We interviewed Kimberly Hull, MS, CCC/SLP, BCBA and Owner at Achieve Ability Therapy Services for National Speech Therapist Day. Kimberly is one of the rare dually certified Speech Language Pathologist and BCBAs.
Kimberly Hull started her career as an SLP working in New York State Early Intervention Program (ages 0-5) in the late 90s. The program was a comprehensive multidisciplinary program with children receiving Special Education, Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy services. She was given several children on the autism spectrum on her caseload. She began to feel discouraged when these children didn’t respond to her attempts to teach them. She had difficulty maintaining their attention, getting them to sit with her or even look at her.
One day, when arriving at the therapy center, she happened to catch the tail end of a Special Education session with a child that she was struggling with for weeks. This teacher had him sitting with her, giving eye contact, imitating and following simple directions.
“I thought she was magical! I asked her, “What are you doing? Teach me to do it!”
After that day, this teacher became one of her mentors and taught her how to set up therapy sessions in a way that prepared the child to learn. This was based on the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Her mentor, Lisa Macaluso received her Masters Degree in Special Education with a minor in Applied Behavior Analysis from Columbia Teachers College under Professor Douglas Greer.
A Transdisciplinary Approach to Autism Treatment
Right away she saw how her training and application of Behavior Analysis helped her serve her clients as an SLP. She saw how the complimentary science of behavior and learning helped her prepare her learners to engage and learn from speech sessions. Kimberly went on to expand her experience working with individuals of all ages and populations across her almost 30 year career.
She eventually created an autism center, Achieve Ability Therapy Services in Florida and brought all that she learned and loved about her experience in New York. Her program now serves over 70 children and teens with disabilities. She set up her center with a transdisciplinary approach which includes Special Education, Speech Therapy, ABA and Social Skills Training. The unique thing about a transdisciplinary approach vs a multidisciplinary approach is that all the different team members are educated across disciplines. For example, their Special Education teachers and SLPs all go through the Registered Behavior Technician (ABA entry level training) training so that all team members can follow the student’s Behavior Intervention Plan.
The transdisciplinary model is truly integrated. All staff create goals together, attend team meetings together, giving each other feedback, RBTs and BCBAs overlap sessions SLPs and vice versa.
What can Behavior Analysts do to be better collaborators with SLPs
Kimberly shared three things Behavior Analysts can do to increase collaboration with SLPs.
- Understand and Recognize the contributions and expertise of a SLP. Behavior analysts do a lot of language training but remember, Behavior Analysts don’t usually have formal training and instruction in speech and language development or even child development. SLPs are the experts in the development of Speech and Language and how the mouth and tongue structures move and work together to allow people to talk and communicate. Respect and use that expertise.
- Collaborate on Language Goals. (Don’t act like you are the language specialist). Teaching language in a speech therapy session is different than in an ABA session. Our job as Behavior Analysts is to arrange the environment to make language learning meaningful and functional. Recognize that you share a role with the SLP in targeting language goals. It’s a collaborative process. Ask for input. Ask if the words, phrases and concepts that you are targeting are developmentally appropriate for your learner.
- Provide Help with Problem Behaviors. Problem behaviors are barriers to learning for SLPs and most would appreciate and are open to help from Behavior Analysts in setting up the environment for success. If you use a token board, show them how it works. If you have a Behavior Momentum strategy that works well for teaching, demonstrate it for them. They will really appreciate it!
To wrap it up, Kimberly expressed that facilitating, collaborating and educating across disciplines, whether it be Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Applied Behavior Analysis, will always benefit the client and make our treatment stronger.