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Employee Spotlight

Autism Therapist Spotlight: From RBT To BCBA – Ally Burke


A Lifelong Student

Ally speaks with a sense of confidence and warmth that comes from experience. Yet she never comes across as stuffy or stiff, but instead, malleable. In an instant, she transforms into an eager and excited student ready to ask questions and grasp onto any new knowledge that comes her way.

And that’s precisely where her ABA journey starts, as a student.

From Criminal Justice to RBT

Ally didn’t go to college with the intention of becoming an ABA therapist. She started as a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology and happened to take a few courses about intellectual disabilities to fill out some of her requirements. She was so fascinated by the subject’s depth and treatment methodologies that she started looking through different job listings and stumbled across several openings as an RBT.

“I had no idea what it was, what I was signing up for, and I had never heard of an RBT before,” said Ally.

Knowing no one in the field didn’t deter her. She went for it, and not only that, Ally landed the job.

Life as an RBT

Ally started out by providing therapy to children with autism under the age of three.

“There were a lot of Social Skills Groups where a bunch of little ones would learn how to navigate the world together. It was the most enjoyable part of my job, specifically, seeing the progress that each kid would make. That’s what really got me interested in learning more about ABA.”

Ally worked as an RBT for five years – learning and working for several autism therapy agencies until she found a more permanent home at Applied ABC. Each case brought her new opportunities and responsibilities.

As she gained more experience, she was assigned more complex behavioral-based cases.

“I actually loved that even more than working with the other kids,” explained Ally. “The progress that kids make from severe high-intensity maladaptive behaviors all the way down to hanging out with their brother, that’s what’s valuable to me. Seeing their progress is just really meaningful.”

Brotherly Love

“It’s been years, and they’re still best friends,” said Ally thinking back on that career-defining case she worked on with the two brothers. “It still means so much to me.”

But before ABA therapy, it was a different story.

Both brothers engaged in very high rates of severe maladaptive behavior toward themselves and each other. The behavior had gotten so aggressive at the clinic that two therapists would have to separate the boys continually.

When COVID-19 hit, all center-based care changed to home-based. Ally and another therapist were assigned to the two brothers in their home. Care was scheduled for the summer and consisted of 12 themed weeks (farms, space, etc.). The plan was to take the skills and behaviors outlined in the treatment plan and embed them into the themed activities and treatment they would provide each day.

Ally found that Natural Environment Teaching (NET) was very effective for treating the brothers.

“We’d recognize a lot of the precursor behaviors – the behaviors that would occur before the severe maladaptive ones – and we’d intervene before they progressed to the next level. This helped the boys develop some coping strategies.”

Through techniques like NET, and by controlling the environment itself, Ally and the other therapist saw quite a bit of progress in the ways the brothers interacted with one another and the world around them.

“We were able to take them from Point A, where they couldn’t even be in the same room together, to Point B where they were hugging each other, loving each other, and hanging out as brothers should,” said Ally Burke.

But seeing the progress was only one part of why Ally loved being an RBT; her appreciation for ethics is an area of ABA therapy that keeps her on track and helps her weigh the nature of the care she provides to those in need.

The Power of Ethics

Ally would constantly think about the ethics code while working as an RBT. The Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts, released by the BACB, served as her North Star, guiding her and setting up expectations that would keep her on the right path.

“I find a lot of strength in the ethical code for RBTs and BCBAs. The fact that we uphold client dignity, we support parents and clients through the termination of services, and that BCBAs coordinate with one another as a case is transferred from one BCBA to another. That kind of stuff makes sense to me, and I think it benefits the client, parents, and everyone involved.”

Even as she transitioned from an RBT to a BCBA, Ally still brought her passion for ethics, including putting together a treatment plan or reviewing an email to a client to ensure that it abides by the ABA ethical code.

From RBT to BCBA

At one point in her career, Ally was working as a Senior Therapist and noticed that she really enjoyed training new therapists and helping BCBAs carry out their tasks. This interest soon became a focus.

Ally finished up her bachelor’s degree and, four weeks later, signed up for a master’s degree program in ABA to become a BCBA.

The BACB requires specific coursework for someone to take the BCBA examination. By the time most therapists are ready to apply for the exam, they are either in school or wrapping up school, working full-time, and doing fieldwork.

“Having people in the field who have already been through the exam, whether they failed it the first time or passed it on the first try, that are ready to pump you up and give you the confidence that you can pass this exam, makes a world of difference,” said Ally.

Ally passed the BCBA exam on her second try.

“It was the best feeling in the world,” she said. “I actually cried. I bought a doughnut. And then took the rest of the day off to sit there and reflect. I passed that final hurdle to becoming a BCBA; now what?”

What Now?

From learning how to put together a quality treatment plan to weighing the ethical responsibilities of those in the ABA field, the years of on-the-ground and classroom training have given Ally the confidence and skillset she needs to succeed as a BCBA.

“Everything I learned from school and fieldwork I use and talk about every day. I’m putting all this knowledge to great use. Everything is a learning opportunity. That’s how I’ve looked at it every day. What can I learn? What can I take away from this situation? It may be a difficult conversation or situation, but what can I learn that I can take forward? How can this help me in the future?”

As a BCBA, Ally will have much more responsibility. She will be held accountable for the coordination of services, assessing the client and their abilities, determining what’s most appropriate for them going forward, and more.

“I’m really excited about this kind of work. I love working with parents and having them feel supported and knowledgeable about ABA. Another thing I’m really looking forward to is helping others get through the process of being a BCBA. I want people who are passionate about the field to feel supported.”


Advice to Those Starting Out

Ally had some valuable advice for those interested in starting their own ABA journey.

“Ask questions and do research. Ask people that you trust in the field and whom you’re comfortable with questions. I recommend finding someone truly passionate about teaching you and answering your questions. Those are the kinds of people that will give you the best and honest answers while helping you on your path forward.”

If you’re interested in starting your career in ABA at Applied ABC, check out our career opportunities here.

Other articles

ABA Autism Therapist Spotlight: My Journey From RBT To BCBA – Evelyn Villamar

Employee Spotlight: Chrissy Eichhorn, RBT

Employee Spotlight: Binta Ba, ABA Therapist

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