Northern Michigan University’s psychology department plans to establish an applied behavior analysis center that will address the regional shortage of assessment and therapeutic services for young children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities and other behavioral concerns. The non-profit clinic and research facility will serve as a training site for NMU students pursuing a degree or certification in the field. It will also be a resource for parents, schools and community agencies.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is used to help individuals improve their social, verbal, motor and reasoning skills. It can also decrease maladaptive behaviors such as aggression and self-injury. Autism experts widely recognize ABA as the safest and most evidence-based therapeutic approach.
“The U.P. is significantly under-serviced for Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said Jacob Daar, NMU psychology professor. “There are only 10 Board Certified Behavior Analysts in the entire Upper Peninsula and not all of them work with individuals with autism. This proposed center at NMU will provide Upper Peninsula residents with access to high-quality assessment and therapy at no cost.”
Studies have shown that early intensive behavioral intervention for children, with an emphasis on language and social skills, is particularly effective for reducing the deficits associated with autism spectrum disorder.
“The goal of intervention is to architect a learning environment where the child is motivated to engage with the therapist and improve functional living skills,” Daar said. “This is accomplished through the use of structured activities, natural environment teaching and the provision of positive and meaningful feedback.”
NMU offers a bachelor’s degree in psychology/behavior analysis and a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis. Master’s students who fulfill the specialized course requirements and more than a year of supervised clinical experience at NMU are eligible to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). According to a recent job analysis report, there is a high demand for BCBAs, with 118 percent growth in the field since 2012.
NMU will also allow students to pursue other levels of certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. An entry-level Registered Behavior Technician requires a high school diploma, two-course sequence and 40 hours of experience supervised by a BCBA.
“The courses and supervised hours can be offered online, meaning students anywhere can become a Registered Behavior Technician through NMU’s program,” said Adam Prus, professor and head of the psychology department. “The next level up is a Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst. To become a BCaBA, students with a bachelor’s degree in any field may complete an approved course sequence and supervised experience hours in advance of taking the national certification exam.”
Daar and instructor Jeremy Biesbrouck, both Board Certified Behavior Analysts, will supervise the training of graduate and undergraduate students in the campus center and in partnership with community service providers and schools.
NMU’s applied behavior analysis center will conduct research in collaboration with other academic programs, including neuroscience, to improve treatments and outcomes for individuals with behavioral disabilities. It will be located in an area of the Services Building currently occupied by Human Resources and is scheduled to open in spring 2017.
For more information on the ABA educational programs and center, visit nmu.edu/psychology/behavior.