By Samantha Zitzelberger, M. Ed., BCBA
I look back to what my answers were when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up; I would have never guessed I would end up in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis, known as ABA Therapy. My interest in becoming a marine biologist was fleeting, my voice ended up to not be that of a Grammy-award winning superstar, and as it turns out, being an actual forensic psychologist is different than what CSI portrays.
Through my undergraduate experience in New York, I worked part-time at a school for individuals with developmental disabilities as a substitute teaching assistant and waitressed at a restaurant on the weekends. At the school I worked with children ranging from 14-21 of age. The position was a substitute which gave me the wonderful opportunity to work with different children in all classrooms in the building each week. I eventually graduated from SUNY Stony Brook with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology. I knew I wanted to work in the field of helping people, but was not sure what the next big step was. I applied to the Disney College Program during my last semester and attended the program that following fall. To me, not only was it a great resume builder; it gave me an extra four to five months before I had to figure out “adulting.”
I met my husband while working at Disney World. We moved to Virginia the next year and I took a job as a personal care assistant for an individual with autism. Soon after, I found myself at Family Priority. I was extremely excited and quietly laughing to myself that the part-time job I held for most of my college years gave me the fundamental knowledge and experience for the position at Family Priority. Who could have guessed?
I really loved working with individuals at the school in New York, but providing in-home services is truly where my heart lies. I get to be a part of children’s lives in a way I was not able to when working at the school. Being able to be in the position and working closely with the parents, caregivers, and siblings of these children is the parts I love most about working in homes.
Soon after accepting the position of behavior assistant at Family Priority, I was given the opportunity to take coursework through George Mason University. This would advance me in the field of behavioral therapy and put me on track to obtain my BCBA. After completing the course work and working as a behavior assistant for Family Priority for 3 years, I passed the BCaBA exam and began working as a BCaBA. I continued in this position as I finished up the classes required to obtain a Master’s in Education through George Mason and became certified as a BCBA.
Currently, I am working at the Williamsburg office as a BCBA. I find myself thinking back five years ago while I was wearing a Mickey Mouse hand and waving at guests leaving Epcot for the night. I thought that I was living the dream and working at the most magical place on Earth before I entered into the “real world.” But as it turned out, living the dream is being able to work in the field you’re passionate about and make a difference in the lives of different individuals day-to-day. If I could go back in time, I would tell the younger me, as she flipped through a Rolodex of potential careers, and say, “sit tight and wait….you got this”.