September 11, 2017

Q&A with Janice McNeill, board-certified behavior analyst

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Janice McNeill is a clinical director at Behavioral Concepts Inc. in Worcester, an organization that provides services to children and adults on the autism spectrum.

A one-time human resources professional, Medway resident Janice McNeill took time while raising her children to reflect on her next career move, and that led her to pursue working with people on the autism spectrum. A board-certified behavior analyst and adjunct professor at Bay Path University, McNeill uses the principles of applied behavioral analysis in her job as a clinical director at Behavioral Concepts Inc., a Worcester-based organization providing services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorder in Central Massachusetts.

Why did you enter this field?

I worked in human resources for a number of years before I had my three children. While raising my kids, I decided I was going to stay home with them as much as possible. I did some consulting, I did some part-time work. During that time I had an opportunity to think about what I really wanted to do. Because of my own experiences with my children, I really wanted to do something that makes a difference in the lives of families. And I always had an interest in people with autism and understanding that better.

What does a board-certified behavior analyst do?

We can function in a lot of different ways. At BCI, we are the prescribing clinicians meeting with the families and the clients on the autism spectrum. We do the initial assessment after clients have been diagnosed, to find out what skills they already have, what skills they are developing, and what skills are not yet present. Also, we look at the behaviors the families would like decreased. So we work on both an increase of new skills and also, a decrease of skills that are not socially acceptable or productive.

How can people with autism and their families maximize their potential in work and school?

A really important thing is to absolutely accept their child's diagnosis, but then to move beyond the diagnosis and to really look at the skills the child has, what are their likes, their preferences and what are the skills they need to develop – and also for the client to do the same thing. It really is a spectrum. The level of expectation should be the same as it would be for their child who does not have autism, although the timing may be a little different.

What would you like the general population to know about the abilities of the clients you serve?

The first thing I would say is just to be very open to discovering and learning about the person. It might be somebody who's in your workforce, or maybe it's somebody they're interviewing for the first time. Just be really open to finding out what skills a person has. Anybody with a disability has had to work so hard to achieve what they have achieved, and my experience is they are an incredible influence on the morale of an organization, on the work ethic of an organization.

What can be done to make sure people have opportunities matching their abilities?

Especially for areas where they're really strapped for candidates for particular types of position, it would be a really wise business move to figure out how they can attract this population, and how they can best support candidates to help them acclimate and grow within our organization. School systems are actually trying to engage organizations to work with them to put students into job training programs. Often they'll come with a job-training coach. It helps to manage the costs of training on the employer, but it also opens a new avenue for companies to be able to access employees.

How has the field changed since you entered about a decade ago?

I entered the field around the same time the Massachusetts Autism Insurance Law, also known as ARICA, was passed. It's a state mandate requiring health insurers based in Massachusetts to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder. That's what opened the door for families to be able to get services covered, which is huge. Before that, people were paying out of pocket for services, or they weren't getting them. Sometimes, the school systems were paying for services.

What's the best part of your job?

Being able to observe and witness the growth of the skills of a child and family. Being able to impact what their daily life is like. Small changes can cause great change within a family. Helping a child to be able to wait appropriately, helping a child be able to follow safety directions, means a family can go out into the community in a way they hadn't been able to before. Being able to help a child learn to communicate what they want with their words instead of their behavior is huge.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Emily Micucci, HEALTH editor.

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