New ABA courses offer training to help autistic students

Two new ‘Applied Behavior Analysis’ courses have been announced at Holmes Community College and William Carey University, which will offer base-level training on how to help individuals with autism and other intellectual disorders.

Members of the Mississippi Autism Board, the organization which licenses Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in ABA therapy, and the Behavior Analysis Association of Mississippi (BAAMS) are hopeful the classes will result in turning out more paraprofessionals — including Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) — and provide better access to care.

ABA is a process involving the systematic application of interventions, such as positive reinforcement, based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors among individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and a range of other developmental disorders.

The new courses were announced at the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

“ABA therapy is a proven, effective treatment in so many areas — from autism to ADHD to dementia to academic achievement issues,” said Dr. James Moore, chairman of the Autism Board, which developed licensure requirements pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 73-75-1, et seq.  “The ultimate goal of the Autism Board and new initiatives like these new courses is to produce more paraprofessionals, like RBTs, and licensed professionals at every level who can provide services to more Mississippians in need of therapeutic intervention.”

Marie Lane, a teacher in Grenada, took one of the courses at Holmes, and she says it has opened up new opportunities for her students.

“I was able to take what I learning in the class and apply it to the students in my classroom,” she said. “Since then, I’ve been able to see them grow because of the instruction I had received at Holmes.”

Lane went on to say that it is imperative that schools continue to find ways to keep students with learning disabilities involved in the classroom. 

“Just because a student has a learning disability doesn’t mean that they cannot be successful. This helps them to get over some of their behavioral issues so they can go out into the general ed classrooms and do their best,” Lane said.

An RBT must receive 40 hours of training, a requirement which is fulfilled by the new courses at Holmes Community College and William Carey University.  Additionally, individuals must complete a competency assessment and pass a national examination.   RBTs are taught the basics of ABA therapy function under the supervision of a BCBA.

The course at Holmes Community College, the first of its kind in the nation, is in its fourth iteration. The current class, which concluded on March 15, included 26 students.  Fifteen of these students are teachers from across the State who received a scholarship from the Hosemann Family Autism Foundation, a nonprofit established by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Lynn Hosemann to assist children diagnosed with ASD and their families in accessing educational, therapeutic, medical, and behavioral health-related resources.  This is the first time the scholarship has been offered.

As the program grows, Hosemann said that he hopes students across the state will benefit. 

“Our goal is to permeate all of Mississippi schools with individuals who are trained to deal with autistic children and children with other behavioral disorders. We really don’t have that in Mississippi at the level we need. We had virtually none two years ago, but now we’re are at 62 and climbing,” Hosemann said.

Hosemann also said that he hopes they are at 200 teachers in the next 3-5 years. 

“I am excited and appreciative to have the opportunity to be an instructor for the PSY 2543 – Applied Behavior Analysis course at Holmes,” said Dr. Kimberly Bellipanni of Holmes Community College. “As a practitioner in Mississippi, I am aware of the constant need for more availability of resources for families with children diagnosed with autism. I am happy to be a part of a course that is providing opportunities for students to become Registered Behavior Technicians for ABA clinics within our state.”

The course was offered for the first time at William Carey University in February 2019.  There are about 15 students enrolled, and the class ends in mid-May.

“William Carey University is excited about providing classes in Applied Behavior Analysis.  We feel that we can make a significant contribution to this profession and the field as a whole by doing what we do best, providing superior education and practitioner preparation as a part of our curriculum,” said Dr. Mark Yeager, Special Education Coordinator at William Carey University.  “We have begun this program with a class to prepare RBTs and the response has been exciting.”

To date, the Autism Board has licensed 67 BCBAs and two Assistant Behavior Analysts, which is a licensing step between the RBT and BCBA levels.

Licensure by the Autism Board protects those receiving treatment by vetting practicing analysts.  Unless exempted by statute, any individual practicing ABA therapy in Mississippi must be licensed by the Autism Board.  ABA licensure applicants must submit to the Autism Board an application fee, university transcripts, and licenses, and undergo a criminal background check.  Licenses are for three-year terms.

The Autism Board and BAAMS, along with more than a dozen other organizations and entities, celebrated ABA Therapy/Autism Capitol Day today at the Mississippi State Capitol.

“Applied Behavior Analysis has recently made a wide expansion in services around the state. With decades of research, the science of ABA has been proven to be most effective with reducing socially significant behaviors for many types of individuals, disabilities, and age. BAAMS is dedicated to advocate and protect the science of behavior analysis through a continuum of educational and research opportunities,” BAAMS President BreAnna Newborne said. “Our main focus is to development collaborative partnerships with the community and other professionals to promote quality assurance and wide sphere of influence through membership engagement.”

To learn more about the Mississippi Autism Board, or to access an application to become a licensed Behavior Analyst or Assistant Behavior Analyst, visit http://sos.ms.gov/autismboard/.   For more information about BAAMS membership, resources, and updates on ABA therapy in Mississippi, visit www.BAAMS.org.