This month’s employee highlight features AWARE’s Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) Renae Jones, Mikayla Williamson, Kendra Laughlin and Charity Symonds. Their supervisor, Diane Black, who is also a BCBA, asked that we tell you a little bit about each of these people who work in AWARE’s behavior service.
The BCBA’s job is to meet with the families in the community or caregivers of people in AWARE group homes who would like to get assessments and plans for those in need of behavior skills. Once they create a plan, they work with the registered behavior technicians (RBTs) to develop the activities to support the new skills. For example, they may help people acquire hygiene skills like brushing teeth or getting dressed; appropriate social skills; or communication skills.
We have a wonderful team of BCBAs dedicated to supporting the adults and children we serve. They’re creative and responsive, and the possibilities in offering behavior change for those who need it are endless.
Read their stories below:
Renae Jones Has Served People With Disabilities Throughout Her 25-Year Career
Renae Jones is an AWARE BCBA who supports children and families in Gardner, Livingston, Billings, Three Forks, Whitehall and Dillon, Montana.
As an AWARE staff member of 25 years, Renae has worked in various positions that support children and families, including being a program director at the first home for kids with autism in Montana.
The last two of 25 years she’s worked as a BCBA and says that her favorite part of her career is to work with clients’ families and other caregivers who are passionate about working with people with developmental delays and/or autism.
“You don’t choose to become a BCBA, the job chooses you,” she said. “In other words, it’s more of a calling than a job.”
Renae is quick to recognize the success of AWARE’s ABA service. Particularly, though, she recalls one person with autism who she started working with at 4 years old. That person is now 22 years old. Living through a few setbacks throughout the years, this person is considered a success story by graduating high school, finding and maintaining a job and attending the Life Scholars program at Montana State University.
Renae lives in Belgrade, and in her free time, she enjoys horseback riding.
“I believe we are put in this world to make a difference in other people’s lives and are happiest in the pursuit of doing so.”
Mikayla Williamson Found A Great Need for Behavioral Support Through Experience
Mikayla has been on board as a BCBA with AWARE since September. A teacher for five years before coming to AWARE, she recognized a need for behavioral support services and the use of data to monitor and support behaviors.
“I discovered Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and knew immediately that the blend of one-on-one targeted, relational support with objective, scientific data-based decision-making was a perfect fit for my personality and the needs I was seeing,” she said.
Mikayla used ABA to help motivate one teenage boy to help change his behaviors. He wanted to get out into the community to socialize with people his age. The boy earned his outings by completing his daily routines. The outings usually included going to the library and playing video games with other teens.
“Little does he know we are also able to work on social skills with him in that environment as well,” she said.
Mikayla grew up in Billings and graduated from MSUB. As a teacher, she worked in different jobs throughout the U.S. for experience and also earned her master’s degree. A recent newlywed, Mikayla and her husband are expecting their first child.
“I am so glad to be back in Montana and looking forward to an exciting future!”
Kendra Laughlin Uses ABA to Help People Lead Better Lives
Kendra is a BCBA who works with people in Helena. AWARE just started offering behavior support services in Helena in December 2023. People needing support from a BCBA in that area will work with Kendra.
“I love ABA and being able to help children and families learn new skills to help better their lives,” she said.
Using ABA, Kendra said she helped one person with no communication skills. Behaviors of this person were reduced because they learned how to make requests like “help,” “more” and “all done.”
Kendra says that her favorite part about her job is “being able to see the progress clients make.”
Prior to her move to Helena, Kendra worked as an AWARE program director in Missoula from 2019-2020. This month marks her one-year anniversary as a BCBA.
Charity Symonds Career As A Caregiver Led Her To Working With Kids With Autism
Charity works with children and families in the Great Falls area as a BCBA. She’s been with AWARE for almost eight years.
Charity says that she became a BCBA because she is fascinated by behavioral theory and identifying why people do the things they do.
“It is this giant amazing behavioral puzzle that I get to help put together,” she said.
Caring for adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout her 28-year career, Charity said that working with children with autism was the next logical step in her career.
“Finishing my master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis was always my goal,” she said.
Charity’s favorite thing about her job is working with a child and seeing the parent staring at her dumbfounded and saying, “‘How did you do that?’” she said. “I get to reply, ‘let me show you.’”
One particular child she supported using ABA comes to mind as a success story. The child wouldn’t let the parents touch his hair for more than a few moments. Charity says that as they worked them, the child allowed them to touch his hair and eventually went to get his hair cut successfully by a barber.
“It is super exciting!”
Charity loves being outside in the mountains. Recently, someone told her that she would try to get a snuggle in if being attacked by a bear.
For more information about AWARE’s ABA program, go to our website at www.Aware-inc.org/aba.