The beginning of the 2021-2022 school year brought with it a sea of new staff members. Among those members, a new Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Aoife (pronounced E-fa) O’Connor.
A BCBA is a career that requires “rigorous training” according to Lisa Kingsley, the leader of the Pathways program at Malden High School. BCBA’s are experts on the functions of behaviors, focusing on the fact that all behavior serves a purpose. A Board Certified Behavior Analyst’s main purpose is to help others understand anyone with a behavior that may look challenging.
Kingsley stated that O’Connor’s main role is “student support,” at Malden High. O’Connor works directly with students and makes plans for teachers and the people involved with the student. Kingsley added that her role mainly consists of “consulting and observing” while also, “helping support teachers and staff members to implement suggestions,” regarding the students behavior.
O’Connor grew up in Canton, Massachusetts, attending Canton High School from which she graduated in 2013. After graduation, O’Connor went off to get her undergraduate degree at Suffolk University in Boston. There, she received a degree in psychology and a bachelors in science. She furthered her education after Suffolk, receiving a master of science in applied behavior analysis at Bay Path University. In order to become a BCBA, a master’s degree is required and then a medical boards exam, in which a passing grade is needed to move on.
Before transitioning to Malden, O’Connor was working in Milton, Massachusetts where she worked with preschoolers and elementary schoolers. O’Connor made the move to Malden because she “was told Malden was a great place to work.” She interviewed with Elizabeth Smith, and “liked the environment compared to other jobs” she had interviewed for. O’Connor had friends from graduate school that lived in Malden and had told her “the area was nice and the schools were great to work for.”
In high school, O’Connor interned with a speech therapist where she “liked working with kids” that had “certain developmental delays,” but did not enjoy the speech part of it. She decided to continue with her psychology degree and then became a nanny for twin boys. While nannying for these twin boys, they were diagnosed with autism and O’Connor stepped up as their nanny to be there for their needs as they grew. After that she began working at another agency that also worked with developmental disabilities in children. She worked at Advances Learning Center, where she performed home services with an Applied Behavior Analysis(ABA) and went around to Boston Public Schools working with the students. O’Connor is still close with the people at these jobs, “especially Advances, since [she] had been there for six years.”
As a BCBA, O’Connor works with any student at Malden High who may have developmental disabilities, social issues or behavior issues. O’Connor mentioned that BCBAs are used for all ages including those in nursing homes “to understand their behaviors and what drives [people].” She is requested by a teacher or member of staff to see students. The teachers, or staff members, will request an “observance of the student to see if a treatment plan is needed.”
After O’Connor is recommended to see a student, she observes the students, gets information from the teachers and staff around them every day, and performs different assessments to “find out the function of behavior.” Primarily, there are four types of reasons why behavior is happening: to get attention; to escape a demand; or to receive sensory reinforcement. O’Connor believes it is important to highlight that her job “does [not] reinforce challenging behavior,” but it “offers alternate behavior ideas” for the student. She trains teachers to take data while observing the student in class and also trains teachers to “implement a treatment plan and analyze data to see if the plan is working or needs to be fixed.”
O’Connor’s transition into Malden High was “a lot better than [she] thought it would be.” She was “excited to get to know the staff,” and although Malden High is a “big high school,” she has found that “everyone has been so welcoming” towards her. She is finding Malden High to be a “collaborative and welcoming environment.” Outside of school, O’Connor likes to go on hikes with her dog and do a lot of outdoor activities. In addition, O’Connor “loves to travel.” Her husband is from Ireland and “[they] travel there a lot when [they] have the time.” She also likes to hang out with her friends.
Even though she loves to travel, with the environment around her being welcoming and collaborative, O’Connor “definitely hopes to stay [in Malden and at Malden High] for a long time.”