Getting in to the field of ABA was a complete accident! An accident I’m pretty pleased about, but I had no intention of ever doing what I do. I turned up for my first day at what turned out to be the start of my career at one of the most amazing schools around, without having any idea of what applied behaviour analysis was.
I’d finished studying for my MSc in child and adolescent mental health, and thought ‘I’ll get a year’s experience with children in a school, and then I’ll become a child counsellor’, that was the plan anyway. I’d sent out CV’s to every school in the surrounding area, and looked for as many jobs as possible, but nothing was happening! I knew what I wanted to do, but didn’t know how to make it happen.
My auntie has always lived outside of a school, and I’d never thought to ask about it, but one day she went strolling in and asked if there were any vacancies for her nephew (me). Unfortunately, there were none, but they said I should go in for a ‘taster day’, which I thought was a tad unusual, how different can it be from every other school? But as the saying goes, beggars can’t be choosers, and I was in no place to be picky. So off I went, to the school, in suit trousers and a black shirt (bad decision in hindsight, it was the hottest day EVER!). I looked around and soon realised this was no ordinary school, it was one of the best schools I’d seen, so much fun happening everywhere, with a range of kids with autism. Treetops School was fantastic.
I barely knew what autism was, only what had been covered in my masters (which was by no means extensive), and then I remembered I had a 2-hour lecture given by a parent who had an ABA home programme set up (why nobody ever mentioned ABA before then is beyond me, but that’s for another post!). I had my show around, and loved it. Didn’t really know what ‘it’ was but it looked cool.
Then I met Amy Mohan, a BCaBA at the school, who I’ve learned so much from, and still do. She explained more about the curriculum and what ABA was, I remember thinking ‘remember this, it might come in useful if I ever get an interview’. As I arrived at home, I got a call from the school, asking if I’d come in for an interview the next day. Being unemployed, I was able to clear my schedule.
I turned up for the interview, with the head teacher, Lesley Love (deputy head and BCaBA who set up the ABA unit at the school), and a lovely lady who was on the board of trustees.
During the interview I cracked a joke to try and win them over when the head asked me ‘how do you feel about toilet training?’, to which I replied ‘I feel I’m adequately toilet trained for the position’. Smashed it.
The following week I started at the school. It was intimidating at first, I didn’t think I could ever be as good as all of these amazing people around me, they made the kids so happy! But I’m a big kid really, and love to play, so I got stuck in and tried to learn as much as possible. Several months down the line, there was an opportunity to apply for a course in ABA to pursue BCBA status. This was the big moment I decided that this will be my career. After years of thinking I’ll do something else, it wasn’t even a hard decision, how could I not be in the field, the power of ABA, and the effectiveness of the teaching was unquestionable, I had to be a part of it. I remember being so confused ‘how have I never heard of this?’, and maybe thinking it was common knowledge, and that I’d just been ignorant, but the sad fact is, ABA is one of the biggest secrets out there, and people need to know!
I’ll always be grateful to Lesley for choosing me for the Florida Institute of Technology online ABA course, and introducing me to Gina Tirri, my supervisor, an amazing BCBA in The Carbone Clinic in America. From that point, and to this day I continue to learn. Being able to get the experience I did at Treetops was invaluable, and I’ll always look at my time there with appreciation and happiness. Once I passed ‘the big exam’ I was excited and nervous. The knowledge of ABA is amazing, and all I knew was that I felt like I wanted to change the world.