Well-Trained Hands Change the World of Autism

As a student, working in your field of study offers depth and value to classroom instruction. Internships are a great way to gain hands-on experience that can provide a competitive advantage in the job market. Canopy Children’s Solutions was proud to offer six students from an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) master’s program a well-rounded and intensive experience to prepare them for careers in ABA therapy.

The road to becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is long no matter which way it is travelled. A master’s degree from an accredited university is required and minimum 40 hours of course work in behavior analysis is just the beginning. Hundreds of hours of supervised clinical experience practicing and utilizing ABA therapy and gaining a full understanding of ABA methods to develop a gamut of skills is also required, which can be completed through independent fieldwork or an intensive practicum.

Interns at Canopy’s Early Intervention Autism Clinic fully experienced the career of a BCBA under the guidance of licensed professionals. They gained applied practice (much like clinical rounds for a medical or nursing student) with actual clients on a daily basis.

“We experienced the feeling of a full case load,” said Laura Katherine Barker, ABA intern from Grenada, Mississippi. “We were able to interact with not only the kids but also the parents and gain a deeper understanding of operating a clinic and being a full-time clinician. We participated in behavior assessments, developing data-driven treatment plans and data analysis to ensure what we were doing was the right course of action.”

Interns work with kids in clinic

While much of the first half of their year-long internship focused on practical applications and their own supervision, the second half focused on learning to become a supervising BCBA. This direct experience of supervising others who implement ABA programs is often missing in the training of many aspiring behavior analysts.

“We worked with our BCBAs and the Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) to offer feedback on therapy they provided to clients, and then our supervisors worked with us to improve the quality of the feedback we provided” said Barker. “It gave us another perspective of the field and the understanding of not only managing your clients but also managing supervision and insurance requirements that keep the clinic operational and in good standing.”

During her first year in the graduate program, Barker had experience working outside of a clinic setting. At the Canopy CARES School Hattiesburg, she worked with older students with autism by helping them to meet their academic goals.

“When you work in a school setting, it is still a great opportunity to gain practical experience but it is very different from working in a clinical setting,” said Barker. “In a school, you are working specifically toward academic goals and helping them progress in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and therefore, therapy with kids in a classroom looks different from a clinic setting.”

Barker, along with three other interns were offered full-time positions with Canopy at the end of their internships. The two other interns are re-locating out of state.

“We have fewer than 60 licensed BCBAs in Mississippi,” said Jim Moore, BCBA-D, Director of Autism Solutions for Canopy. “With more than 11,000 children in the state on the autism spectrum and limited access to quality treatment, we must do our part to ensure those who are coming up in the field are well-prepared when they leave college. Creating a meaningful experience preparing these future professionals is not only ethical, it is imperative to the future of the kids they will serve.”

In August, the interns will sit for the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam, including the four new Canopy staff members. The exam will focus heavily on treatment plans, assessments, applied practice and supervision. Following certification, the former interns will then be eligible to become Licensed Behavior Analysts in the State of Mississippi.

“I’m thankful to have had this kind of hands-on experience to go along with the study materials,” said Barker. “I would not have succeeded without the two-year training experience I have received through the CARES School in Hattiesburg or the Early Intervention Clinic. I look forward to the exciting opportunities that are ahead with Autism Solutions at Canopy.”

We wish the best of luck to each of the future BCBAs as they sit for their licensure exam next month.