Meeting the Need for Autism Services

A homegrown apprenticeship program is working to solve a critical shortage of behavior analysis professionals.

by Paige Williams, Easterseals Central Illinois
Easterseals provides pediatric therapy services and family-centered care coordination for children with developmental disabilities.
Applied Behavior Analysis is widely recognized as one of the most effective interventions for children living with autism.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the world. Individuals diagnosed with autism face significant social, emotional, communication and behavioral challenges. Citing prevalence rates from the CDC of one in 54 children, The Autism Collective estimates there to be as many as 8,000 children living with autism in central Illinois.

Nearly 20 years ago, Easterseals Central Illinois recognized a need and took swift action to provide services for children and support for families seeking answers. Providing pediatric therapy services and family-centered care coordination—along with the Autism Early Diagnostic Clinic—we have helped thousands of area children and families who are living with autism. 

Filling the Void

In 2012, we took the major step of adding Applied Behavior Analysis therapy to our services available to families, along with the other therapy lines we have been offering for over 100 years. Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence-based practice that is widely recognized as one of the most effective interventions for children living with autism. Using the science of learning and behavior, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) work alongside families to identify and address the child’s problem behaviors and use positive reinforcement to grow new skills. 

The growth and success of Applied Behavior Analysis worldwide has created both an opportunity and a challenge. Nationally, there is a critical shortage of BCBAs. Easterseals is among the many organizations in central Illinois aggressively recruiting these highly sought-after professionals to meet this increasing need for ABA services.

To help fill this void in our region, we established the Applied Behavior Analysis Apprentice Program. This program provides high-quality, hands-on training and support for those seeking both a master’s degree and a clear path to attaining BCBA certification. Above all, the apprenticeship program affords those with a passion for helping children with autism the opportunity to do so in a significant way. 

“The goal of this program is not only to help fill these much-needed positions, but to foster and retain talent right here in central Illinois,” notes Katlyn Linsley, BCBA and manager of Applied Behavior Analysis services for Easterseals Central Illinois. “Today we employ seven BCBAs—six of which are graduates of our apprentice program.”

We attribute the successful growth of our Applied Behavior Analysis therapy line to the apprentice program, as well as the positive, collaborative and multidisciplinary culture at Easterseals. We prioritize hands-on mentorship and professional development for everyone at our organization, which makes us an even stronger team for the families we serve.

Hands-on Training

During their final year in a master’s program in Applied Behavior Analysis, apprentices follow a training curriculum designed to teach the effective, research-based, family-centered care. Under the guidance of a BCBA, apprentices work directly with clients to enhance their skills. They learn to create and deploy strategies and interventions for families such as creating behavior plans, training parents, and collaborating with other therapy lines. This year of training provides invaluable experience and serves as preparation to sit before the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. All of these milestones and experiences combined are critical steps in the journey to becoming a well-rounded and family-centered BCBA. 

“One of the greatest things about Easterseals is that we are providing services in a collaborative care environment,” Linsley adds. “We are able to work side by side with the speech therapists, occupational therapists, feeding therapists, counselors and physical therapists at Easterseals to ensure that the child and family are receiving the best care across the board for all of their needs.“

Easterseals Central Illinois employs over 200 people committed to ensuring every child is given the opportunity to reach their full potential. As an organization, we are committed to the growth and professional development of our staff and their contributions to our community. The services our team provides are a regional draw for families from surrounding communities who need access to these much-needed services.

As one family shared, “We were looking at apartments in Chicago and having to commute every week for our son to receive ABA services. We are so grateful for everyone at Easterseals—especially our BCBA and other therapists.” PM

Paige Williams, SHRM- CP, is a human resource generalist at Easterseals Central Illinois. Learn more about the Applied Behavior Analysis program at eastersealsci.com/aba.

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