The Journey of Becoming an Applied Behavior Analysis Technician (ABAT®)
Esther Cheong, aged 25, joined SEED Autism Services in 2022 and became our first certified ABAT. She shares her story of the journey that took her towards the internationally-recognized credential in the field of Autism and ABA.
Embarking on the journey to become an Applied Behavior Analysis Technician (ABAT) was a transformative experience that has shaped my professional career in behaviour therapy. From the moment I embarked on this path to the culmination of passing the ABAT exam and finally being certified, this journey has been filled with challenges, growth, and immense personal satisfaction. In the following contents, I will recount the stages of my journey, highlighting the lessons learned, the obstacles overcome, and the sense of fulfilment that comes from being a certified ABAT.
The Decision to Pursue ABAT Certification
The decision to pursue ABAT certification stemmed from my passion for helping individuals with behavioural challenges and a desire to enhance my skills and knowledge in the field of behaviour therapy. I possessed a foundation of knowledge in behaviour therapy from one of my electives in my third year degree in Psychology and also from my internship experience with special needs children. I am interested and was eager to learn more in-depth about ABA. Recognizing the value of obtaining a recognized credential, I made a commitment to embark on this journey, knowing it would require dedication, perseverance, and a thirst for continuous learning. I did a lot of research and found out that SEED provides ABAT courses for the public as well as their therapists. Hence, I joined SEED and started my ABAT training courses after 1 month while working hands-on with my clients.
ABAT Training Course
SEED provided the specialised coursework and training programs to fulfil the educational requirements for ABAT certification. During the training, to embark the path toward ABAT certification, the training that SEED provided comprised comprehensive education on behaviour therapy principles, techniques and ethical considerations. It includes lectures, tutorials, quizzes and study guides in a holistic manner. I will be required to watch the pre-recorded lectures, complete a quiz, study guide discussion questions and attend the live tutorials every Saturday to discuss the materials we learned from the live lectures. To make sure we watch the lectures, there will be some keywords embedded in between the video and I have to note down and submit within a given deadline. The training provides a comprehensive and well-rounded understanding of the principles, techniques of behaviour therapy. It covers a wide range of topics, from behaviour assessment to intervention planning and implementation.
Besides, the training emphasises the practical application of knowledge and skills. The live tutorial sessions encourage active engagement, promoting the integration of learned concepts into practical scenarios. It goes beyond theoretical concepts by providing real-world examples, case studies and hands-on activities that allow participants to directly apply what they learn. It also incorporates various learning approaches to cater to different learning styles and maximise understanding. It includes interactive discussions, multimedia presentations, role-plays, group exercises, and simulations, ensuring participants are actively engaged throughout the training. Through the collaborative learning environment, during tutorials there are some discussion questions, debates where participants can interact, share experiences, and learn from each other. This promotes peer-to-peer support, encourages the exchange of ideas and perspectives, and enhances overall learning outcomes. Through case studies, role-plays, and group exercises, I honed my skills in assisting with assessments and developing behaviour intervention plans, and implementing evidence-based strategies. At the end of the training program, there will be a final exam that SEED provided and I had to pass the exam in order to get the certificate of completion from SEED.
Through these courses, I gained a lot of knowledge about behavioural principles, intervention planning, data collection, and analysis. I have a deeper understanding of the principles of reinforcement, punishment, extinction, and shaping, which form the backbone of behaviour therapy. The coursework also emphasised the significance of collaborating with other professionals and families, interdisciplinary teams to provide holistic care. I had improvement in communicating with parents, I know what are the terms that I should use or explain to make them understand better.
Preparation for the ABAT Exam
The preparation for the exam was a rigorous yet rewarding process. I created a study schedule, allocated specific time slots for studying each topic and created a timeline leading up to the scheduled exam date first. I dedicated countless hours to studying the essential concepts, and completing practice exams. I also gathered some online resources, practice questions, and mock exam materials that I found on the internet. To be honest, the challenge for me was that there are not many ABAT mock exams and practice questions on the internet. I also kept delaying or changing the exam date as I was not confident on how the actual exam will be like, and I work full time so there was a lack of time for me to juggle between work, study and life. Hence, I spent a lot of time rereading the lectures hand-out, and watched the recorded lectures mostly, focusing on one task area at a time and thoroughly reviewing the related concepts, techniques, and ethical considerations as well as taking notes, ensuring that I have a solid understanding of the principles and all the concepts. Besides, my practical experience has also aided in my understanding of the theory learned. This preparation not only enhanced my knowledge and understanding of behaviour analysis but also sharpened my test-taking skills and ability to apply theoretical concepts to practical scenarios. The process instilled in me a sense of discipline, resilience, and confidence in my ability to succeed.
Before taking the exam, I experienced a range of emotions, including nervousness, anticipation, and a sense of pressure. But thankfully, during the actual live-proctored exam, I could recall most answers from the ABAT lecture training materials. I got to know my results right after I submitted the exam. I felt a sense of relief, accomplishment, and satisfaction after seeing the word ‘Pass’ along with a profound sense of accomplishment and validation. It served as a testament to my dedication, hard work, and commitment to professional growth.
After that, I needed to wait for a few days for the QBA board to check the process of the exam and officially award me the certificate. There was a boost in confidence and motivation, knowing that I have met the requirements to become an ABAT.
After attaining the ABAT Certificate and Beyond:
After gaining the ABAT certificate, there is a significant shift in professional demeanour and expertise in me. The certification has not only elevated my credibility but also boosted my confidence in implementing evidence-based interventions. It has opened doors to new opportunities, expanded my professional network, and provided me with a sense of credibility within the field of behaviour therapy.
I feel better equipped to navigate complex cases, assess behavioural needs, and tailor my flexibility according to individual clients. I recognized that obtaining my ABAT certification not only validate my skills but also equip me with a comprehensive understanding of behaviour therapy principles and practices. I understand the importance of evidence-based practices but sought to solidify my knowledge and further refine my skills to better serve the individuals under my care.
Supervised Fieldwork and Practical Application:
One of the most enriching aspects of my journey was the opportunity for supervised fieldwork. Working under the guidance of experienced behaviour analysts from SEED who are BCABAs or BCBAs, I gained practical experience in implementing behaviour intervention plans, conducting assessments, and collecting data. This hands-on experience allowed me to witness the impact of behaviour therapy firsthand and reinforced the significance of individualised and evidence-based interventions. I tried to bridge theory to real-world settings. This practical application solidified my understanding of behaviour therapy and built my confidence in delivering effective interventions. I feel better equipped and boosted my self-confidence in providing high-quality services as it validates my knowledge and skills. I have a sense of accomplishment.
My clinical judgement also improved, based on the principles that I learned. For example, utilizing different antecedent interventions when my child has problem behaviour, I can make decisions at the spot such as trying out different antecedents and figure out the function myself instead of waiting for my supervisor. For example, priming skills, Premack Principle, differential reinforcement techniques, I learned to think of replacement behaviours when problem behaviour exists. I also know which reinforcement strategy I should use according the different situations.
As an ABAT, I need to adhere to the code of ethics and handbook of QBA, ethical standards and guidelines. I am more careful in dealing with clients' relationships, make sure not to cross boundaries, and prioritise clients' care and well-being more when running sessions. I emphasise on providing ethical practice, making sure it is in a responsible and professional manner. Following these standards can provide a sense of confidence in providing services in a responsible and professional manner and ensure that my clients receive services that are safe, effective, and based on the best practices in the field, televisable and protects the reputation of the profession. When ethical dilemmas arise, I am more confident in making decisions as I am aware of the different ethical responsibilities. It aids my professional skills in the field of ABA, professional development and advance in the career as behaviour therapist. It provides professional recognition. Becoming an ABAT is a significant achievement and a rewarding experience for me in the career path.
Overall, my journey toward becoming a certified behaviour therapist has been an enriching and transformative experience. The courses I undertook, coupled with practical application, have equipped me with a comprehensive understanding of behaviour therapy principles and practices. The certification has not only validated my skills but also elevated my professional confidence and expertise. I am better prepared to provide high-quality, evidence-based care to individuals and collaborate effectively with families and interdisciplinary teams. It has expanded my knowledge, honed my skills, and solidified my commitment to providing evidence-based and compassionate care to individuals with behavioural challenges. The journey to becoming an ABAT has undoubtedly been a significant milestone in my career, propelling me toward further growth and success in the field of behaviour therapy. This journey has taught me the importance of continuous learning, perseverance, and collaboration in the pursuit of excellence in behaviour therapy. As a certified ABAT, I am excited to continue making a positive impact on the lives of those I serve and to contribute to the advancement of the field and also serves as a foundation for me to get my following QASP-S and QBA credentialed in the future.
Esther Cheong (B.Sc. Psych, ABAT)
Senior Behavior Therapist