Looking for a Career Change? Hear from Three Therapists who Changed Paths for a Job Serving the Autism Community
November 02, 2020
November 02, 2020
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” As children, this is such a fun question with exciting answers like ballerina, firefighter, veterinarian and Spiderman. As they get older, adults sometimes find out their “dream jobs” are something completely separate from what they originally envisioned. Many times, there are more fitting roles that they wished they knew existed at earlier in life.
It should not come as a surprise that many of our Hopebridge employees did not know board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and occupational therapist (OT) were options when they drew their desired jobs in kindergarten. However, it may be surprising to learn that a good portion of our Hopebridge team did not leave high school with career goals in applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy).
In fact, while there are some who were inspired by someone with autism at a young age or sought an education in industries like psychology, others came to our centers with vastly different backgrounds that helped make them the Hopebridge heroes they are today.
Whether driven by the needs of someone you love or moved by the need to make a mark on the world, we connected with three team members who altered their career paths in order to serve others. Read about their experiences to find out whether their stories motivate you to shift gears and head toward a new job in autism therapy.
BCBA Kim Hayward at Hopebridge Greenwood, IN
“Prior to beginning my career in ABA, I worked as a millwright, which is an industrial mechanic. I entered the four-year millwright apprenticeship at age 18. Over my 15 years as a millwright, I worked in a wide variety of settings, including paper mills, car factories, food factories and nuclear power plants.
During my last few years in the field, I worked exclusively in nuclear power plants during scheduled maintenance outages. During these outages, I was part of the team that would come in to tear apart the nuclear turbines, rebuild them and put them back together.
As you can imagine, I had the chance to gain experience adhering to safety protocols, working under stress, ensuring quality control and collaborating with a wide variety of individuals—all of which translate to my current role.
When I became a single mother, it was impossible for me to travel and work the more than 80 hours per week that were required as a typical millwright, so I originally went to college for social work. However, my son was experiencing developmental delays at the time and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2. I was so impressed with the early intervention services he received that I decided to pursue my degree in applied behavior analysis so I could help other families the same way his therapy team helped us.
I relocated from a rural area in Michigan to Indianapolis to continue this new career path while also moving closer to family. I joined the Greenwood center as an RBT four years ago. Since then, I transitioned into the ABA trainer role, then the RBT Fellow position, and finally the BCBA position.
As a behavior analyst, I enjoy being able to see the difference we make – not only in the children’s lives – but in the overall well-being of entire families. For others considering switching career paths, I encourage you to visit the Hopebridge facilities and speak with some of our team members to gain more insight on what makes our profession so challenging and rewarding at the same time.”
ABA Trainer Kelli Jenkins at Hopebridge Milford, OH
“Before coming into my role in ABA therapy, I worked at United Parcel Service (UPS) for more than 10 years. When I initially started, I took on a part-time position as a package center supervisor, aiding delivery drivers in their day-to-day logistics while on their routes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the job and the position allowed me ample time outside of work to finish my undergraduate degree. After graduating with a degree in psychology, I remained at UPS and began to climb the ranks in management. Before leaving three years ago, I worked directly for the UPS hub manager in operations, supervising all package center supervisors in that division and aiding account representatives to build rapport with delivery drivers.
After receiving the opportunity at UPS to work with individuals who utilized behavior analytic principles within the business realm (OBM), I decided to revisit my passion for working with kids who had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Seeing firsthand how these principles were woven into the everyday practices of our delivery drivers and hub workers, I was excited to explore how the science of ABA served the autism population.
During my first two years working in the field, I had the pleasure of serving kiddos 7 to 19 years of age who were referred by school districts due to their level of challenging behaviors. I learned so much from each of them and it was rewarding to witness their daily progress. At that point, I knew I wanted to pursue becoming a BCBA. I felt it was pertinent to have a variety of client experience, especially to gain knowledge in early intervention, which is what brought me to my job at Hopebridge.
Now operating as an ABA trainer at Hopebridge in Cincinnati, every day is an adventure! I have the gratification of working with kiddos on the therapy floor and building into new hires and current staff, all while being part of the leadership team that supports our center overall. I love the opportunities offered to us for advancement in our careers. Here, we are celebrated for our service as therapists, but also encouraged to pursue our own dreams.
If you are feeling a nudge or have a gut feeling that working with this population is for you … do it! It is never too late to shift careers and make a difference in the lives of those in the autism community. I am a firm believer that everyone has a calling in their life. There are families waiting on compassionate, hard-working and fun individuals to enter this field to provide services for their loved ones in a safe, effective and inclusive environment. Do not count yourself out for this opportunity. Pursue your passion and experience an amazing career that is fulfilling and essential.”
RBT Quataisha Jones at Hopebridge Camp Creek, GA
“I held a couple different jobs that eventually brought me to where I am today.
I started my career working at Papa John’s for six years. After six months as a driver for Papa John’s, I was recruited to lead the team in a manager position. I truly enjoyed working with that company because it was fun, fast and exciting.
While I loved the job, ultimately, my college degree drove me to change careers. I had recently graduated from Savannah State University and as I searched for a job in my field, I became pregnant with my son and changed locations. After having my baby, I felt it was time to follow my career path.
From there, I was hired at a facility that aided individuals who were victims of sex trafficking. I loved the work helping these people, but I wanted to find something where I could make an even larger difference in social change.
Thankfully, a friend from high school referred me to Hopebridge in Atlanta when she learned I was looking to alter my career path. She introduced the idea of ABA therapy to me and I instantly researched everything I could about it.
Now, as an RBT, the best part of my job is knowing that I can make a difference in a kiddo’s life. I love to see how every therapist has helped a child improve. Walking through the halls and greeting a kid – and they greet me back! – brightens my day – especially if they did not have the skills to speak at the start.
It’s time to make an impact, and if you want to influence the world around you, this is the career for you. If you are not sure where to start for a career in ABA, first do your research on the industry and jobs, then take the second step to apply for a position at a Hopebridge center in your area (or outside of it if you’re looking for new scenery!). The trainers and company overall are amazing. Don’t hesitate; come make a difference with us.”
“How do I get a job in ABA therapy? What about on-the-job training?”
At Hopebridge, a background in ABA therapy or serving the autism community is reason to celebrate, but is not necessarily required. With a high school degree, openness to learn and a passion to help others, we can provide paid on-the-job training and education resources to set our new staff members up for the start of their career in autism therapy.
Don’t hold back and wonder, “what if?” Take the next step towards your career change and apply for one of our open positions across the United States on the Hopebridge job site to get started on your new journey.