Rachel Blackburn - From Hopebridge RBT to BCBA
June 14, 2019
June 14, 2019
It’s not often employees at any company can say they have been promoted multiple times in a year since they were hired. Newly licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Rachel Blackburn is one of the exceptions; thriving in several different roles and passing her board exams since she joined the Hopebridge Lexington autism therapy center in spring 2018.
Rachel has grown into four different positions with Hopebridge, but her career in applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) began in college. Originally set out to become a teacher, she soon realized covering a large group in a classroom setting was not the path for her. Following experiences with her own mother fostering young children, some of whom had behavioral challenges and needed a lot of assistance, she was instead inspired to work with kids more directly at an earlier age to help them live more independently.
Rachel decided to major in psychology and minor in American Sign Language (ASL), so after reviewing a video of ABA in one of her classes where therapists used sign language to communicate, she suddenly discovered her perfect job. She was determined to serve children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and use her ASL skills as support when teaching some of them to communicate.
About a year and a half into her role as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) to provide ABA therapy, her BCBA supervisor suggested she go back to school to become a behavior analyst as well. While in school to obtain her master’s degree, a former colleague recommended she check out Hopebridge’s Lexington location for center-based therapy.
“The Lexington center hadn’t opened yet, so I held onto my old job to wait for Hopebridge to open,” said Rachel. “I wanted a fresh view, and as a prospective student, I knew it was important to work alongside different BCBAs, versus only one in my clinic at the time. I didn’t want all my experience based on one person, and here at Hopebridge, I had the opportunity to learn from multiple perspectives, rather than assuming there is only one way to do something.”
Rachel started at Hopebridge as an RBT, but with a couple of years experience and graduate schooling under her belt, she moved fairly quickly into the ABA trainer role in Lexington, working closely with the BCBAs to train the RBTs.
“My role as a trainer gave me a lot of practice giving feedback. It allowed me to get familiar with all the terms and learn exactly what BCBAs expected of their RBTs, which in turn helped me become a better supervisor and become more confident,” said Rachel.
About six months later, she graduated and progressed into a fellow position. This enabled her to gain experience running consultations, evaluations and programs before she took her Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) exam in February. The wait for results surely felt like forever, and after three and a half weeks, she learned she passed! She received her BCBA license to practice in Kentucky at the end of April 2019; ready to take on her own caseload in May.
“Each role I held at Hopebridge helped me become a better BCBA overall. When I started, I wasn’t as confident in my skills, so it was a great experience to observe, learn the thought process behind why a certain number of hours is recommended or a program is chosen, and then have the chance to do it myself and receive feedback,” said Rachel. “I studied incredibly hard for the BACB exam, but the direct experience helped me pull all the information together so it wasn’t such a surprise on the exam.”
As Rachel continues into her new world as a BCBA, she believes collaboration is key to her own success, as well as that of the children in the center.
“This is a field where we’re constantly giving and receiving feedback. Each case is different, and with four BCBAs from various backgrounds, we’re able to support each other and continue to learn. I can turn to a teammate and ask for help with a behavior I’ve never seen before or if I’m running a new type of programming,” said Rachel. “We work together to combine a really strong set of skills, which enables us to provide the best possible therapy to any child.”
Seeing the progress in these children is what makes it all worthwhile for her. It’s the seemingly little – but ultimately huge – moments that drive her each day.
When she began at Hopebridge, she worked with a boy who did not talk. The team tried various methods without hearing a word, until one day Rachel attempted to use a new visual support with him.
“All of a sudden, he said, ‘slide!’ and I said, ‘yes, let’s go slide!” It was the first word I had ever heard out of him. I was so excited to see his progress and I could see his wheels turning, so I tried again. I showed him the ball in my hand to throw to him, and he said, “ball!” I knew he had it in him all along, but something finally clicked. It was the best day ever and I know he felt it too,” said Rachel.
Rachel especially loves when the team shares the kiddos’ successes over their in-house radio system; using their walkies to announce when someone combines all the steps they learned to use the potty for the first time or speak a first word. She understands the waiting is all part of the process, and of course, nothing compares to hearing how the families are impacted by the successes.
“This job is so exciting and rewarding that I don’t even feel like I’m working throughout the day,” said Rachel. People in other industries can seem so stressed in their jobs, but I never feel that way. I feel great at the end of the day because I know we’re are making someone’s life better.”
“See the able, not the label.”
Rachel once read this phrase on a shirt and feels it sums up her outlook on autism. Others may look at these kiddos and see what they can’t do, but she chooses to see what these special children can do. Each child has his or her own skills and are capable of so much more in life, should they be given the chance.
“They might have deficits here and there, but we all do! For instance, some may only view the arm-flapping, where as I would see a child who is bursting with excitement,” said Rachel. “While they may not get to the same level as others skills-wise, they are still able to become independent and happy. My job is to help them reach that happiness in a functional way.”
If advancing the lives of children and their families sounds like a fit for you, Hopebridge can help you reach your career goals, from becoming an RBT to receiving certification as a behavior analyst in one of our centers across the country. Visit our Hopebridge job board to review open positions in your area.
Fun fact: “I like to travel and am trying to visit a different big city or country every year. I’ve been to Costa Rica, New York City, Denver, Las Vegas and drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I really want to get overseas to Europe next; especially Italy and France. I love that Hopebridge continues to grow with centers in different areas of the country – maybe one day I’ll even relocate or help open a center in another state!”
Favorite summer activity: “I enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors in the summer; having a cookout by the pool, playing cornhole and soaking up the sun on a beautiful day.”
Favorite children’s book: “Any Dr. Seuss book. I especially like, Oh the Places You’ll Go.”
Favorite character: “Wreck-It Ralph is great. He’s so positive and the overall story is really good. I look forward to seeing the new one.”
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