Helping students address challenges through Applied Behavior Analysis

StephenWalker

Dr. Stephen Walker, Director of the Applied Behavior Analysis program at Aurora University

Stephen Walker, Director of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program at Aurora University, first became interested in ABA when he was an undergraduate psychology major. He learned about the approach in an introductory psychology course. He liked the simple and straightforward manner in which this approach was investigated in animal and human behavior. But the course lesson was short, and he was left with the impression that the field was a dying one—until a fellow student inadvertently introduced him to another opportunity to study ABA.

“My friend was complaining about a course she was taking when we were both undergraduate psychology students,” said Walker. “Her comments actually motivated me to learn more. I started reading her textbook and immediately recognized the subject matter; it was the behavioral psychology material I learned in my first psychology class.”

Walker took an ABA course the following year and remained interested in the field. As an undergraduate and graduate student, he taught various ABA courses as a teaching assistant and instructor. He also worked as an ABA consultant for school districts and state agencies while pursing his doctorate in behavior analysis.

ABA is a field that utilizes basic behavioral principles (e.g., reinforcement) to address behavior challenges of social significance. An applied behavior analyst uses methods of direct observation to gather information about how different environmental factors effect behaviors of social significance, and then systematically evaluates if/how modifications to these environmental factors produce socially significant changes.

According to Walker, applied behavior analysis promotes a different way of thinking about problem behavior. “It’s about promoting the kind of environment that students excel in,” he said. “We change kids’ behaviors by changing the way people, such as teachers, paraprofessionals and principals, interact with them.”

This approach to addressing challenges is gaining momentum in schools. “It’s a vibrant field that is growing quite exponentially,” said Walker. “Part of the appeal is that it’s evidence-based. We approach behavior as a science. If you talk to the people working in schools, what they want are special education teachers who see behavior this way and have ABA training or similar background.”

Aurora University has recognized this demand, and has developed a program designed to make a difference in the lives of others. “At Aurora University, we are focused on trying to produce the best practitioner,” said Walker. “We are first and foremost a teaching institution. Our emphasis is on the student.”

To learn more about the Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program at Aurora University, visit aurora.edu/aba.

Stephen Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in behavior analysis and gerontology and a master’s degree in behavior analysis from the University of North Texas. He was awarded a PhD in psychology with a behavior analysis specialization from the  University of Florida.