As the director of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Kim Conrad said she loves what she does because she is able to see firsthand the impact of her and her staff’s work with the clients they serve.
Applied Behavior Analysis is a scientific discipline in which principles of learning are systemically applied to improve socially significant behavior. In other words, ABA focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place and utilizes techniques to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behavior.
Most client referrals are focused on behavior reduction plans for behaviors such as physical aggression, verbal aggression, elopement, and property destruction; however, others are based on skill acquisition such as social and relationship skills, hygiene and grooming, and employment readiness. Conrad explained the goal is to help the clients, which include both children and adults, improve potentially problematic behavior so they can improve their lives and their relationships with others.
She said the majority of her clients at PFH are those being served by Community Services, but she also works with clients enrolled in Employment Services. She said they recently started working with children who are clients of Springfield Partners and involved in the foster care program.
She said they often work with clients who may be in a natural home or Independent Supported Living (ISL) and who are having trouble getting along with others or are aggressive toward the people who are caring for them. Other times, the client may exhibit a behavior, such as undressing in public, which keeps them from being able to retain employment or function well in public settings.
“Most of our clients have been diagnosed with a developmental disability, but some may also have a mental health diagnosis,” she noted.
“When a client is referred to us, we do an initial assessment which includes visiting with the client and caregivers, and observing the client’s environment,” Conrad said. “From this assessment we determine which behaviors require modification, and write a behavioral plan that involves the client and the caregivers, and sets expected outcomes and goals.”
She said the plan may include teaching the client new skills or appropriate behaviors, as well as coping tactics that may help them avoid negative behavior. She said the plan may also address communication methods caregivers use when speaking with the clients. She said ABA therapy involves understanding how behaviors are learned and how they can be changed.
Conrad said they started the ABA therapy program in February 2016 and have worked with approximately 80 clients since that time. She said that they currently have about 80 clients enrolled in the program at any given time. She said they serve clients in Missouri and her staff includes herself, Denise Denevi, behavior analyst for the Kansas City area; Josh Wood, behavior analyst for the Springfield and West Plains area; and two behavior technicians, Lori Nelson, located in Poplar Bluff, and Dana Burk, Springfield.
Conrad was hired by PFH in 2016 to design and develop the ABA program. Her background includes working as the Director of Autism Services for the State of Missouri Vocational Rehabilitation. Her educational background includes a master’s degree in clinical psychology and licensure as a Licensed Behavior Analyst/Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Certified Brain Injury Specialist. She has extensive experience in working with persons with disabilities, with specialized experience working with individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
“The results of the program have been very positive,” she said. “We have a lot of clients who are now able to be more independent, establish more appropriate relationships, and obtain employment. It really has a positive impact on the client as well as their family and loved ones.
“I love what I do!” Conrad said. “It is so great to see the positive changes that can happen. With this therapy you are able to see the fruits of your work, sometimes very quickly. And, getting these negative behaviors under control can have such a critical impact on the outcome of their lives.
“The best part of the job is seeing how proud the clients are when they realize they were responsible for making the changes in their lives,” she said. “It’s a great feeling for me and them.”