Haring Center

June 24, 2019

Learning By Doing

Applied Behavior Analysis graduate students learn critical skills through unique projects

On June 11, 2019, the UW College of Education awarded degrees to 40 students from the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) master’s program, including students from both the on campus and online degree programs. Students who earn their master’s degree in ABA are prepared to take the national exam to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), then work to create and oversee educational programs for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in a variety of home, clinical, and school settings.

The UW’s ABA program is nationally-recognized for the quality of its coursework and student experience. Program faculty strive to prepare students who are ethical, inclusive, and able to work well with others, and who use their skills to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and their families. The UW ABA degree program posts a high pass rate for the national certification exam: 81% of 2018 graduates passed the test on their first attempt, compared to a national average pass rate of 65%.

In addition to coursework and student teaching experiences, an important component of the ABA program is the student Capstone project. The purpose of this project is to provide students with a hands-on opportunity to integrate many principles of ABA in a real-world context. Students identify a child who demonstrates a behavior that negatively impacts their learning, participation, or quality of life, then design a project where they plan, implement, and study the effectiveness of an intervention designed to change the behavior of the child in a positive way. These are critical skills that ABA program faculty hope program graduates will readily use in daily practice in their future careers.

“The capstone experience provides our ABA students with a unique opportunity to develop, implement, and monitor an evidence-based intervention for a child that will result in meaningful behavior change,” said Dr. Shane Miramontez, ABA program lead practicum supervisor.

ABA students complete their Capstone projects across the school year with support from their faculty advisor. All students present the results of their project to their colleagues and other professionals at an annual Student Capstone Project Conference. During the 2019 Conference in June, students presented the results of studies that utilized a wide range of instructional strategies such as video modeling, functional communication training, self-monitoring, and social stories to reduce challenging behaviors such as peer aggression, food aversion, and lack of play skills.

Collaborating with colleagues and families to choose teaching strategies that are not only effective, but will also have a positive impact on the child’s daily life is an important competency for all behavior analysts says Miramontez. “Our graduate students learn to select contextually and culturally relevant interventions that meet the needs of the individuals they work with – and their families – and use ongoing data-based decision making to determine the best instructional practices for individual learners. I think this process teaches our students a valuable lesson about the fluidity of working in schools and homes as well as the need for flexibility and, often times, creativity.”

Graduate students who complete the Capstone project clearly see the value of the experience in preparing them for their future careers. Student Anna Parks, who presented her study Decreasing Levels of Peer-Related Aggression in a Preschooler with Autism in June 2019, said “Before this project, I’d never had the opportunity to develop an intervention and train someone else to use the strategies, so I was worried.”

Parks selected a child for her study who often used physical aggression with his peers, a behavior that made it difficult for him to make friends, even though he was interested in other children. The intervention Parks designed used an intervention of social stories and a token system of reinforcement to teach the child to use new social behaviors such as greetings, giving compliments, expressing their emotions, and asking for help when needed. Parks says the impact of the intervention was profound, and that seeing the child make the connection and begin using the new skills almost immediately after the intervention was introduced was exciting for both her and the student. The child even began to recognize when they were using a target skill without being told by a teacher, and would seek out feedback from teachers saying “Safe hands!”

The entire Capstone process was empowering, says Parks. “The support I received from my supervisor was so valuable, and allowed me to not only complete the project successfully, but also to design an intervention and use data to refine it so that the child learned new, important skills!.”

For more information about the UW Applied Behavior Analysis program or the student Capstone projects, contact Dr. Shane Miramontez.