One hot summer day, Sarah Waller’s car broke down on her way to work. Waller is a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) who implements Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) plans for the Autism Society of North Carolina. Rather than cancel the session with the client and their family, Waller walked three miles in 100-degree heat to make the appointment, because she didn’t want to let the family down. “If we’re going to make a difference in people’s lives, we have to show up,” she says.
For the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Clinical team, this is just one example of how Waller goes above and beyond for families.
“Sarah is truly one of the best RBTs I’ve seen,” says Erica Brown, MA, BCBA, Senior BCBA and RBT and Student Coordinator. “She puts her whole heart into her work and makes a difference.”
Waller, who has been with the Autism Society of North Carolina for more than four years, did not intend to become a Registered Behavior Technician but is extremely grateful she did. “I had no idea this was a job!” she says. “Through a random job search, I found an RBT position and was interested because I had experience working with kids. I fell in love with it. I love the relationships with families that you get to build, and I love to see progress. I love to see kids do things their parents never thought they’d do.”
When a client begins ABA with the Autism Society of North Carolina, they gain an entire team of professionals who will create a plan to help meet the individual’s unique goals. The team includes Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) who conduct assessments and design treatment plans. The BCBA supervises the RBT, who provides direct instruction in the home and community based on the plan.
Sarah puts it in simpler terms: “I teach kids the way they need to be taught. We work on daily living skills and improving good behaviors and decreasing challenging behaviors. But it’s also a lot of playing and being silly.”
“Sarah provides a great example of what makes RBTs so important,” says Brown. “RBTs are the heart of our department. They are in families’ homes every day and truly see what our families need. They know how to bring the fun and joy to sessions!”
Waller works to bring fun and joy to sessions by tailoring her teaching style to the client’s motivations. “I worked with one child who loved elevators, so we did a lot of elevator-themed work,” she says. “One kid loved all things Pokémon, so we integrated that. Other kids are all about sensory play. I get to know kids as they are. Even when clients are nonverbal, they will show you what they want and what they want to do. I’ll try different play styles until kids respond.”
While Waller adjusts her approach with each client, she holds all clients – and herself – to the same high standard: “I go into every session with the belief that we’re going to do our best today. That goes for both me and the client. Our best will look different every single day, and we can’t always get better or make progress every day. But as long as we both try our best.”
By expecting the best of her clients, Waller has accomplished some incredible things for the families she serves. Brown recalls one case in which the client began treatment to learn how to communicate what he wanted and to deal with food rigidity issues and significant challenging behaviors. “Sarah built rapport with this child almost immediately,” Brown said. “She knows how to get the teaching opportunities, and through her countless hours, this little guy was able to request what he wanted. He also ate chicken nuggets, yogurt, cheese, and apples for the first time for Sarah. The family was able to go to Legoland because this client was able to eat enough food to be away from home, and his behaviors had decreased enough that the family felt comfortable making this trip. This was because of Sarah’s great work!”
“I love being in the mix of it, being more involved with children and their families…”
Waller’s memorable moments include helping to potty train a six-year-old, seeing children who previously didn’t engage socially begin to play with their peers, and watching one client learn how to say his name for the first time. “I love seeing kids learn, especially the ones who may have been written off as unable to learn,” Waller says.
Waller also enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with the BCBAs. “BCBAs come to a client’s session every single week,” Waller says. “I’ve had some clients in previous jobs who never met their BCBA, so this is an outstanding level of support that the Autism Society of North Carolina provides. I can ask questions on the plans and have the chance to collaborate. They provide support when it’s been a hard week.”
Waller says the Autism Society of North Carolina has been helpful in providing opportunities for career growth within the Registered Behavior Technician position. “I love being in the mix of it, being more involved with children and their families, and the Autism Society of North Carolina has allowed me to focus on that. The best part of the job is getting to work with families and see that growth and progress. It’s amazing to get to be a part of their lives.”
- Learn more about the Autism Society of North Carolina’s ABA Program and Clinical offerings
- Ready to join the team? Learn more about becoming an RBT or a BCBA on our Careers page