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USF’s Applied Behavior Analysis Program Profiled by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County

By Dan Casseday
Published February 25, 2009
Just Think About the Children/a weekly public service of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County

For a group of University of South Florida graduate students, getting a degree is only half the education they receive in their academic program. The other half is practical experience in the community helping those – mostly children – with challenging behaviors.

USF’s Applied Behavior Analysis program, now in its third year, is providing students with approximately 37,000 community service hours per year helping individuals, including runaways and those with autism spectrum disorders, those with acquired brain injuries, Down syndrome and mental retardation. Led by director Ray Miltenberger, PhD, a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), the program is part of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences in USF’s Department of Child and Family Studies.

Most of the students enter the program with undergraduate degrees in psychology, education, speech pathology and social sciences, says ABA practicum coordinator Timothy Weil, PhD, also a board certified behavior analyst, who has extensive experience with autism and other childhood issues, arranges hands-on experience for the students working alongside certified behavior analysts in autism clinics, Hillsborough County Public Schools, family homes and in residential and group home settings.

More than two-thirds of the students work with children. Each student balances classroom work with 1,000 hours of behavior analysis in the field during the two-year degree program. “They gain access to clients and learn how to conduct assessments and behavior plans,” Weil said. “They then can do their applied thesis research on what they’ve experienced as well as what they’ve been taught.

"Gaining practical experience in the midst of graduate school is an invaluable asset to our education,” said student Victoria Fogel. “We are able to take the knowledge that we gain in the classroom and immediately apply it in the real world. In addition, we have the opportunity to receive feedback on our skill sets from our supervisors and professors, which increases the likelihood that we will provide successful services following graduation."

Applied behavior analysis teaches students to help child and adult clients have proactive, positive behavior, Weil said. “It’s not just reactive treatment for bad behavior. We are one of the main fields approved by the Autism Society of America to do behavior therapy with autistic kids,” he said.

“Our students provide much needed services in the community,” added Miltenberger. “I think the ABA program is a great asset.”

For more information about the ABA program or for information about the community practicum opportunities and requirements, contact Weil at (813) 974-2408 or tweil@fmhi.usf.edu. education, child welfare, and juvenile justice.

The Department of Child and Family Studies is committed to improving the well-being of individuals, children, and families within communities across the country through promoting respect, inclusion, development, achievement, mental health, and an optimum quality of life.

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