By Hallie Ertel, M.S. (currently a Ph.D. student)
My practicum experience as an ABA M.S. student played a critical role in developing and shaping my behavior analytic skill set. While Florida Tech offers a range of practicum sites, I chose to focus on early intervention. Over the course of practicum, I gained experience at two early intervention clinics working mainly with young children with autism. Below I describe a few of the experiences I had while working at these sites.
I started practicum with some previous experience providing behavior therapy to individuals with autism, but had not yet worked with young children. Right away I was trained on some of the basic skills required to be a behavior technician. I learned various data collection techniques, how to implement behavior plans, and how to create and interpret graphs. I found it fascinating to apply what I had learned in the classroom to hands-on clinical work. After I gained more experience, I learned how to conduct a variety of assessment procedures, design skill acquisition and behavior reduction programs, and assist with staff training. Seeing clients acquire important life skills is one of the most rewarding experiences. For example, watching a child learn how to sign their first word or communicate with their parent in a way they had never been able to do before is amazing!
A specific aspect about my practicum experience that I value was the opportunity to participate in client intake evaluations. The intake process is multifaceted and involves collaborating with a team of specialists. Initially, we read reports from neurology, clinical psychology and sometimes speech to get an idea of the child’s overall functioning level. Being in the behavior analysis department, my specific role was to perform a VB-MAPP assessment alongside a team of technicians and BCBA’s during the evaluation. Participating in these evaluations was one of the most important apsects of my training because it taught me how to perform an assessment quickly and efficiently. Over the course of practicum I was able to run these assessments with a range of learners. Following the assessment, we interviewed parents about their child’s behavior at home using behavior analytic questionnaires. Then, we wrote reports based on the child’s performance during the evaluation for other specialists to read. I cannot stress how valued this experience was and how much it taught me about clinical procedures and how to work on an interdisciplinary team.
Practicum is a great time to develop and refine skills within your area of interest in behavior analysis. In addition, I think it helped prepare me for the certification board exam. I would encourage students who are just starting their practicum experience to take advantage of as many learning opportunities as possible during practicum (including any research opportunities)! This way, those experiences may help guide the path(s) in behavior analysis you intend to pursue during your career. Looking back on my practicum experience at Florida Tech, I would highlight it as one of the most exciting and informative events in my academic journey. Be sure to take full advantage of it.