Eye on KELOLAND: Solving South Dakota’s need for behavioral analysts


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A new graduate-level program will be offered at the University of South Dakota this fall for those interested in helping people with developmental disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four children in the United States has one or more developmental disabilities. And 1 in 54 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. Lifescape CEO Steve Watkins says that they are seeing a demand for services that can better help these children.

“163 families on the waiting list, some of them up to two years now. It becomes a pretty major challenge for those families knowing that as time goes on, it becomes more difficult to treat autism. So the sooner we can treat it, the better the outcome,” Watkins said.

That is why Lifescape has teamed up with USD to train professionals in behavioral anyalitic services.

“This has been an effort in the state for the last probably 5-6 years, the need has been there. And there have been efforts to put legislation in place and for insurance coverage and for regulating the practice of BCBA’s,” Haifa Abou Samra, Dean of the University of South Dakota School of Health Sciences said.

This fall, USD will be offering a two-year Board-Certified Behavior Analyst Graduate Certificate program. Professionals with that certification are able to provide behavioral services for people of all ages.

“There is currently shortage. There’s only around 50 BCBA’s in the entire state and there are families on waiting lists who really need the services. So this program is designed to speak to that need and to really address that need. Especially in rural areas where access is very limited,” Samra said.

“We just had a request, a parent reached out to me in the middle of the state saying, hey, she has a young child, she’s looking for services and there aren’t any available in her area and is there an agency and does that agency have an available behavioral analyst that would come and work with them. It’s something that’s a real challenge in a lot of communities. So I think one of the things that I’m really excited about is the fact that we can train more behavioral analysts and start to increase the availability of these services, even in more rural, remote areas for the state,” Ryan Groeneweg, director of BCBA program and instructor, said.

Watkins says the certified professionals will be trained to conduct a special type of therapy with the kids.

“What they’re trying to do is get the child comfortable. A lot of times, the autism children are said to live inside themselves, they’re not responsive, they’re not verbal, those kinds of things. And those efforts that they’ll work with, they’ll spend many hours doing, is helping that child feel comfortable in doing it in a way we might approach it as opposed to the way they’re looking at it,” Watkins said.

Students working towards this certification will be taught by doctorate-level professionals from Lifescape. Ryan Groeneweg will be the director of the program and an instructor.

“I’m excited to meet the first group of students coming in. This is going to be, not just a series of classes and an opportunity for supervision, but it’s going to be an opportunity to build a network. A group of professionals, in the state, that know each other, can support each other. We’re just too small, so we’re going to know each other and we’re going to support each other and work together to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the state,” Groeneweg said.

“The most thing that really excites me about this program that it really speaks to the needs of our community. It really speaks to the needs of the families and children in the state,” Samra said.

Students in the program will also have to complete 2,000 supervised hours of training at Lifescape.

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