New behavior analyst certification program at CMU to help autism spectrum patients

Psychology undergraduate students now have a pathway to become board certified assistant behavior analysts.

The behavior analyst certificate will allow students to work with children and other patients who suffer from autism spectrum disorders and other learning disorders. Students with the certificate will work under the supervision of professionals who have already received Behavior Analyst Certification Board certification.

Carl Johnson, Michael Hixson, Mark Reilly, Sharon Bradley Johnson and Katrina Rhymer, all faculty members in the department of psychology, will help teach in the program and believe the program can serve a vital service.

“We want to train students to provide services in different areas, not only autism, but also ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and other areas as well,” Johnson said. “We’re emphasizing early childhood because the data shows if you get to these kids at age 2 to 3 or younger, even preschool age, then the prognosis for improvement is much, much better.”

Michigan legislators passed a law in 2012 providing insurance reimbursement for children with autism spectrum disorders, Johnson said. When the law passed, it became obvious there was a shortage of behavior analysts in the state.

This led to a $500,000 grant awarded to CMU from the Michigan Department of Community Health, in the hopes that the program could produce more analysts.

Johnson attributed the efforts of both Kathleen Wilbur, vice president of development and external relations, and Toby Roth, director of federal programs, for their help in bringing the funding for the program to CMU. Both Wilbur and Roth work in the university's Government Relations office.

“I talked to them before (the insurance reimbursement movement) and they knew this was coming up," Johnson said. "They were paying attention in Lansing and knew what a demand this was.”

Students taking majors and minors in psychology are eligible to apply for the program. In December, there were 14 students enrolled in the board certified assistant behavior analysts program, not including five graduate students signed up for the BCBA program.

The BCaBA program requirements include four courses in behavior analysis, supervised workshops and fieldwork. Students must also take and pass the Behavior Analyst Certification Board exam.

The experience

Students do much of their fieldwork at Community Mental Health for Central Michigan, located in Mount Pleasant.

Megan Hilts, a senior from Gladwin, has been working with Community Mental Health for Central Michigan since May and is enrolled in the BCaBA program.

After taking one of the initial classes and realizing the need for behavior analysts, Hilts knew she wanted to enter the program.

“During the time I was taking the class, the laws in Michigan were changing and that’s when autism treatment had to be covered by insurance companies," Hilts said. "So not only was it something I was interested in, but it was something that was needed.”

Johnson added they are working on bringing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board program, a graduate program, to campus as well. He expects the program to be in place by March.

“We are just starting, we are currently working on the curriculum,” Johnson said. “I do not think we will have any trouble at all. I think we will fly right through it without any problems.”

Michael Hixson is another professor in the psychology department and has contributed to building the program. Hixson said he has been happy with what he has seen so far and hopes the program will help fill the demand for behavior analysts.

“The program is just starting, but it is very exciting,” Hixson said. “There is a big need with over 15,000 kids with autism in Michigan and less than 200 behavior analysts.”

In addition to starting the program, Johnson said he has set aside $120,000 from the grant specifically for student scholarships.

“We know it’s expensive to go to college," he said. "We are providing services once the students start working with the kids to help defray some of their costs, like travel costs. They are not huge scholarships, but they are something.”

Johnson believes not only will the students in the program benefit from the certification, but by becoming certified, they can potentially help many patients all around the state.

“Parents are demanding this program for their children with autism,” Johnson said. “This is the best treatment for children with autism, especially early (stages of) autism.”


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