Creating Change Through Applied Behavior Analysis

April 23, 2019

Tatiana Bryant ’17, MEd ’19 works as a behavior support clinician while she earns her master's in Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, at Mary Baldwin. ABA is a leading intervention for children who have been diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders.

“I have always wanted to help people in a hands-on way and contribute to a field that benefits the greater good,” said Behavior Support Clinician Tatiana Bryant ’17, MEd ’19.

That field is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), and clinicians like Bryant are using the approach to make a big difference in the lives of local children and families. It’s a leading intervention for children who have been diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders.

Tatiana Bryant ’17, MEd ’19 works as a behavior support clinician while she earns her master's in Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, at Mary Baldwin. ABA is a leading intervention for children who have been diagnosed with autism and other developmental disorders.

MBU faculty and students are working with Compass Counseling Services in Staunton to help increase access to ABA-based therapy in the community.

“Working with clients is the highlight of my job,” said Bryant, “and being able to help a parent in the moment, when I can tap into my knowledge and explain what’s happening with their child’s spontaneous behavior.”

In intensive therapy sessions, often in the home, ABA clinicians help identify the function behind a child’s problem behaviors and use that knowledge to reduce them. Through positive reinforcement, the child can eventually learn appropriate behaviors.

“I have always wanted to help people in a hands-on way and contribute to a field that benefits the greater good.”
Tatiana Bryant ’17, MEd ’19, behavior support clinician

Professor of Psychology Louise Freeman is a proponent of ABA both inside and outside of the classroom. In addition to teaching ABA classes at MBU, she works part-time at Compass as a licensed behavior analyst.

“I didn’t fully appreciate how important this in-home work is until I started doing it myself,” Freeman said. “Home therapy might be the last option for families before their child is put in care or taken out of school. So this job is very important.”

The demand for ABA services is high in the local area, says Erika Bischof, director for Compass’ Connections Program — which coordinates in-home behavioral therapy for clients — and an adjunct professor in the social work program at MBU.

“There are lots of kids who would benefit, and many families waiting to access these services in our community,” she said. “We have a waitlist of clients, and we see a continuing need to hire more supervisors and clinicians.”

Bryant is studying towards her graduate degree at MBU and working at Compass at the same time. It’s a perk of the ABA field that, as soon as students enroll in their first course, they can gain work through a supervising agency like Compass and start earning a paycheck.    

“We appreciate that we have this great program at MBU, right in our backyard,” said Bischof. “For people who have a passion for children with special needs, having a university right here where they can further their profession and feel more confident in their training, that’s a really great thing.”

“I didn’t fully appreciate how important this in-home work is until I started doing it myself.”
Professor of Psychology Louise Freeman, who also works part-time as a licensed behavior analyst

ABA has been successful in helping individuals with autism, but it is not limited to that disorder, and the method applies well to adult clients, in addition to children.

“ABA techniques are applicable to many life circumstances,” Freeman said. “They help children with other conditions that cause developmental delay, and they are also useful in fields like criminal justice, social work, and special education. I’ve even seen coaches who have taken ABA courses as a way of enhancing their techniques.”

No matter the application, Mary Baldwin is helping to meet the need for more ABA services in the community.

Current program offerings include an undergraduate major in Autism Studies & ABA (the first in Virginia), a master of science in ABA, and coursework toward board certification in ABA. These programs are available through MBU Online and also on the main Staunton campus. To learn more, please visit the ABA program page.

“There are lots of kids who would benefit, and many families waiting to access these services in our community.”
Erika Bischof, director of the Connections Program for Compass Counseling Services in Staunton