An inside look at the life of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

No two days are the same for Jisan Phillips.

As a Board-Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) who works as a training and quality assurance supervisor at Surrey Place, Phillips’ days are packed with a variety of rotating responsibilities.

The core of a BCBA’s role is to provide training and support for caregivers, clinicians and staff, develop behaviour plans for clients, analyze data and collaborate with other disciplines.

BCBAs like Phillips examine how triggers in an autistic child’s environment impact their behaviour. This allows the BCBA to assess which environmental triggers need to be addressed to remove barriers to learning. 

“Each client is unique, along with each family context, so we work within that to individualize our treatment approach.”

From there, a BCBA determines how to prepare the child to learn a new skill or reduce a behaviour (such as head banging) by replacing it with another behaviour. 

“Behaviour is communication, and our job is to teach different ways and alternative ways to communicate,” says Phillips, who has been working with autistic children through Surrey Place’s autism services for 15 years.

Creating learning opportunities for children allows them to develop new and safe ways to share what they have to say with the world, she adds.

Day-to-day responsibilities

BCBAs at Surrey Place design and develop programs and supervise frontline staff, including instructor therapists and applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapists, who implement programs. BCBAs also ensure data is being collected correctly, analyze information and work closely with behaviour reduction programs.

BCBAs determine what kind of data an instructor therapist should collect when designing behaviour plans. Phillips explains that data collection for a high-frequency behaviour (like skin picking) will look very different from the data collection for a less frequent behaviour. The BCBA determines which data collection system is most appropriate and then trains staff to implement the data collection system being used.

“When we take data and apply reinforcement effectively, we see gains in other disciplines that complement what we do in ABA.”

Next, the BCBA takes data collected by frontline staff, analyzes it, graphs it and draws conclusions about the functions of a client’s behaviours. Once that determination is made, the BCBA will design an appropriate behaviour plan for the client, train staff on the plan and oversee the plan’s implementation.

“We make sure that staff feel supported while implementing the program – that’s our goal,” says Phillips.  A BCBA’s caseload typically consists of eight to 15 clients. For ABA services, a BCBA might supervise multiple groups of services.

Supporting other disciplines and enhancing outcomes

Phillips says she has observed first-hand how behaviour analysis supports other disciplines, such as speech-language pathology and occupational therapy, enhancing the outcomes of different types of treatments for children with autism. 

“When we take data and apply reinforcement effectively, we see gains in other disciplines that complement what we do in ABA,” says Phillips, adding that Surrey Place strongly emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach when working with clients.

Phillips emphasizes that BCBAs tailor their approach based on each client and family’s needs. When developing treatment plans, BCBAs work closely with families of autistic children and youth. Phillips explains that at Surrey Place, the goal is to develop highly individualized treatment plans that consider a family’s needs, goals and family structure.

“Each client is unique, along with each family context, so we work within that to individualize our treatment approach,” says Phillips. She adds that BCBAs will do “backflips” to ensure they’re meeting clients’ and families’ needs as best they can.

The impact of Surrey Place’s autism services

The most rewarding aspect of Phillips’ job is making a difference for clients and their families. She recalls a 2½ -year-old boy she worked with many years ago, when she was starting in the field as an instructor therapist. She worked with the young child on various foundational skills, including language, independence, self-help and toileting skills.

“Behaviour is communication, and our job is to teach different ways and alternative ways to communicate.”

Several years later, Phillips noticed the client was back at Surrey Place, participating in two different groups.

“He was 16, looking for a job, participating in our groups on employment and how to take the TTC by yourself so that he could get to his job,” says Phillips. “The skills he learned as a young child set the stage for all these other opportunities to be independent. Seeing that progression was so rewarding.”

Phillips finds great satisfaction in being part of a team that supports clients and their families.

“It’s very busy, but we can make a difference for the kids, and that’s the motivation that keeps me going,” she says.

Want to Access Autism Services?

Call our Children & Youth Intake 1-833-575-KIDS (5437)

Written by Stacey Stein

By 2 months

Has your baby had their hearing screened? YES NO

By 6 months

Does the child?

Startle in response to loud noises? YES NO
Turn to where a sound is coming from? YES NO
Make different cries for different needs (hungry, tired)? YES NO
Watch your face as you talk? YES NO
Smile/laugh in response to your smiles and laughs? YES NO
Imitate coughs or other sounds such as ah, eh, buh YES NO

By 9 months

Does the child?

Respond to their name? YES NO
Respond to the telephone ringing or a knock at the door? YES NO
Understand being told no? YES NO
Get what they want through using gestures (reaching to be picked up)? YES NO
Play social games with you (Peek-a-Boo)? YES NO
Enjoy being around people? YES NO
Babble and repeat sounds such as babababa or duhduhduh? YES NO

By 12 months

Does the child?

Follow simple one-step directions (sit down)? YES NO
Look across the room to a toy when adult points at it? YES NO
Consistently use three to five words? YES NO
Use gestures to communicate (waves hi/bye, shakes head for no)? YES NO
Get your attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while looking at your eyes? YES NO
Bring you toys to show you? YES NO
Perform for social attention and praise? YES NO
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Show an interest in simple picture books? YES NO

By 18 months

Does the child?

Understand the meaning of in and out, off and on? YES NO
Point to more than 2 body parts when asked? YES NO
Use at least 20 words consistently? YES NO
Respond with words or gestures to simple questions (Where's teddy? What's that?)? YES NO
Demonstrate some pretend play with toys (gives teddy bear a drink, pretends a bowl is a hat)? YES NO
Make at least four different consonant sounds (p ,b, m, n, d, g, w, h)? YES NO
Enjoy being read to and sharing simple books with you? YES NO
Point to pictures using one finger? YES NO

By 2 years

Does the child?

Follow two-step directions (Go find your teddy bear and show it to Grandma.)? YES NO
Use 100 to 150 words? YES NO
Use at least two pronouns (you, me, mine)? YES NO
Consistently combine two to four words in short phrases (Daddy hat. Truck go down.)? YES NO
Enjoy being around other children? YES NO
Begin to offer toys to other children and imitate other children's actions and words? YES NO
Use words that are understood by others 50 to 60 per cent of the time? YES NO
Form words or sounds easily and without effort? YES NO
Hold books the right way up and turn the pages? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 30 months

Does the child?

Understand the concepts of size (big/little) and quantity (a little/a lot, more)? YES NO
Use some adult grammar (two cookies, bird flying, I jumped)? YES NO
Use over 350 words? YES NO
Use action words such as run, spill, fall? YES NO
Participate in some turn-taking activities with peers, using both words and toys? YES NO
Demonstrate concern when another child is hurt or sad? YES NO
Combine several actions in play (puts blocks in the train and drives the train, drops the blocks off.)? YES NO
Put sounds at the beginning of most words? YES NO
Use words with two or more syllables or beats (ba-na-na, com-pu-ter, a-pple)? YES NO
Recognize familiar logos and signs involving print (Stop sign)? YES NO
Remember and understand familiar stories? YES NO

By 3 years

Does the child?

Understand who, what, where and why questions? YES NO
Create long sentences using five to eight words? YES NO
Talk about past events (trip to grandparents house, day at child care)? YES NO
Tell simple stories? YES NO
Show affection for favourite playmates? YES NO
Engage in multi-step pretend play (pretending to cook a meal, repair a car)? YES NO
Talk in a way that most people outside of the family understand what she/he is saying most of the time? YES NO
Have an understanding of the function of print (menus, lists, signs)? YES NO
Show interest in, and awareness of, rhyming words? YES NO
Read to stuffed animals or toys? YES NO
Scribble with crayons? YES NO

By 4 years

Does the child?

Follow directions involving three or more steps (First get some paper, then draw a picture and give it to Mommy)? YES NO
Use adult type grammar? YES NO
Tell stories with a beginning, middle and end? YES NO
Talk to try and solve problems with adults and with other children? YES NO
Show increasingly complex imaginary play? YES NO
Talk in a way that is understood by strangers almost all the time? YES NO
Generate simple rhymes (cat-bat)? YES NO
Match some letters with their sounds (letter b says buh, letter t says tuh)? YES NO