Behavior Analysis Alumni Spotlight: Christina King '04SW

Christina King recently earned her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis from Simmons College and is currently the director of RCS Learning Center, a private special education school for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. She also works as a mentor and adjunct faculty member in the behavior analysis program at Simmons. Christina earned her bachelor’s degree in communication disorders from Boston University and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) after completing her master’s degree from Simmons in 2004.

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

I first learned about applied behavior analysis (ABA) when I was in my undergrad program. I was studying communication disorders at Boston University and went on to the career services website to try to find some part-time work in a field related to my degree. I found an ad from a family who was looking for someone studying communication disorders to come and work with their 5-year-old son to provide ABA therapy. I met with the family and the behavioral consultant working on the case and learned what ABA therapy entailed.

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

I had been working with multiple clients for about a year and a half prior to enrolling in the master’s program in behavior analysis at Simmons. I wanted to pursue this degree because I had learned how powerful behavior analysis is when used to teach children with autism. It wasn’t until I was enrolled in the master’s program that I saw how the principles of ABA could be applied to a wide range of clients.

What made you decide to choose the Simmons program?

I first learned of the Simmons program from another behavior therapist who was working in the same school during a summer program. She told me how much she loved the program and how it fit into her schedule. It was also in close proximity to my home — which made it immediately accessible for me to apply and attend.

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

My favorite class when I was in the program was Methodologies for Behavior Change. In that class, I was exposed to a variety of teaching strategies that I could use with the clients I was working with at the time.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My days are extremely varied. Some days I observe clients and training staff to implement behavior analytic protocols, while other days I am in meetings with families or other people involved with my clients.

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

I am now in a position that I would have never expected to attain. After graduating from the program, I continued to work as a behavior therapist for a period of time in order to gain more applied skills before moving into the role of supervisor and BCBA. I served as a BCBA at RCS for many years and then was promoted to the assistant director position, where I was responsible for overseeing all of the BCBAs employed by RCS. I currently serve as the director and oversee new program development and ensure the quality of our current programs.

Which aspect of the program best prepared you for practice?

I believe that all of the classes helped prepare me — especially the projects assigned in class. I was able to practice skills I was learning and receive feedback from instructors on programming before I was responsible for behavior change programming with actual clients.

What do you love most about the work you do?

There are many things that I love about being a BCBA, but the biggest is seeing positive changes in clients. The clients I have worked with have made such positive changes, and their quality of life has been improved by the implementation of behavior analytic programming. I also love watching a behavior therapist experience using these techniques with their clients. It is so rewarding to pass on the knowledge I have learned in working in the field to others that will continue this work.

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

One client I worked with in the past was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome. Individuals diagnosed with this syndrome are often extremely impaired with little to no language skills. In working with this child, I was able to teach her sign language to request over 300 items. Her language abilities exceeded what her medical team had predicted, and it was so cool to see the effects of behavioral therapy with a client who was diagnosed with a disorder for which there is not a lot of published behavioral literature.

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

I think there are many misconceptions about behavior analysis. Some people believe that behavior analysis can only be used to treat individuals with autism. This is a misconception, in that behavior change in all organisms is a product of environmental contingencies — so this applies to typically developing kids and adults and animals. Another misconception is that behavior analysis is a therapy that involves rote presentation of tasks, and this is simply not true. The principles of behavior happen across environments and individuals, both in contrived as well as natural settings.

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

I think it is really important for those considering a career in behavior analysis to realize the responsibility and potential for advancing the field. Students often pursue this degree simply because they enjoy working directly with their current clients or think that it seems like an interesting job. Being a behavior analyst means that you have a responsibility to your clients, their caregivers, your employers, and the field. Behavior analysis is still considered a newer field and area in which to pursue advanced degrees, and graduates must act with integrity so consumers continue to request our services. This means that your job may not be easy and you must be committed to the science.