Why I'm Majoring in Behavior Analysis By Karlin McKee
Surprisingly for someone so curious about life, I was never very curious about my mothers work. During my childhood, words like reinforcer, contingency, and Skinner were often dropped into conversations as she worked to get her Master’s Degree. For most of my life, I saw her work as being something between a teacher and a scientist. At the time, I thought of ABA as a field that offered only one on one therapy for children with Autism. This belief first started to change as I began volunteering at the Northwest Arkansas Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities
My mother, as Director of the Center, encouraged me to come in to volunteer. The Center is an ABA based clinic that serves children with Autism. I found the clinic to be intimidating, with staff members who held large clipboards with timers taped to the top who followed behind the therapists, all the while clicking away on the counters that hung on lanyards around their necks. The Grace School, an ABA based school inside the center, allowed me to explore ABA and challenge myself. The lead teacher, Katrina Lawson, was always multitasking. She was at once teaching spelling lessons, taking data, praising students, correcting students, starting and stopping what seemed to be a million timers, all tracking different durations. I was instantly taken in by this merging of science and teaching, a classroom that was steered by data.
After a month I was asked to come on as a teaching assistant. In a crash course, I was taught how to take different data, along with an in depth explanation of every phrase I had heard dropped into conversations as a child. Every, “What’s that?” was met with an answer and a pile of research to support it. I knew then that my lifetime view of ABA was skewed. I still remember talking to my mother explaining how fascinating it was to me to have behavior, such a complex and abstract concept, broken down into parts that were concrete. My mother was happy that I was so excited, but she also found my newfound passion for ABA comical; it was, after all, a field I had practically grown up with.
For the next four years I worked at The Grace School as a teaching assistant. Every day was another learning opportunity for both me and the students. I was able to teach subjects like English and Math using a proven data based teaching method called Direct Instruction. I attended conferences such as the Association for Behavior Analysis International 42nd Annual Conference, where I met others who were just as passionate about ABA, and where I was introduced to new concepts like relational frame theory, which left me with endless questions.
ABA is ever expanding, with pioneers pushing past old ideas of what ABA is and researching new and uncovered fields.ABA is a field that is taking one of the most complex parts of everyday life and breaking it down into the essence of each part, parts so basic that they apply to all living things. Behavior, it turns out, is universal, and, with that one basic principle, I find myself with an endless list of questions I want to spend my life pursuing. I want to one day respond to, “What’s that?” with an answer and a pile of research.