Behavior Analysis Alumni Spotlight: Ashley Williams '12SW

Ashley Williams earned her master’s degree in behavior analysis and is pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis, both from Simmons College. She works full time as the program director at Applied Behavior Analysis Consultation and Services (ABACS) in Woburn, Mass., and teaches undergraduate classes at a nearby college. We asked her about her Simmons experience, as well as her current work in the field of behavior analysis.

How did you first learn about the field of applied behavior analysis?

I grew up around a family member with special needs, so I was always interested in working with this population. While I was in my bachelor’s program at Loyola University in Maryland, I learned about autism and about applied behavior analysis (ABA) from one of my courses, and soon after started working at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore.

Why did you want to pursue a master’s in behavior analysis?

I really enjoy being a student, and as I finished undergrad, I knew that there was more for me to learn. I also knew how many more opportunities I would have if I pursued a master’s in behavior analysis, so I looked into several grad programs along the East Coast. 

What made you decide to choose the Simmons program?

A few things influenced my decision to choose Simmons. First, I had visited Boston when applying to grad schools, so I was able to meet with a faculty member for the program. I felt extremely welcomed by the faculty at Simmons, the admissions department, and the campus as a whole. I had also heard about the mentoring program and “oral exams,” which made me fearful yet interested. It turns out that oral exams really aren’t that bad, and they help you become much more prepared to be a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

During your time in the program, what was your favorite class and why?

I loved the course on verbal behavior. This course in particular really challenged what I knew about behavior analysis and the extent of my ability to analyze behavior. It felt like a turning point for me in the program, where I stopped memorizing things and started to truly understand the conceptual pieces.

Tell us about what you are doing now?

ABACS provides ABA services to individuals with autism at our clinic and in their homes and communities. I oversee our operations and our services to more than 130 clients. My job involves a little bit of every role a behavior analyst could take — manager, clinician, trainer, and mentor. It’s fun and keeps me invested in my job and the company I work for.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Well, I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical day for me. But I usually have a few different meetings throughout the day with staff — clinical directors, BCBAs, administrative staff, and our hiring and training team. We spend some time talking about ways to support our staff, designing new interventions for our more complex cases, or discussing our research projects — which is my chance to be an ABA nerd.

How has your degree from Simmons helped you achieve your career goals?

I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now without Simmons. The program at Simmons does a great job touching on a wide range of topics and applications in ABA. I feel like even as I’ve taken on new roles and more responsibilities, the things I encounter at work still relate back to things I learned in the classroom.

Which aspect of the program best prepared you for practice?

The mentoring program! I think that the mentoring and supervision program at Simmons sets apart Simmons graduates. As someone who is now responsible for hiring behavior analysts, I know that when I see an application from a Simmons student, they’ll have very strong behavior analytic writing and fluency.

What do you love most about the work you do?

I love having a job that I truly enjoy doing, with people I love to be around, and knowing that what we do can have such a profound impact on the lives of the people we serve.

Tell us about one of the most inspiring moments you’ve had working with a student.

It’s a humbling experience to hear from a parent that their child has learned a skill that they didn’t think was possible. A mother of one of my clients once told me that she had never thought she’d be able to take her son to church, but now that he’s made so much progress, she’s able to take him to church each week.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about the field of behavior analysis?

The scope of behavior analysis as a whole and its applications are much greater than autism or working with children. I think most people are surprised by how many populations and settings can benefit from behavior analysis.

If you could give people considering a career in behavior analysis one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would say to seek out and learn to love a challenge. You’ll never be bored, and you’ll be surprised at what you can do. It may be taking on a complex case, presenting research at a conference, or taking an opportunity to work with someone who you look up to. Taking chances and gaining confidence will open doors.