Local Woman Finds Calling Working with Autistic Children
After graduating from North Attleboro High School in 2004, Kerri Brown moved to Florida to study at Saint Leo University. Her plan was to get a degree in Human Services, come home, and become an adoption social worker. “Unfortunately, they weren’t hiring in the area at the time,” said Brown. Instead, she applied for a support staff position at the New England Center for Children (NECC) in Southborough, which provides comprehensive services for children with autism. The job was appealing to Brown not only because of the Center’s impressive reputation, but also because it would pay for her to go to graduate school in either special education or ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis.) “In all honesty,” Brown confessed, “I had no clue what autism, or ABA was, so I went with special education!” Brown has family members with developmental disabilities and had seen how a teacher could change the lives of children with special education.
Brown, who now lives in Seekonk, spent the next three years working at NECC while also pursuing her Master’s Degree in Education at Simmons University. It was during that time that she started to see how useful Applied Behavior Analysis was in the field of special education. Brown realized that by “using the principals of ABA, you can teach daily life skills, motivate kids to learn, and see the progress you’re looking for.” ABA, the only board-certified behavioral therapy for children on the autism spectrum, utilizes positive reinforcement and other principals of learning theory to modify and improve social skills. Brown eventually earned her certificate in ABA from Western New England University and went on to join Key Autism Services, a national agency that provides in-home therapy for children and young adults with autism.
Brown had been working out of Key Autism Service’s Massachusetts location for about a year and a half when COVID hit. “During the pandemic, a lot of agencies went completely remote,” explained Brown. “Remote works great for some kids, but is a struggle for others.”
One of those not only struggling - but regressing - during remote learning was a severely autistic girl from Canton whom Brown had been working with. The girl’s mother, Dina Gray, was discouraged by the lack of services available to children like her daughter who would never be able to live on their own, and who needed to be taught skills that would help them through adolescence and beyond. She had found that most agencies had long wait lists and typically shied away from working with older children. When Gray told Brown that she had long-range goals for her daughter, Brown answered, “Okay, when do you want to start?” Remembering that dark period in her family’s life, Gray said, “Obviously, I loved Kerri from the moment when she said yes, I can do all that stuff you’re looking for.”
Brown left Key Autism Services to partner with Gray, and together, in January of 2021, they launched their own behavioral health agency, ABA Helps (www.abahelps.com), that is committed to providing in-home, in-person care to children ages 2 through 22. “We only offer remote sessions if the family requests them,” Brown said, “And we’re willing to put together a therapy plan that fits the needs of the family of the child with autism rather than a plan that fits the mandates of the insurance companies.”
As ABA Helps Chief Clinical Officer, Brown’s work includes designing and reviewing individual treatment plans, training and supervising therapists working in the field, and perhaps most importantly, mentoring graduate students who are pursuing certificates in ABA therapy. Brown said, “The need out there is so great. We have a waitlist of our own now, and one of my biggest challenges is finding enough ABA therapists to work with our clients.”
In the short time since starting ABA Helps, Brown said they have grown from 2 clients in the Greater Boston area to more than 40 in towns throughout Eastern- and Central Massachusetts. ABA Helps recently started operating in New Hampshire, too. Brown hopes that in the next few years ABA Helps will be providing in-home services up and down the East Coast. When asked what she likes most about her work, Brown said that to her, it is all about helping people and seeing the effect that they have been able to have on families. “When you see how proud a child is when they do something as simple as tying their own shoes, it makes everything worth it.”
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