Michelle Beliveau Levels Up From Student to Mentor in Behavior Analyst Fellowship Program
September 07, 2021
September 07, 2021
“Working in ABA therapy is the best decision I ever fell into,” Hopebridge Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Michelle Beliveau told us.
Like many of our other Hopebridge Heroes, Michelle did not grow up dreaming of working in applied behavior analysis (ABA). Yet now, here she is, not only stumbling onto the ABA path, but thriving in it while mentoring others who have similar career goals.
Before Michelle began serving the kiddos at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers, she was in a master’s program for social work, convinced she would ultimately end up helping individuals who need support for substance abuse. While attending school, she held a position in home visiting for families with pre- and post-natal babies. A coworker suggested checking out Hopebridge, so she applied for a job as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) during graduate school.
“Soon after I joined Hopebridge, I began to wonder how I would eventually leave the staff and families once I graduated,” said Michelle. “I kept thinking it didn’t feel right to leave. We had all created such a bond.”
At this point, Michelle was about halfway through her master’s program. She spoke to her fiancé about her options. He told her he knew what route she would choose, but that he could not tell her which decision it would be; she had to come to that conclusion on her own. It wasn’t long before she left her graduate program and instead focused on a track in behavior analysis.
“Serving these kids was my main reason for staying,” said Michelle. “I switched programs and have never looked back. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Even though Michelle was a year and a half into her postgraduate education before transferring to the field of ABA, she doesn’t see it as a waste. After all, more education is not a bad thing!
“The experience I received in social work gave me the ability to recognize various components that can impact treatment, even here in our centers,” said Michelle. “It gave me more insight into a trauma-informed approach, which has been beneficial.”
While along this new path to become a BCBA, Michelle joined Hopebridge’s Behavior Analyst Fellowship (BAF) Program. Michelle especially values some of the BAF program’s core features: support and experience.
“The support from other Hopebridge team members was the best part of the BAF program. Grad school is hard, then you have to take on the beast that is the board exam,” said Michelle. “It helped to have someone in my court telling me that I could do it; that I knew these questions and not to overthink them. They really hit it home so I could grow and serve these families once I passed the exam.”
Michelle appreciated that the BAF program offered her more structure while studying. She felt it helped her understand where to focus on the BCBA task list, plus offered various ways to apply what she was learning. This support was especially important to her when she missed passing the BACB exam by one question on her first try, and by two on her second. She is grateful she was able to lean on her cohort, BCBAs in her clinic, trainers, Fellows and center management.
“Statistically, the BACB exam is tougher to pass on the first time than it is for the Bar Exam,” said Michelle. “It’s always good to be one-and-done, but there’s no shame in taking it again. Each time I didn’t pass, it was another opportunity to learn. The regional management team was so supportive and reassuring each time,” said Michelle.
Another advantage for BCBA students who work at Hopebridge is the hands-on experience that comes with the fellowship program and RBT Fellow position.
“As a Fellow, I had the opportunity to do a trial run as a BCBA. Spending half my day in the role of a BCBA and half as a direct therapist, it was sort of like using training wheels,” said Michelle. “Hopebridge gave me the opportunity to implement the material I studied so it made sense. It also made me feel more at ease when preparing for the exam and to take on a caseload because I’d already been doing the work.”
Now that Michelle has finished school, passed the BCBA exam, received her certification and onboarded as an official BCBA at Hopebridge, she’s on the other side providing support to students by assisting with the BAF cohorts.
“I love being able to give back by providing that extra support. I’m there to answer questions and remind them that yes, the test is hard, but it’s only one little piece of their lives,” said Michelle.
Michelle’s favorite part of the job is working with her kids and their families. She enjoys the small victories, like when a child tolerates something for the first time.
While she feels all of the kiddos she works with are special, there is one she will never stop thinking about. When he first started, he experienced high-intensity behaviors that interfered with his daily life. Watching him go from not able to be anywhere other than his room, to tolerating sitting in a wagon or walking with his therapist without problem behaviors has been a highlight for her. They have a special bond, and he calls her, “Shelf.”
“He has such a big heart. These are the kids who drive me. They need so much love, but their intelligence and potential may go unnoticed without it,” Michelle told us, as she began to tear up a little.
“Watching them flourish into these incredible humans – without them losing their unique spirit in the process – is so important to me. I never want to hinder that. I want them to be themselves. That’s why we love them and their families love them. They are all so wonderful and brilliant and I wish more of the world could see them.”
For her, it’s all about giving these kids more tools in their tool kit.
While the kids are her number-one, her coworkers are not far behind. She enjoys rooting on her RBTs, as well as collaborating with the center’s other BCBAs and multidisciplinary staff that make up Hopebridge’s 360 Care. She’s found being able to ask questions of each other is a perk of the job and encourages other BAF students to take the initiative to do the same.
“I feel lucky to work alongside these other disciplines with varied experience and education. Without them, my kids may not make progress outside their rooms,” said Michelle. “I like being able to shadow my kids while they participate in other services, like speech or occupational therapy. I like how all the pieces come together to help our kids.”
If leveling up your RBT status to join the BAF program and become a BCBA interests you, we invite you to apply to join our team of Hopebridge Heroes. Already a BCBA? Grow your career alongside other passionate professionals within the autism community at one of our locations across the country.
Fun fact: “I have a twin. She has been there for me through everything. She lives in Iowa now, so it’s been difficult with the pandemic since we couldn’t see each other. I was finally able to see her for the first time in a year and a half, which was incredible. I’m getting married in a couple months so we’ll thankfully see each other more often as I get ready for the wedding!”
How She Spent the Summer: “I have a dog, Gus, and he is my whole world, so besides working and planning a wedding, I hung out with him a lot. I’ve been trying to get outside more because the weather is so beautiful. I’m reading books I haven’t been able to get to since before I started grad school.”
Just Finished Reading: “Pride and Prejudice. It was nice to read something that wasn’t scientific for a bit!”
Currently Listening to: “I like to listen to ‘After School Radio’ with Mark Hoppus from Blink-182. I really enjoy hearing about the music in this podcast, which allows me to take breaks. But, you can’t take the girl away from ABA, so I also like to catch up on Study Notes ABA’s ‘unplugged’ and funny conversation about the task list.”
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