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New York College program prepares grads to assist children with autism during COVID-19

August 12, 2020
Five years old boy drawing at the psychotherapy session.

Children with autism may have a particularly difficult time wearing a face covering and practicing other safe behaviors to protect themselves from COVID-19. Parents and other caregivers seeking help may turn to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), if they can find one. The demand for BCBAs has increased 3,571% since 2010, and there were 795 job postings in 2019 alone, according to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

York College has created a graduate program, a Master in Education in Applied Behavior Analysis, that may help fill this need. Applied Behavior Analysis is an "up and coming" Master's-level clinical mental health credential, according to Josh DeSantis, director of Graduate Programs in Behavioral Sciences and Education. "A key difference between this degree and other graduate-level mental health programs is that there are still relatively few programs in Pennsylvania," said DeSantis. "At York College, we are poised to meet a significant emergent demand."

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses scientifically valid treatments to make significant changes in behavior. ABA interventions provide individuals with the appropriate socially significant skills to successfully navigate the world. While there are many applications of ABA (severe behavior disorders, pediatric feeding, sleep disorders, health and fitness, addiction, sports performance, behavioral systems analyses at the corporate level, etc.), ABA is most often associated with children with autism, as it is one of the only proven, evidence-based interventions for this population. BCBAs are the practitioners tasked with investigating the relationships between a person's behavior and their environment for the purposes of designing interventions grounded in ABA.

"There is an increasing call for BCBAs to aid in assisting with a variety of skills related to safe behaviors that could aid in 'flattening the curve' for COVID-19, especially for people with disabilities, including autism," said Molly Milam, an assistant professor in the Department of Education and doctoral-level BCBA. "These behaviors include wearing a mask, hand washing, keeping hands away from your face, maintaining social distancing, and preparing for returning to school where the environment will be very different from what they left in March."

The job of the BCBA has expanded in recent months in reaction to COVID-19, according to Milam. "Other behaviors that people might not consider as falling into 'teachable' behaviors that BCBAs work on include assisting with home schooling behaviors, teaching play and leisure activities -- very important as parents are continuing to try to work -- health and fitness activities, as well as healthy behaviors that could assist in decreasing anxiety."

BCBAs in the York area as well as across the country have also worked to take steps to mitigate the reported lack of support students with autism and other disabilities have been receiving from school districts, according to Milam. "Most converted to Telehealth pretty immediately following closures and are working on unique and new ways to support parents," she said. "BCBAs have increased their online presence to share resources such as activity ideas and intervention guides through various means, including videos and infographics that are aimed at educating parents, now that they are suddenly being asked to fill in for their child’s special education teachers. As an example, in March, I started working with Behavior by Design, a local agency, to develop short (three- to four-minute) informational videos for parents focusing on a variety of topics that parents were suddenly just supposed to know."

York College's ABA program offers hybrid coursework aligned with the new fifth edition task list that is approved by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) as a Verified Course Sequence. Applicants who already have a Master's degree can complete the needed coursework in seven courses (21 credits). Applicants can also choose to earn their M.Ed. and the ABA certificate through the 33-credit program. Opportunities to engage in supervised internships are also available as part of York College's ABA program. The average salary for a BCBA is $61,000, according to Payscale.com. 

"The College has worked closely with practitioners in the local area to ensure the program is of the highest quality and will meet the needs of our community," Milam said. "These partnerships will provide valuable internships as well as insightful instruction in the classroom."

To learn more about York College's Master in Education in Applied Behavior Analysis, visit www.ycp.edu/applied-behavior-analysis