Grand Rapids, Michigan

Meet FTF’s next Spotlight, Emily Esparza, a dedicated Autism Coach for Local & Regional Programs at Kent ISD, an educational service agency. Holding an FTF Level 6 PFA-SBT Credential and an LMSW licensure, Emily specializes in guiding and supporting students with various needs on their unique educational journeys.

Emily’s expertise aligns with Kent ISD’s Special Education Department’s mission, emphasizing data-driven decision-making and applying evidence-based and trauma-informed practices to achieve meaningful student outcomes. Together with her colleagues, she prioritizes students’ continuous progress throughout each school day while recognizing the specific needs of various disabilities and presuming the competence to design instruction to match those needs.

In 2017, Emily embarked on her journey with Practical Functional Assessment (PFA) and Skill-Based Treatment (SBT) during a training led by Dr. Gregory P. Hanley at Michigan State University. This experience triggered profound self-reflection, challenging her prior reliance on traditional Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods.

Emily recalls, “Before the training, I had drifted far away from the values I obtained as a school social worker and had immersed myself in the practices of ‘Traditional ABA.’ In other words, I implemented escape extinction procedures and became an expert in strategies such as planned ignoring. What does it mean to be an expert in ‘planned ignoring’? To be honest, I now view it as the ability to ignore the needs and communicative attempts of those in our care. You can imagine the unintentional harm that may inflict on a learner with disabilities, but it also impacts the staff member implementing. The more one grows accustomed to ignoring a person’s needs, the further they become desensitized to the potential trauma they may accidentally causing.”

Working with Kent ISD’s Special Education Department, Emily participated in a PFA-SBT implementation cohort with FTF Behavioral Consulting. In 2022, she expanded her reach by becoming a trainer and supervisor of PFA-SBT through FTF’s Train-the-Trainer model with Dr. Anthony Cammilleri. Her dedication has yielded socially significant outcomes for learners in her care, with their case presentations available here:

Emily’s plans revolve around providing technical assistance, training, consultation, and coaching of PFA-SBT at Kent ISD. She remains committed to spreading the positive impact of PFA-SBT and improving the quality of life for individuals and their families. She encourages professionals to adopt the principles of PFA-SBT, providing valuable advice for those interested in delving deeper or starting the implementation journey:

“First, involve all relevant parties in the treatment process, promoting transparency and understanding. Make sure to always prioritize values such as safety, dignity, and rapport over procedures despite potential discomfort. Build a supportive community or team to navigate this transformative journey. Do not forget to embrace the learning process, accept mistakes, and understand the significance of a humane and dignified approach! I highly encourage professionals to continually enrich the learner’s environment through creativity, collaboration, and diverse activities to foster joy and rapport.”

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