We sat down with Matt to ask him about his background, work as an ABA therapist, and what he finds most rewarding about working with children with autism.
This is our conversation.
Q: Tell me a bit about your background, Matt. What led you to become an BCBA?
Matt: I was pre-law in at the University of Illinois when I first heard about ABA. It grabbed my attention right away and I began doing research to find out more. Soon, I was shadowing other therapists as they worked with clients and fell in love with the kids and ABA therapy. So, I completely changed my career path and went to grad school with the intention of becoming a BCBA.
While in grad school, I worked at a day school in Illinois, mainly with High School age kids and also took on some in-home ABA clients. After graduation, I began working as a supervisor of an adult behavior program. I really enjoyed working with adults, but also missed working with kids. So, during that time I took on some part time contractual work with an ABA therapy group that focused on kids. That’s where I met Crystal, who now serves as the Director of Operations at The Autism Therapy Group.
I came on board here, at The Autism Therapy Group last November, and it’s been a wonderful experience so far.
Q: Changing from law to ABA is a huge shift. What was it about ABA therapy that made you realize it would be a better career choice for you?
Matt: My friends and family were pretty surprised, when I made that change, that’s for sure! At the time, I didn’t even have any experience beyond some volunteer work with kids with special needs.
In this field, you’ll often find therapists that are drawn to the work because they’ve been touched personally by it. They might have a family member with autism, for example. That’s not my story. I was just really drawn to working with special needs population.
While I knew I wanted to work with the special needs population, I also knew I didn’t want to teach in a classroom. I was much more interested in working with clients one-on-one. Besides being fascinated with ABA therapy, this was one of the other factors that drew me to become a therapist.
I also realized that there’s a huge need for therapists. There simply aren’t enough ABA Therapists in the world right now. I knew that if I went into this field, I could jump in and fill a need right away. That appealed to me.
But, ultimately, I wanted to go into a field that I felt would give me more job satisfaction then I suspected I would get from working in law. As a therapist, no two days are the same. Even working with the same client several days a week, each day is different from the next. I really enjoy that. Another thing I love about this field is the people I work with. You don’t go into a field like this for the money or power. You go into it because you love the work and want to make a difference. I have the pleasure every day of working with truly remarkable people. I think I definitely made the right choice.
Q: What is it about this work that you find personally rewarding?
Matt: No matter who you ask in this field, the number one answer to that question is probably going to be the same: it’s about seeing progress in the kids you work with. Nothing beats seeing the progress that kids make because of the work you’re doing with them.
ABA therapy is very data driven and this helps therapist see the progress their clients are making. When you’re working with the same child for a long period of time, it can be harder to see the progress that’s happening. But then you look at the data and see that a child who could barely speak a year ago is now speaking in full sentences and realize how much of a difference therapy is making for them.
Working with parents is also very rewarding. In grad school, the focus is so much on the child and on programming, that this was a pleasant surprise for me. But working with parents is a hugely rewarding part of being a therapist, especially when you have parents that want to be deeply involved.
Q: Could you share a story with us about a client that’s made an impact on you recently?
Matt: Oh man. There’s so many. You know, parents tell me all the time that their child is brushing their teeth or completing their morning routine on their own. And, that’s great, but not a surprise. We specifically program for things like that. It’s what we expect to happen. But, when the child does something that’s really out of the box, that’s particularly satisfying.
About 6 months ago, a parent came to me and told me that for the first time in her 7-year-old daughter’s young life, she spontaneously sparked a conversation by asking how her mom’s day was. When I first started working with this child, she was talking very infrequently and never initiated a conversation. So, to go from not talking at all to initiating a conversation that demonstrates care and interest in her mother’s life is amazing. That’s what makes ABA special.
Q: What do you enjoy about working at The Autism Therapy Group?
Matt: One of the things I love about The Autism Therapy Group is that they don’t believe in working their therapists into the ground. They believe more in quality than quantity and encourage us to take time to really get involved with families we work with.
But, I think the two things that I love the most about this company is that they are small enough for all of us to get to know the leadership team really well and open to our involvement in the company’s operations and overall direction.
My direct supervisor is our clinical director, Brooke. She’s amazing. In some companies, the people in executive positions aren’t BCBA’s themselves, so they don’t always understand the plight of supervisors and therapists. Everyone in this company is on a first name basis, and they encourage me to contribute to the organization’s success in ways that go beyond my work as a therapist. We’re undergoing some changes right now, and I’ve been given the opportunity to put together projects that contribute to the future of the company in a meaningful way. That’s something you don’t get everywhere.
Q: What does your life look like outside of work?
Matt: I just moved to Naperville because I got a new puppy, a blood hound named Watson, who needs plenty of room. He’s quite a handful! I love playing basketball whenever I can. And, two weeks ago I went on a trip to Iceland and proposed to my girlfriend. So, right now, I’m just taking care of my puppy and planning a wedding.