The ABCs of ABA

November 21, 2016

Image_BICA_STORYWhen Miranda Macauley first moved to Alberta in 2011, she found herself in very limited company. Her arrival increased the number of board-certified behaviour analysts in the province by 50 per cent. She was now one of only three.

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a scientific discipline which uses systematic assessment, application and ongoing analysis of behaviour principles to improve a skill deficit or remove a barrier to learning. It’s most often used to help children with disorders such as autism or ADHD overcome social and educational challenges. “We go in and investigate which skills are in deficit through direct observation, and what the barriers to learning are,” Miranda, an instructor in the Department of Psychology, explains. “Then we develop behaviour plans that increase a skill that’s in deficit, or develop a plan to reduce barriers or problem behaviours.”

Seeing a shortage of ABA practitioners, and knowing the incredible, positive impact the approach can have, particularly on children, Miranda began working with her MacEwan University colleague Russ Powell, associate professor in Psychology, to create courses that would bring ABA education to psychology students at MacEwan—and ultimately expand the field in Alberta. “When parents get the diagnosis that their child has a disability, and they’re told what services they can access, they’re often not told about ABA because it’s hard as a physician or doctor to recommend a treatment in a community that doesn’t have the resources that meet the need,” she explains.

The courses developed by Miranda and Russ became the framework for a new program, the Behavioural Interventions Certificate of Achievement (BICA). A collaborative effort between the university’s Department of Psychology and its School of Continuing Education, the BICA’s official launch is being celebrated at a reception on November 22.

Graduates of the program will have completed partial requirement to take the exam to become board-certified assistant behaviour analysts. They may also apply to ABA graduate studies programs, which will allow them to become full board-certified behaviour analysts. Miranda also anticipates that individuals in fields such as education or social work will take the program for professional development purposes—not necessarily seeking board certification, but using the strategies in their own fields.

According to Miranda, a wide variety of work is available within the field of ABA. “Most of the jobs are working directly with children with autism and their families, or in schools working with children with disabilities like ADHD or oppositional defiant disorder, but there are other jobs as well,” she explains. “There’s addictions counselling. There’s life coaching. There’s some work, primarily in the United States, looking at things like gun safety or teaching street safety—looking at cues in the environment that are prompting drivers and pedestrians to behave a certain way, and looking at traffic accidents from a behaviour perspective instead of a logistical perspective.”

Miranda hopes that creating this program—the first of its kind in Alberta—will result in more board-certified behaviour analysts practicing in Alberta. “With the students getting excited about this field, possibly doing online master’s programs, and staying in Edmonton, they will be able to supervise other students from this BICA program as they enter the field,” she says. “That’s the hope.”

The Behavioural Intervention Certificate of Achievement launch takes place on Tuesday, November 22 at 3:30 p.m. in Paul J. Byrne Hall (Room 115, Robbins Health Learning Centre).

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Read about other new courses and programs at MacEwan:
School of Business introduces property management minor
Media event launches Bachelor of Social Work

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