How BCBA Jamie Hill Found Her Dream Job
May 18, 2018
May 18, 2018
As kids, we often dream of becoming ballet dancers, firefighters, “animal doctors” or astronauts. Then, as adults, the line becomes less clear. We don’t always know what we want to be when we “grow up” nor all of the options available to us. Life is a long journey with various twists, turns and detours that may change our paths, plus interactions with people who inspire us also help us discover new areas along the way.
Like many of our Hopebridge BCBAs, Jamie Hill is a good example of this. As a teen, it began with a friend whose brother lived with down syndrome. Because of him, she got involved with Special Olympics. Her love for special education developed even further as she was exposed to behavior management while pursuing elementary education in college. She taught for a bit as a life skills teacher, where the intervention work grabbed her attention – writing 504 plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), holding case conferences, etc. She liked it, but felt she did not have enough support to do what she really wanted for these children, many of whom would have benefited from different types of education.
“A child with autism or other developmental disorder is like a little box of jewels. This person has so much ability, love, opportunity and skills, but you have to find the right key to access all of it,” said Jamie. “Every kid with ASD – like every lock – is different. In order to get them to follow instructions, safety commands and more, you have to train each in a specialized way. It’s very different than a traditional classroom where you instruct the entire class in the same manner.”
She decided to dive black into her own schooling to find – and create – the resources she wanted for these children. While researching masters programs, she came across Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA); a subject she touched on in her undergraduate program. The rest is history, as they say, and she became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and now works in the Hopebridge Indianapolis East center.
“ABA is incredible, especially when approached through early intervention. As BCBAs, we’re given a special moment in these kids’ lives where we can intensively work on skills in which we might not have the opportunity to tackle later on in life. We have to lay the groundwork early to help them become more independent adults,” said Jamie.
Having started in the classroom, Jamie’s passion is to find a way to bridge the gap between traditional education and ABA clinics, especially since attending school is a goal for many of the children at Hopebridge.
“Unfortunately, even in a special education classroom, there is usually one person leading three children. For those with severe forms of autism, this ratio makes it difficult to create positive change. My goal is to make a more significant impact,” said Jamie. “At Hopebridge, we have a one-to-one ratio, plus a multidisciplinary therapy team, which allows us more time and resources to develop the whole child.”
Jamie’s teaching background gives her a different lens of the end goal and how to reach it. She takes on this issue from two angles. First, her perspective helps her understand what students will be expected to do once they start in school and gives her the tools her to get them prepared. This includes teaching them to be more independent, communicate more effectively and follow a schedule. From the other side, she believes it’s important to educate the educators themselves, so they don’t view the new kid as a problem they can treat by sticking him or her in the corner with an iPad.
“It’s important that teachers don’t give up on kids with autism or other special needs. Seek out tips and techniques from therapists or special education teachers before sending them somewhere else,” said Jamie. “It’s not always an immediate change, so don’t expect to turn it all around on day one. Even if you can only solve one quarter of that child’s challenge, you’re helping to give that kiddo a better quality of life.”
Patience is key in this industry, whether in an autism therapy center or a traditional school setting. Thankfully, this diligence also provides some of the biggest payoffs.
One of Jamie’s former learners couldn’t walk by herself, was non-verbal and needed others to do practically everything for her. She had a lot of learned helplessness. Jamie’s classroom worked on following schedules, independent skills and self-care, but the girl still didn’t seem to make much progress. Eventually one day, while working on an object schedule, it just clicked. She took herself to the bathroom, did independent work, and went to line up.
A child with autism or other developmental disorder is like a little box of jewels. This person has so much ability, love, opportunity and skills, but you have to find the right key to access all of it.
“It was awesome to see her life change,” said Jamie. “When it clicks for them and they understand how everything fits into their world and that they can do it by themselves – these are the moments I live for. In the meantime, our job is to be patient and teach them so they can make sense of what’s going on.”
Interested in joining Jamie in her mission to work for children with autism? Visit the Hopebridge job board to view the open positions and see if there is a career path meant for you.
Last movie you watched: “1922, which is based on one of Stephen King’s novels. It was overall good, but it took a while to get into. I also recently watched Gerald’s Game.”
Favorite meal: “Pizza! Back home, it’s from Mark’s Pizzeria. They have a sweet sauce that is sooo good.”
On her playlist right now: “Galantis, which is electronic, plus indy band, Dream Chief.”
Fun fact: “When I was 21 years old as a student teacher on spring break, I spontaneously booked a trip to Hawaii for 7 days…by myself…and left the next day! I’m from western New York so this was a big deal for me. I constantly explored different areas of the island, went on excursions, visited the Dole plantation and adventured to Chinaman’s Hat (also known as Mokolii). It was incredible!”
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