LifeScape, USD partner to create BCBA certification program

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 2:00 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - In South Dakota, more than 175 families are on a waiting list for their child living with autism to get therapy. Seventy more are waiting to just get evaluated to see if they’ll benefit from applied behavior analysis therapy, better known as ABA therapy. On Friday, those families saw some hope as LifeScape and the University of South Dakota announced a collaboration on a program they hope will help with the gap in care.

Emily Olsen has two kids who are living with autism, 8-year-old Silas and 10-year-old Dexter. Her family is one of those who has been on the waiting list for ABA therapy for a little more than two years.

“We definitely go through ups and downs. When we first received Dexter’s diagnosis, he was about 3, and we were told ABA would be a great thing to help him,” she said. “If your child is on the autism spectrum, you hear wonderful stories about people out of state, who have had great success with ABA therapy, and in South Dakota, it’s really hard to find extra services, extra support.”

ABA therapy is taught by someone who is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. This therapy teaches social, communication, and daily skills to hopefully live independently. It’s mostly known to be used for children with autism but can be used for different populations.

“It’s a two-part crisis. We’ve got a healthcare gap and we’ve got a workforce gap,” Dr. Eric Kurtz said. He’s the executive director of the center for disabilities at the University of South Dakota.

On Friday, USD and LifeScape announced they’re partnering to create a graduate-level certificate program to get people certified as a BCBA.

“I’d much rather we be able to grow our own and keep students and professionals in the state of South Dakota,” Kimberly Marso said. She is the Chief Operating Officer at LifeScape.

“This will translate into better outcomes, will translate into better quality of life for the families, will translate into cost savings also for the families, and also for the state. So it’s a win-win situation all around,” Haifa Samra said. She is the Dean of USD’s School of Health Sciences.

“That is improving outcomes long term; long-term quality of life, level of independence, employability, all the things that we all want for our family members and our children,” Dr. Kurtz said.

Those are the things Olsen wants for her boys but has waited months for.

“I had actually looked into ABA therapy and what it takes to become certified, and it’s quite a lot of work,” she said. “And I found it’s not available around here, so I think it would be incredible just to have one more support system for families like mine.”

This new certification program for a BCBA starts this fall at USD. It includes six courses and 2,000 hours of supervised fieldwork experience that will need to be completed before students take the board certified exam.

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