Have you ever wondered what life is like for a Behavior Technician? Read on to find out.
Getting to work hands-on in the local autism community as a behavior technician is a rewarding experience for me while working towards finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Human Services with a concentration in Child and Family Services. It gives you a very realistic view of the everyday struggles and concerns many individuals and families face, as well as the challenges many human services employees experience.
Through many years of volunteer work, and my current work as a behavior technician, and as a parent of a special needs child, I’ve been blessed to experience receiving and giving professional care services. Each of these unique experiences helped me be an effective advocate and a better helper in these roles. My experiences enrich the connections I am able to make with the families I gratefully serve each day.
In service of the autism community
I currently work at Autism Response Team Texas (ARTT) as a behavior technician. I am also involved in community outreach and support for the ARTT. In this role, I use the skills gained from my volunteer work at Autism Speaks to provide holistic support to the autism community. I am familiar with the clinical aspect, the community aspect, and the parenting side of support.
Working for the ARTT can be highly stressful, something I could not fully understand until I started working there. I learned quickly that it was individuals with the most passion that stay in their jobs and make the biggest positive impact.
Affordances of a behavior technician
As a behavior technician, I work under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) therapist. Our job is to implement behavior intervention plans, or BIPs, to change maladaptive behaviors into more positive and functional behaviors in an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) setting. As referenced on the Autism Response Team Texas website, individuals with a disability may lack appropriate or functional skills to fully and actively participate in the range of everyday activities.
Changing behaviors in children with autism can be a challenging task—especially when working with children who are unable to read your body language or facial expressions, lack impulse control, and can become aggressive when asked to do something difficult or challenging.
The front lobby can sometimes be a scary place for new parents and new patients who have severe behavior concerns. It can be intimidating to guests who have never had experience with children who have autism or other developmental disabilities. Sometimes parents come into the clinic distraught because their child refused to get out of the car and had to be carried into the clinic while kicking and hitting the parent, which transfers to us when we greet them at the door.
Children on the spectrum often have avoidance-type behaviors too, which can create stress for both parents and technicians as soon as they enter the lobby. We’ve had clients who have thrown up on themselves or soiled themselves just to try to get out of ABA therapy. We clean them up while telling them how excited we are to see them.
I have come to find that autism families are the most compassionate group of people—we have created an atmosphere of one big family in our clinic and strive to help each other. We celebrate the uniqueness of each child and all of the personal milestones they reach. We do this in collaboration with their parents to make sure they get all of the support they need along their journey. Through the parents’ eyes, I know they are grateful for each of us— it’s one of the few places they can come to and not ever feel like they have to apologize for how their children behave.
I always share an article I wrote for Autism Parenting Magazine (Finding Joy and Humor in Raising A Child On The Spectrum) with new families. It serves as an icebreaker and we instantly bond over it. Autism families have a special bond with other autism families. We relate to each other and we understand each other’s struggles. Laughter is a healthy way to deal with the stress, and it certainly beats the alternative!
Remembering a hard day’s work: a case study
The day-to-day challenges of my job are almost always related to behavior issues. Some days I feel like a human punching bag—there have been times that have almost brought me to tears, and there have been days I cried in my car after work.
One day, I was working with an 11-year-old girl who is nonverbal with severe autism. She struggled with change, and her behaviors would become aggressive when she didn’t get to do what she wanted. Her aggressive behavior was worrisome because it caused self-harm. Her parents had shared that she tends to rearrange large furniture, which is not only dangerous for her but has also destroyed their wooden floors.
During one therapy session, she attempted to move a couch and I prevented this by standing in front of the couch. During the first 25 minutes of the session, I was slapped, kicked, and hit 75 times—she broke her glasses and threw them at me. She threw her iPad device which I thankfully caught because, other than sign language, it is her only means of communication. After around 25 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she finally sat down and was calm. I asked her if she would like a drink of water. She signed “yes”, so I took her downstairs to get a drink.
Her parents had been waiting worriedly downstairs and expressed that they heard what was happening and were not certain whether they should intervene or not. I told them it was okay and that we have special training for this known as Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI) and that it is part of our daily jobs. I then learned that two other technicians had left after a similar situation and the family was afraid that I would as well. I assured them that I will be back and reminded them that I have a child with autism too. They smiled and were so thankful to have me there to help them.
I am happy to say that the client rarely attempted to move the couch after that day! We had to go through the very worst for the child to understand that no matter how challenging she acts, she will not get the outcome she wants through aggressive behaviors, and negative behaviors will not be rewarded.
That was one of the hardest days at my job. I am happy that not every day is like that. It certainly helps put things into perspective for me on more stressful days. If a client starts getting aggressive, I think back to that occasion. I am grateful for the challenging days that remind me of the importance of my job and my commitment to all of the amazing families I get to serve.
To be successful in this job, you need to have a thick skin and a good understanding of autism and its associated behaviors. These children are not bad at all. Behavior is a nonverbal method of communication. Challenging behavior is a nonverbal method of communicating that something is not right for the child.
I absolutely love my job and all of the families I have been able to help. When you enter our clinic, it is clear how much we all care about our families and how our families appreciate us. It can be stressful at times, but it is truly the most rewarding job and I am proud to be part of the Autism Response Team Texas family.
This article was featured in Issue 120 – Epilepsy: High Risk for ASD Kids