Small steps, big results: New practicum experience for ABA students

August 15, 2022

Students in the Michigan State University Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis program will have a new practicum opportunity in the Lansing School District beginning this fall. The PACES Project will support Spartans in providing evidence-based applied behavior analysis (ABA) practices to improve educational, social and emotional outcomes for young children. 

Directed by Assistant Professor Charis Lauren Wahman, the PACES Project is intended to work purposefully, incrementally and holistically to support students who have autism or behavioral concerns.  

In the practicum experience, a requirement for Spartans in the Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis (MA-ABA) program, MSU students will conduct observations in general and special education early childhood classrooms, sit in individualized education plan (IEP) meetings and collaborate with caregivers, teachers and school personnel to program effective ABA behavioral supports based on the unique needs of each student. The Spartans will then suggest small, but significant, steps that can be taken to assist the child.  

“A common criticism of the ABA field is that it is so focused on modifying what children can’t do—they may demonstrate difficulty playing appropriately with peers or transitioning activities,” she explained. “We want to be strengths-based. There are so many things these children do well that we could harness and use to teach in areas where children are still learning. For example, instead of saying a child is too emotional, perhaps we can tap into their strong empathy skills and teach them how to comfort their peers or how to welcome children into the classroom.”  

Charis Lauren Wahman

Practicing teachers will be an instrumental part of the PACES Project, or Parsimonious Advances in Children’s Early Sociability. MSU students will collaborate with teachers to share ABA strategies that work in the entire classroom and for individual students (like strategically arranging toys in the classroom so children can be taught how to share or reminding students of the rules and expectations in the classroom through use of peer support and positive teacher feedback).  

“The PACES Project isn’t about criticizing student or teacher behavior. Rather, we work collaboratively with teachers to amplify student—and teacher—strengths so everyone feels successful,” said Wahman, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral. She will be on-the-ground in schools to ensure success for Spartan students, children and teachers affiliated with the program.  

PACES is one of several opportunities MSU students have to complete their practicum, along with other school-based or community-based placements, such as with MSU’s Early Learning Institute. The practicum experience is a defining feature of MSU’s program, which provides placement opportunities for students; other programs typically ask students to find their own placements. The program also celebrates an impressive 83% first-time pass rate for individuals taking the exam to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, far surpassing the national average of 60%.  

Interested in joining the MA-ABA program and being a part of the PACES Project? Applications are due January 15.