“What happened outside the classroom was almost as exciting as what happened inside.” – Ashley Kemmerer, M.S. BCBA, LBS
Ashley Kemmerer’s husband recently reminded her that when they first met, she told him how she wanted to be a director in an organization serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This year she reached that milestone when she was selected for the position of director of training and clinic operations at Graham Behavior Services based in West Long Branch, New Jersey, which provides early intervention and adult services for those with ASD and other developmental disabilities.
“There is such a need for high-quality services for adults when a person turns 21. Many parents are not prepared,” said Kemmerer, who is in the dissertation phase of doctoral studies in applied behavior analysis at Caldwell University. She is proud to be working at Graham, a program funded by the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities that addresses the needs of adults with ASD—a place that offers “high-quality services from a place of compassion.” The agency provides clients with vocational and job skills, helps them maintain employment and build skills, and operates an adult clinic that partners with businesses to give clients work experiences.
Kemmerer’s journey into the ABA profession started when she was a preteen. Her mother was a special education teacher, and in the summers as a teen, Kemmerer would work at a camp for children with special needs. “I always felt comfortable with people with special needs.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northeastern University—where she “fell in love with ABA”—and a master’s in applied behavior analysis from Sage University, Kemmerer worked at schools and private companies that provided home-based or residential services for individuals with ASD; she also earned her board-certified BCBA credential.
“I knew that if I was going to be considered most knowledgeable in my field, I needed to learn and grow for my clients,” said Kemmerer of her journey to Caldwell’s ABA doctoral program. The first year at Caldwell was challenging given the rigor of the program and the dedication required, but she adjusted thanks to the help of the other doctoral students, some of whom have become her best friends.
While at Caldwell, Kemmerer worked in the Center for Autism and ABA with clients and closely with faculty. “What happened outside the classroom was almost as exciting as what happened inside,” she said. She and other students attended conferences and were introduced to professionals in the field, “people who wrote our textbooks.” Professor of ABA Jason Vladescu, Ph.D., BCBA-D, was assigned as her doctoral advisor. Kemmerer calls that “an amazing experience,” especially “with all that happened in the last two years. He always reached out, always checked in on me.” And Vladescu continually prodded her to think forward, asking her what she wanted to do when she graduated. He is currently helping her navigate her research project for which she has completed the literature review.
Ask Kemmerer what her passion is and she says it is split “50-50.” She enjoys working with clients and families and seeing the positive impact she can have “in whatever way is meaningful to them,” from learning to wash their hands to helping decrease stress so they can attend family events. She also gets gratification out of seeing the difference she is making in those that are newer to the field so they can gain confidence and understanding and become leaders too.