Last updated on August 13th, 2020 at 12:04 pm
Over the past few months, I have had a lot of time to reflect upon my life choices. Questionable past hairstyles aside (2000’s ‘Rihanna’ red fading to brassy copper, in case you were interested!), I began to wonder what led me to choose my most preferred career path. Gaining some distance has allowed me to think back over my career in education to date and reaffirmed why I enjoy being an ABA tutor so much.
If you are reading this, then I am guessing you are already familiar with the role of an ABA tutor. But if you are uninitiated and curious, an ABA tutor is someone who is trained to deliver research-backed interventions to help improve the lives of people with autism (and other conditions). ABA stands for ‘Applied Behaviour Analysis‘, which involves using principles of learning, such as reinforcement, to develop programs which are unique to each individual client. We teach skills in manageable chunks, record data daily to check the person is making progress and make adjustments to our teaching as needed.
After a quick Google search, I was surprised to find very few personal accounts of why people chose to be an ABA tutor. I knew that I needed to explain why I enjoy being an ABA tutor. Hopefully, it will give you a personal perspective on what I have gotten out of the job and why it could be right for you.
Throughout this letter, I will also compare the life of an ABA tutor to that of a mainstream classroom teacher. This is because these are the positions that I have experience in. I find it useful to contrast them both, as factors such as the work schedule were dramatically different
Dear curious human being,
This is my list of reasons why I became an ABA tutor.
I am a Psychology Nerd
During my time at university as an undergrad psychology student, I did not have a clear career goal in mind. Something that I did know was that I really enjoyed my subject. I knew that I wouldn’t be content to start a career that didn’t directly use the psychology knowledge that I had learned. I couldn’t face letting four years of academic study to go to waste. I realise that not everyone will feel this way. University life will develop you as a person and your skillset no matter what career you choose. Call it integrity. Call it stubborn. But I felt strongly that I wanted to apply my knowledge directly. It was a value which directed my career choice.
When I decided to stay on at university to complete a master’s degree (in you guessed it, ABA!) I started to consider my specific career options. As an ABA tutor, you are implementing research-backed psychological interventions EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. You cannot say that about most jobs! I am the kind of person who loves to know the theory behind why something works, so this type of job was a dream come true for this reason. It is one of the traits that make a good ABA tutor.
Sense of Community
Teaching is such a fast-paced job, that in the three years I spent in this field, I honestly made very few connections with my colleagues. Why? In my experience, full-time teaching was an all-consuming profession, which had me working 60+ hour weeks consistently. One day weekends were the norm. The dropout rates for new teachers are notorious. I just didn’t have time to spend chit-chatting to my fellow teachers in the staff room, if that extra half an hour could be spent developing a lesson or seeing my family on Sunday. Sad but true.
In contrast, life working for a school as an ABA tutor was completely different. I met many different people from all walks of life and countries all across the world! We worked together as a close-knit team. With approximately five adults in one classroom, you never feel alone. There was always someone available to share your experiences with and to have a bit of a giggle with when the day was done. Being part of a dedicated team who were all working towards the same goal, delivering high-quality education for children with autism, made work an uplifting place to be. I now appreciate how lucky I was to be a part of such a great team. If you find one, do not let them go!
Love of Learning
You can read all of the books in the world about ABA. But applying those concepts to real-life situations is a whole different ball game. People can be tricky to predict, especially if they are a 5-year-old who has a knack for escaping work! When you are an ABA tutor, every day is different. There are always new problems to solve. Every child is unique. You have to be open to changing your teaching techniques to keep them making progress. I really enjoy that variety is such a big part of this job. I just don’t like to stagnate in what I do.
Also, you have time outside of the job hours to keep your skills up to date. I had the breathing space to make connections between the procedures that I delivered practically on the job and the theory this was based upon. I even started this blog! This was unlike the role of a mainstream teacher, where I could barely scrape together a life outside of work just planning the required lessons.
Making a Real Difference
The most important core value that I derive joy from is making a difference by helping people. Whether it’s writing a helpful blog post or teaching new skills, my 9 to 5 needs to involve giving back in some way. My mum is a nurse and my grandfather was too, so maybe caring is wired into my DNA. Who knows? What I do know is that my job must be meaningful for me to enjoy it.
Before I started work in a specialist school for children with autism, I did not realise how much of an impact that this job would have on my outlook.
ABA tutor was my first real job title. When you are working with young children (aged 4-6) day in and day out, it can be easy to forget just how vital your work is. But I look back on this time and realise that I so was privileged to watch these children grow. It makes me so happy to know that I had a small, but nonetheless meaningful part in helping those kids to learn skills that would be the building blocks of their future life.
For me, there was one pivotal memory that demonstrated the power of helping others. I refer to it now as the graph that changed my life! (ABA tutors chart behaviour daily and are a little bit obsessed with graphs). I was selected by my supervisor to deliver a 1:1 intervention for one of my students. The role involved working intensively with this pupil for a week, away from the classroom setting that I was used to. Since it was the first time that I had been given full responsibility for a pupil’s entire program, I grew an awful lot as a tutor in a short space of time. My initiative developed. I planned in advance for potential setbacks. My connection with the student grew stronger. When the week was over and I looked at the graph, which tracked the progress of the intervention, the results were overwhelmingly positive. The intervention was a success! Several months later, the student was still benefiting from what they had learned. Looking back, that moment will always be special to me. It was a time during my career that showed me just how instrumental the work of an ABA tutor can be.
During the week before the pupils arrived; the head teacher from the school I was working at gave each class a touching tale. A starfish story. The moral was that although there are many people in the world who might need your assistance, this is no reason to give up hope. Realise that the work you do will make a real difference to the people that you are helping right now. It is a sentiment that rings true for me to this day. The key reason why I enjoy being an ABA tutor, above and beyond my other roles, is that you make a significant difference to someone’s life. It may sound sentimental, but it is true!
A note on finding what works for you
At the end of the day, you need to find a career that is a good fit for you. Not your mother or father. Your neighbour. Or your old friend from primary school. You!
Especially as someone who has never known exactly what I wanted to be from a young age (except maybe becoming a writer, go figure!), I found it difficult to pinpoint which career path I should take. Add to this an indecisive nature and a constant need to plan ahead and you will get a very lost and confused twenty-something.
All I can say is everyone is an individual, with their own set of values. Try career’s you think will be a good match for you. Don’t pick a job based purely on ideas, think practicalities too. For example, you might like the idea of being a chef, but can you handle working unsocial evening shifts and being under pressure? Once you are in a job, take some time to see if it is a good match. Most new jobs will come with a pretty big learning curve! Follow your gut instinct and you should be on the journey to achieving your ideal career.
Overall, I think that if you are interested in psychology and you are a caring individual who loves to learn, a career as an ABA tutor just might suit you.
Would you be interested in hearing how I got a job as an ABA tutor? Why did you become an ABA tutor? Let me know in the comments section below!
Beth is forever curious about what makes people tick. She is a master’s degree graduate and former psychology teacher (AKA a proud behaviour nerd!). Autism awareness is a cause close to her heart – check out her fundraiser. Beth becomes her happiest self when she’s helping people like you to enhance your life.