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Hello! My name is Paulina Chumakov, and I am a junior from Ashland, Massachusetts. I am currently majoring in Neuroscience and Chemistry with a minor in Biology. I am hoping that my background in neuroscience and psychology will help me become a successful pediatric neurologist.

My interest in neuroscience began in high school when I took a summer introductory course in neuroscience at a local university. Entering UNC, my interest broadened to include psychology as I grew more interested in behavioral neuroscience and the ways in which brain physiology affects our daily behaviors and thoughts. My interest in behavioral neuroscience led me to autism spectrum disorder research specifically, as I was exposed to this developmental disorder, its effects, and consequences of early intervention in close family friends. As such, I joined Dr. Lorenzo’s lab and am currently helping to conduct research on genes that may be affected in children with autism.

However, I aspired to understand ASD not only on a genetic level, but on a clinical level by interacting and helping children with autism attain valuable social and living skills. I wanted to learn more about intervention techniques in real patients, so I decided to intern at the Carolina Center for Autism and ABA (CCABA).

CCABA is an organization based in Cary that serves children with autism all over North Carolina. The goal of this organization is to improve the lives of children with autism using well researched scientific methods of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services. The first step of my internship experience was becoming a registered behavioral technician (RBT). So, my internship experience began my completing a 40 hour online module based training that taught me the history of ABA, behavioral theory, professionalism, various techniques used during treatment, recording methods, and many more valuable skills.

Throughout the continuation of this course, I have learned the flexibility required when treating children with autism, as well as the importance of record keeping to keep track of progress and modify the treatment plan as needed. This experience shed light not only on behavior modification as it applies to children with autism, but how it can be applied to other populations like people with dementia and even our own daily behaviors. Due to COVID-19, “in-person” training was held through the Microsoft teams. During these daily two week meetings, a group  of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) taught a cohort of RBTs in training how to apply the skills we learned during the completion of the 40-hour module. Through video examples, prompts, and scenarios, I learned how to react to various situations and behaviors as well as how to teach children in natural versus clinical environments. This training has so far been an incredible learning experience, as it has allowed me to see the amount of work, patience and thought that goes into planning treatments. I am incredibly excited to implement my new knowledge into practice.

The next step in acquiring my RBT certification is to complete the competency assessment with my supervising BCBA this week and complete a certification exam. Upon doing this, I will have the opportunity to observe BCBAs and work with my own client under the supervision of my BCBA for the remaining time in the semester.

Another role I will be playing at CCABA is as an aid in the classroom readiness program (CRP). This program serves to help children acquire necessary skills to start school and be integrated into a normal classroom. This part of the internship will be based fully online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Overall, interning at CCABA has taught me valuable skills pertaining to how to interact with children with autism and their parents. I think that this will be an invaluable experience, as I pursue a medical degree. I am further grateful for the amount of new knowledge I have gained about ASD, and hope that this experience will help me be a more active member in educating others about autism.

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