In attempt to help us all get better acquainted with applied behavior analysis in Indiana we will be interviewing and telling the stories of those who have and continue to influence our field. Debrah Worland recently sat down and spoke with Ann Baloski, one of these influential catalysts in ABA in Indiana. Ann is currently an executive committee member and past president (2015) of the Hoosier Association for Behavior analysis. She has consulted with FSSA, in schools, centers, and in homes, and is the owner and clinical director for BehaviorWorks ABA. Ann took the time to tell us a little bit about herself and her different experiences within the field of behavior analysis.
How did you come to the field of ABA?
Like most good things, I fell into ABA by accident. I like complex problems that don’t have simple answers, so naturally I was interested in human behavior. After completing my undergraduate degree in applied psychology, I met Dr. Lisa Baker from Western Michigan University. She was conducting research on behavioral pharmacology using animal models, mostly rats and pigeons. A lot of my early exposure to behavior analysis was in her lab conducting pre-clinical drug trials on NIDA sponsored grants. I really liked the science. It was great to see the principles of behavior at work in a Skinner box. My experience in the lab gave me a good understanding of those principles. I moved up quickly and worked with trans-genetic mice and marmoset monkeys, with a local pharmaceutical company (then Upjohn, now Pfiser). There I worked under a scientist who was published in Nature with Dr. Bob MacArthur. We were looking at a model for social anxiety. Although I loved the science, I was not passionate about the work environment. I would spend 8-9 hours in a controlled environment, think ambient lighting and controlled temperature. At the end of the day I was often surprised to see if it was either sunny or raining. I tend to like a more organic environment and I like being around people.
Now that you are no longer doing experimental work in behavior analysis, what are you doing as a BCBA?
My first job after WMU was at a developmental center working with adults with dual diagnosis. I had a case load of 45 people all needing functional behavior assessments and behavior intervention plans. We were really trying to turn the place around because it was under Department of Justice oversight. There was a lot of good support and the center was only recruiting BCBAs. I worked closely with staff experiencing intense behaviors day in and day out. I learned to be a really good listener first, and to create intervention plans that were sustainable within that complex environment.
What are you doing now?
I have my own company, BehaviorWorks ABA and I’m on the HABA Executive Board. We provide both an early intervention for Autism and Medicaid Waiver Behavior Support Services. I have found a niche working with newly diagnosed children who are not ready for center-based programs. In behavior analysis there are so many directions one can take. We use a parent training model. I love this model because it is about teaching how to set up the environment to promote language and teaching parents how to work toward behavioral goals. We tend to incorporate ACT principles when teaching parents. It is fun to use science to change behavior.
Why did you decide to do what you are doing?
The science of ABA can change lives for the better. It seems like a very noble calling. I also enjoy giving back to the scientific community through my work with HABA. HABA has a lot of energy right now. We had a fantastic conference this year and here are many great ways to get involved, such as going to the quarterly meetings or joining a subcommittee. While on the board this past year, I have had the opportunity to be the HABA representative on the Indiana Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IIACC) and to attend a workshop at the BACB on licensure. It is a collaborative group and I am proud to represent Behavior Analysts in this capacity. I testify, on behalf of HABA, during the open comment period for the new Medicaid ABA policy. I have been an active member of the HABA public policy committee since 2012. Our field is changing and growing. It is fun to be involved with such a progressive and effective movement.
What are some of your future goals?
My future goals include staying involved with HABA. I like getting to be around other dedicated Behavior Analysts. I feel we are on the right track as far as giving tools for professionals to have a voice in public policy. I am having a lot of fun working with families but I want to continue to be able to keep things fresh, and come up with new ways to approach Parent Training. I feel like this is so critical for the kids we serve, for their parents and natural supports are where true generalization of skills happens. It is tricky with in home and community based programs but the ultimate end is good and parents are better able to connect with their children.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting off in ABA?
The best advice I can give to new behavior analysts is to read Dr. Jon Bailey’s 25 Essential Skills for Behavior Analysts and don’t forget your behavior analysis. What I mean by that is to remember to keep professional boundaries, pair with clients, parents and teams, and teach skills one at a time with repeated practice and maintenance. We can often get so excited by the evidence-based strategies that we provide too much information too fast and the natural supports are not ready to take it all in. We can take something from traditional psychology: we may get too close to a family and dual relationships and transference may emerge. Our practice allows us to really get to know a client and their family well, but we cannot forget our professionalism and our boundaries. Focus on positive pairing with others on the team, you are often not going to change everything overnight and you need buy-in from the whole team, to gain consistency. So remember your ethics, your ABA, and your perseverance that ABA Change the world one behavior at a time.