Caregiving Role Alters the Career Path for BCBA Sarah Price
May 05, 2021
May 05, 2021
“No one wakes up and says, I’m going to be a BCBA. We always discover a way into the field and fall in love to the point that we don’t want to leave.”
This is what new Board Certified Behavior Analyst Sarah Price told us she heard from one of her first supervisors at Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers, and it’s the same sentiment we’ve received from many of our team members. From teaching and psychology, to medicine and industrial mechanics, our BCBAs’ early careers and aspirations ran the gamut. As a fairly new field, applied behavior analysis (ABA) was often not in their vocabularies, let alone their minds as to what they wanted to do when “they grew up.”
For instance, when Sarah moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky at the start of her undergraduate program, she majored in biology and minored in American Sign Language (ASL) with full intentions of moving onto medical school. As she progressed through school, her passion grew stronger, drawing her toward pediatric orthopedics. But there was something else that grabbed her attention, too.
During her freshman year, Sarah was also approached to take on what she thought would be a “simple babysitting job” of two of her sorority advisors’ children as an easy way to make money on the side. She soon learned one of the women had two daughters diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“They became my sidekick family and I am still close to them today,” said Sarah. “One of the girls had more severe autism than the other, and their experiences sparked my interest in ASD. I began learning and figuring out everything I could about it.”
After caring for these girls for three years, one of them became Hopebridge’s first patient in the Bowling Green therapy center. Sarah hadn’t heard of ABA therapy before this and it was new to the family, as well.
“At the time, she was close to 5 years old and we had been spinning our wheels for years trying different therapies and providers. Suddenly we found this thing that really clicked for her and I couldn’t learn enough about it. I was fascinated by her quick gains and developmental growth,” said Sarah.
Sarah planned to take a gap year between college and medical school to rest and reset. She had the opportunity to speak to the BCBA of the kiddo she cared for during drop-offs and was also involved in some of the parent training sessions. When he learned about her planned break in schooling, he suggested she apply to work with Hopebridge as part of her gap year.
She took him up on the idea and started with Hopebridge in April 2018 while applying to medical school. The BCBA who helped inspire her to join the center as a therapist continued to give her small tastes of what it was like to work as a behavior analyst.
After filling out all her applications, Sarah still felt a tug toward ABA. She started to think maybe medical school was no longer the right path for her. She withdrew all applications except for those at the two schools she had always envisioned attending. She earned interviews at her dream schools, but did not feel present at the first one.
“That’s when I realized it. During the interview, I consistently thought of my kids here at Hopebridge,” said Sarah. “One of my interviewers had a child on the spectrum. We spent nearly my entire interview talking about how much I loved what I did and where I worked.”
The interviewer told her he thought she would be a phenomenal candidate, but based on her interview, he didn’t think her heart was in medicine. After a long drive home, she realized she agreed with him. The next week, she declined her acceptance to medical school and applied to Arizona State University to work toward becoming a BCBA.
It built a relentless pursuit within me, always trying to find what works best for my kid.– Sarah Price discussing the BAF learning program at Hopebridge
“Even though I was excited, it was a hard thing for me to swallow at 22 years old. I had been chasing the life of a doctor for so long and poured so much into that,” said Sarah. “I had to accept that it is ok to push those dreams aside because there is something better on the horizon.”
In her journey to become a BCBA, Sarah participated in Hopebridge’s Fellowship Program.
While the program structure has evolved since she joined, she valued it for both the support from her fellow team members and supervisors, as well as for the opportunity to pave her own path. She also enjoyed having a partner throughout the experience, as another Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) in her center worked toward her certification at the same time.
“Hopebridge’s Fellowship Program gave us a safe space to find that intrinsic motivation with help from the guidance of our own BCBAs, which played a huge part in my skillset now,” said Sarah. “If I felt confident in one area, I would seek out other opportunities where I could continue my learning and growth. It built a relentless pursuit within me, always trying to find what works best for my kid. If one thing doesn’t work, what can we try next?”
Sarah passed her BACB exam in January and began onboarding as an official BCBA at Hopebridge in February. While her onboarding experience is a little different than those who are brand new to Hopebridge, she has still benefited from the process as an internal candidate.
“Onboarding taught me more about the resources we have for support as BCBAs here at Hopebridge. One of my favorite supervising BCBAs previously told me, ‘Once you pass the test, you’ve just passed the test. You’re a brand new baby BCBA not ready to fly on your own yet,’” Sarah told us. “I now see what they meant. I value the support system and mentorship setup here with multiple in-center BCBAs, a regional team and a clinical trainer. I did not realize how unique this support was to Hopebridge until onboarding.”
Sarah considers herself lucky to have experienced ABA therapy at Hopebridge from two different angles. Both viewpoints have given her the ability to see that every day with these children is a fun, fresh start. She enjoys stepping back to see things through their lenses and help them better participate in the world around them.
“I’m grateful to have the experience of a caregiver in my toolkit. I know what it’s like to be at home with a child and am able to understand what is realistic and what is not,” said Sarah. “At the center, we get our kids for 8 hours a day, but in our clinical recommendations, we need to remember they are going home for the other 16 hours a day.”
Now, as a BCBA, she takes that caregiving perspective into consideration with everything she does. She especially enjoys the connections she creates during parent training, remembering the impact it made on her own life and the family’s she served.
Looking back, it was a parent training session that solidified her desire to become a BCBA. She was still working as an RBT at the center when her BCBA involved her in parent training. They were working with a kiddo with severe behaviors, which included high rates of self-injury. He gave her the opportunity to explain the growth they had cultivated and witnessed during therapy.
“Having that interaction with the parent and seeing the depth and gravity of what we do left an impression on me,” said Sarah. “It’s such an important piece to ask, ‘What are you seeing? What growth is there?’ I don’t want to be in front of them or behind them; I want to be beside them. That’s something that is really special to me.”
Does Sarah’s story inspire you to become a BCBA or take on another role in the autism community? Hopebridge has openings across the nation, so apply today to advance your career within one of our centers.
Fun fact: “I have two Newfoundland dogs named Rosie and Rory, so I likely have about 300-400 pounds of dog on my lap at any given time! The saying that you can’t be a BCBA for your own child also works for your pets. With the recent snow, they are living their best lives.”
Current Podcast List: “Learning is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves, and listening to podcasts is one of my favorite ways to do that. While the name of it isn’t kid-friendly, my favorite podcast lately is The Behavior B*itches Podcast, which is from the behavior analysts who run Study Notes ABA. It gets me through Monday mornings. I’ve also recently fallen into listening to the “You’re Wrong About” podcast. The hosts take a lot of topics you think you know about, but then dig in further to learn more.”
If she could be any superhero: “This one was kind of chosen for me at birth: my parents allowed my brother to name me when I was born. If I was a boy, my name was going to be Batman.”
Next travel spot: “I have two key places on my travel list. I’m really close to my brother, who lives in Washington, D.C., and it’s one of my favorite places to visit. I can’t wait to get back there. My brother works in African policy and I spent some time in Tanzania during undergrad, so outside of the United States, I would love to travel with him to Kenya.”