began working on the ICPN I was introduced to adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities. I quickly fell in love with the population and saw how lack of access to quality treatment affected their lives. In spending the first five years of my career focused on children I had never really thought about where they would go when they grew up. I had never thought about the adults with disabilities who had never gained access to care as children themselves. Most of the adults I served at the time had been raised in state-run institutions. Through my work with the adults, my eyes were opened to not only what happens immediately with small children with autism who do not have access to care, but also what can happen in adulthood.

During my time at the ICPN, I worked to gain my associate certification first and followed it up with BCBA board certification. I was given the opportunity of a caseload of clients (from children to geriatrics) who needed immediate crisis support; first under supervision, then as my own caseload. During this time I was wildly in love with my job but fiercely angry at the lack of care my clients received.

As a young woman, I cannot tell you the number of parents’ hands I held as we talked about their child’s (young or adult) experience that led to a crisis. The stories they told me both broke my heart and filled me with a fire to change their experience. Time after time the constant theme that led to a crisis was lack of intervention due to either a lack of funding or an unethical & uncaring therapy team. I worked with each client and family to stabilize their loved ones from crisis to community-functioning. Without access to outside care of the crisis team, success was usually not sustainable.

Changing the Game

In 2012 I decided to change that. I had met my own personal mission to understand aberrant behaviors and the impact of the environment on childhood development. Now, I know through science that the environment is the key predictor of outcome. I also knew that applied behavior analysis provided a scientific approach to at-risk symptoms of autism as well as behaviors.

With my own hands, through applied behavior analysis, I was able to change the outcome of lives for the better. I wanted to open a private practice that used these skills to close the gap in services based on funding sources. I also wanted to challenge my field ethically to create a place where all of our clients received quality care. A decade ago this was not the case. Even today ABA has mountains to climb regarding regulating quality care for all families.

It’s been a decade since I sat for my boards and I still have a fire burning in me fueled by what our science can do to help serve clients who otherwise would not have access to therapy. I went from just me to five locations, across three states, with a team of professionals who have the same passion. Each day I wake up knowing that we (not just me) are creating lasting change. Learning to run a company is for a different blog but as a BCBA I know I have a decade to be proud of.

To the next decade of service. Wherever we may go.

Xoxo,

Jessie

New Study Prompts Outrage Among Autism Researchers

New Study Prompts Outrage Among Autism Researchers

A recent study in the July 2021 issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has prompted outrage among many autism researchers.

Every researcher on the study (a study focused on autism prevalence and related costs in the US over the next 40 years) has connections to organizations that have wrongfully tied autism to vaccines. This is a conflict of interest that none of the researchers on the study properly disclosed.

About the Researchers

Mark Blaxill, the study’s research lead, is editor-at-large of Age of Autism, a website that promotes distrust of vaccinations and the long-debunked link between vaccines and autism. Blaxill has made national news for his anti-vaccine views.

Toby Rogers, a study co-investigator, is a political economist. Rogers has written for the Children’s Health Defense Fund, a website that seeks to discredit vaccine safety. Another co-investigator, Cynthia Nevison, is a research associate at the University of Colorado and a former board member of SafeMinds, an organization that has unsuccessfully sought to link vaccines to autism.

“It’s abundantly clear that this paper doesn’t follow the journal’s policies,” says David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and editor-in-chief of the journal Autism. “If you reference the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders’ conflict-of-interest guidelines, it says that certain ideological commitments and personal beliefs, personal relationships, all those things have to also be disclosed.”

The failure to properly disclose ties to certain organizational interests has led many researchers to disregard the study. The study researchers mentioned they are not paid to write articles or publish studies for politically motivated organizations in defense of the study.

Misrepresentation of Data

Autism prevalence data from the state of California was used to forecast that 3 to 10 percent of children in the United States will have autism by the year 2060. Based on this figure, the study mentioned the future societal cost of autism could be as high as $5.5 trillion per year. A third analysis claimed to model how prevention might reduce autism prevalence in the future.

Outside researchers say the data is flawed “because it was calculated by looking at really old data, comparing it to new data, and then assuming an exponential function.” Many researchers mentioned this issue as numbers that increased exponentially due to two totally different sets of data will always be too large.

One outside researcher noted “The rise in autism prevalence in recent years can be attributed to better observation and increased diagnosis on the community level. The base rate of autism isn’t magically rising because there’s some toxin that causes it, which is the underlying assumption [the paper’s authors] have.”

Prevention calculation in the study also used “magic numbers,” says Madison Hyer, a biostatistician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “Magic Numbers” means it isn’t clear what the word prevention means or even what’s being measured. “Are they saying that this is the cost of supporting or treating individuals with autism across their life in some way? Or is this the cost above the cost of supporting someone without autism? Everybody costs something.”

Outside Researchers on Prevention Prediction

Other comments from outside researchers mentioned “[the study] made some really severe assumptions about productivity … It looks like they were assuming anybody with autism would have zero productivity, but many people with autism work.”

Many outside researchers without organization ties observe that some people with autism may have disabilities and challenges, but that we as a society should think about how to support them. They’re still quite productive members of society.”

Some outside researchers noted that some of the data used to calculate productivity may have also come from questionable sources, says Kristen Bottema-Beutel, associate professor of teaching, curriculum, and society at Boston College in Massachusetts. “The data they use appears to be from a non-peer-reviewed PDF.”

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders was established in 1971, and its first editor-in-chief was Leo Kanner, one of the first clinicians to describe autism. Some researchers say the new study has diminished their perception of the journal, which has an impact factor of 3.047. (A journal’s impact factor reflects how often its articles are cited.)”

“[This paper] makes me question the peer review process,” says Brittany Hand, assistant professor at Ohio State University in Columbus, who also wrote a letter of protest to Volkmar. “How in the world does something like this get past [peer review]?”

ABA Therapy from IABA Consultants

If you have questions regarding autism treatment, education, or plans using ABA therapy, we are here for you! Our goal is to make sure no family is turned away due to financial constraints. Our therapy team would love to talk to you. Find the location closest to you and give us a call. We’re here for you.

Sources

Spectrumnews.org, Community Letter

The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, July, 2021