Interview with Kathleen Moran
Conducted by Josh Pritchard, MS, BCBA
Co-editor, Science in Autism Treatment
Kathleen Moran is a graduate student of Dr. Sharon Reeve at Caldwell College. She has been the author of the research reviews featured in ASAT’s newsletters for the past year. Due to her contributions to our newsletter content, she was chosen for a brief interview to allow our readers to get to know her.
Q: Kathleen, You have single-handedly provided over a dozen research reviews for the Science in Autism Treatment (SIAT) newsletter. We wanted to take a moment and get a glimpse at the person behind all of these pieces. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. I wanted to start out with a very general question: What is your current line of work, when you're not slaving away at reviews for SIAT?
A: I currently work as a paraprofessional for children with autism in a public school setting. In our school we have five classrooms with approximately 5-6 kids in each, and we work 1:1 with the children throughout the day using the science of applied behavior analysis (ABA). In addition to my work in the school, I provide a child with 10 hours of instruction in his home each week.
During this time I teach the child how to work and play independently. We focus on playing outside, joining his grandmother in the community, playing with siblings, how to make a snack, numerous self-help skills, and how to engage with various activities in the house.
During the school year, a fellow co-worker and I also teach a “mini-unit” (an after-school program) which is open to the entire school. We encourage parents of the children at our school to enroll their kids in the program to allow them more opportunities to socialize with other kids and learn new skills. We are thrilled to find that half of the participants in our mini-unit are students from our ABA program.
Q: Wow – that sounds like you keep busy providing science-based treatment! Other than your job and similar work, what occupies your time?
A: Outside of work: I am enrolled in a program to earn my Master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis and a certificate in Gerontology at Caldwell College in New Jersey. I am also planning to obtain another Master‘s in Speech and Language Pathology and eventually pursue my PhD I would love to work with both the younger and older populations. I belong to several organizations related to autism and the field of behavior analysis such as New Jersey ABA (NJABA), Association for Behavior Analysis: International (ABAI), and ABAI's Autism Special Interest Group.
In addition to science-based treatment for autism, I'm also interested in gerontology, and so am a member of ABAI's Behavioral Gerontology special interest group.
I am also a member of a group that runs in half-marathons to raise awareness of, and money for, autism research.
Q: It sounds as if you keep yourself busy enough for two people. I hope you are keeping a few moments a day for fun and relaxation.
A: Most of my time outside of work is concentrated on school work and article reviews, but in my spare time I enjoying reading, jogging, biking, exploring new adventures, working on my house, tea outings, rock climbing, and time with family and friends.
Q: It is clear that you are very interested in autism and using science-based treatment for it. When did you first learn about autism, and how did you get so involved in the treatment of it?
A: My first encounter with autism was during my undergraduate years through reading, research, and a personal circumstance. My undergraduate degree was advised by one of the Caldwell College professors who also happens to be a prominent member of the Applied Behavior Analysis field. It was due to his influence, and that of my colleagues at Caldwell College, which steered me in the direction of ABA and children with autism.
Q: Well, lucky for us that you happened to be at the right place with the right person. Could you tell us a little bit more about what you might consider the defining moment the point at which you knew you would choose a career in autism?
A: Well, I always knew that I wanted to work with children. When I began working with adolescents with autism, I still hadn't found my niche. It was after I began working in our school program and younger population that I knew this was where I was meant to be. Working with these 8 year-old children was amazing. The fact that I was able to teach them new skills as well as advance their academic and functional repertoires was instantly attractive. Not only was I constantly developing these children's social, functional, and academic skills; but I was also able to help with the production of speech and language! It wasn't long after I began working with this younger age group before I knew that this was what I wanted to do.
Q: Other than your career choice, have these experiences affected your life in any major ways?
A: Yes, studying applied behavior analysis and my experience working with children with autism has greatly affected my life. It has allowed me to expand my program development skills and enabled me to learn how to best teach children skills that we may take for granted. During my research and work, I learned components which seemed to have a way of somehow helping me in everyday life.
When I first began working in this field I knew it was where I was meant to be. My fellow professionals are full of so much knowledge and experience. The individuals with autism whom I serve are amazing people. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and I hope I can expand it into different areas which have yet to reap the rewards of the science of applied behavior analysis.
Q: You indicate that we teach skills that others take for granted…could you tell us a few of these kind of things do we take for granted? How do you teach them?
A: While working with the younger population for the past two years, I've taken great pride in what we do and what we have taught. On a daily basis we teach children to brush their teeth, use the bathroom, write their names, use language to request items, identify colors and emotions, read, and many other basic skills that many just seem to acquire naturally. Most people learn most of these skills without direct intervention by five years of age, if not earlier! For some of the children I am teaching, they are working on them at ages 8, 9, and 10. I think it is important for people to know how hard these kids work to improve skills, and how rewarding it is for themselves and their families when it finally happens.
Let's look at tooth brushing, for instance. We are teaching one child to brush his teeth who has had help from mom and dad for the past nine years. Both in school and at home, we are using a picture schedule and prompt fading techniques to teach him to brush his teeth independently. I watched this child grow from requiring the help of another individual to brushing his teeth with almost complete independence. I can't describe how rewarding an experience this is. Each time he finished this task, he turned to me with a big smile on his face and a little laugh. At the end of the day, I know that not only did I help him learn a new skill needed for quality of life, but I also helped his family.
Q: Wow – that's powerful stuff. To think, some people refer to their job as the daily grind – it sounds like you find yours as invigorating as a cup of joe! Hopefully most of our readers have experienced similar situations with science-based autism treatment. Often, people I have met who are so interested in the field of autism treatment became involved because they have a person close to them who is affected by this disorder. Is that the case for you?
A: I do have a family member who is affected by autism. My brother was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome late in life. Unfortunately he wasn't diagnosed until high school, but since then my family and I have been supporting and helping him in all he does. Based on experiences with my brother, I realize that if he had been able to receive intervention earlier, there are parts of his life that might have been enhanced.
Although he is currently 23 years old, I still work to improve his skills and daily options (in a sister/family-oriented way). Growing up with my brother, I knew there was something different, but autism diagnosis and treatment had not yet advanced to the point it is today. This experience has only taught me and reinforced my standing that early intervention provides the best and most successful outcome for children who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Q: How did you get involved with ASAT and the newsletter?
A: During my second year of graduate school, I knew that I wanted to do more than just earn a degree and work with children each day. I wanted to expand my knowledge and do more research, writing, and helping others understand articles that might be too complex (contain too much scientific wording) for everyday consumers.
I applied for a graduate assistant position, and was then assigned to work with Dr. Sharon Reeve. Thanks to her help and guidance, I was able to review articles and work with other professionals in the field on the article reviews, including Drs. Robert LaRue and Tristram Smith.
I feel very privileged and honored to have the opportunity to do such work and thoroughly enjoy it. I can't wait to do more work with Dr. Sharon Reeve- she is an amazing professor and scientist. She has an extraordinary amount of experience from which I look forward to learning more.
Q: It sounds as if Sharon Reeve has been critical in your professional development– could you tell me more specifically how she's helped you?
A: For the past year I have worked with Dr. Reeve to review and summarize articles; it has been an honor. She has helped me to understand some underlying concepts which I had trouble with initially. During this time, she showed me that it is not about the technical jargon, but rather about helping parents and educators understand how to educate our children.
Each time I submitted a piece to her, she approached my revisions from a positive feedback model, which in turn motivated me to do more. Not only was she there to help with my writing and reviewing of articles, but she consulted with me at work. For over six months, she provided direct training to one of our students.
Because of this experience, I have been able to work with more confidence and use different teaching procedures that I had not tried before. When I ask for her help, she is willing to provide it unconditionally and with positive feedback. During work and class, she does an exceptional job of training staff. She has the unique ability to make staff and students feel that they are doing something that is both important and accomplished.
Q: Thank you so much for all your time. I have one question before you go: How do you feel about being one of the most prolific authors in the past year of SIAT? What do you hope to accomplish with all these research summaries in our newsletter and on our website?
A: It is an honor to have the opportunity to do this work and I look forward to every minute of it. Not only am I helping others in the field, but I can bring what I learn to bear on the treatment of the children I work with. Just knowing that I was a part of something that helps others is a most satisfying feeling. I owe all my thanks to Caldwell College and to Dr. Reeve for trusting me with the opportunity to expand my writing and research abilities in the field.
The goal with these research summaries is to have educators, families, and the public understand the different teaching procedures that we use with children with autism. It is important that people outside of the applied behavior analytic field also understand what is important for children with autism to succeed. I hope to make clear the best teaching methods and educational programs.
Autism treatment is a growing field with many people proposing different therapies and theories on what might be the best options for the children. My summaries offer peer-reviewed evidence that people can rely on to help in their own investigation of treatment options.
Some professional articles use technical terminology that is difficult for nonprofessionals to understand or decipher. It is my goal that these article reviews break down the terminology so it is easier to understand and people can access that which our field offers. If one parent or educator walks away from reading a review and helps a child get the science-based services he or she needs, it is one more child that is being helped than before.
Exactly! Well, I can tell you – it has been an honor for us too. We are very lucky to have you and your contributions. Thank you for all that you do to help make the research in the science of autism treatment easily accessible. to anybody who has an interest. I look forward to your continued contributions.