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ABA grad student gives career to children with autism disorders

Thomas
With a full load of online classes and a newborn son, Noelle Thomas has her hands full. “My husband and I coordinate our schedules so that when he is off of work, that’s when I’m able to really focus on my studies,” says Thomas, a grad student in the MA program in applied behavior analysis with an emphasis in autism.


While working with an autistic child as a teacher’s aide at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army spouse Noelle Thomas decided to give her career to children with disabilities.

“There is nothing like the first time that you make the connection with one of your clients,” says Thomas. “And he’s the one who made me want to study autism.”

But after she had exhausted her skills as an aide, Thomas realized she had much to learn about autism.

So when she and her husband, Hans, were re-assigned to Seattle, she began volunteering at a neurodevelopmental center where she saw ABA therapy in practice. In the meantime she took a job as an in-home assistant ABA tutor.

“While progress is made one little step at a time, it really is amazing to see how a child can make so much improvement over the course of time,” says Thomas. “But I realized that if I wanted to pursue this field long term, I needed to get my master’s.”

Because of the family’s frequent military moves, the fact that Ball State’s master’s in ABA was 100 percent online also became a selling point.

Now that she has a newborn son, Thomas has to factor late night interruptions into her schedule. With a full load of classes, she plans her study times a week in advance and takes advantage of Hans’ off hours.

“My husband and I coordinate our schedules so that when he is off of work, that’s when I’m able to really focus on my studies,” says Thomas, who is taking advantage of her husband’s Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits.

For now, the Thomases are stationed at historic United States Military Academy at West Point. Hans is currently assigned to the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, where he teaches aerodynamics and thermodynamics and flies cadets in a Cessna 182 while conducting aerodynamics experiments.

After graduation in 2013, Thomas hopes to stay in a military setting and work with military families and children.

“Often times, military bases, specifically Army posts, are remotely located,” she says. “This can pose a challenge when military families are in need of special assistance, such as applied behavior analysis therapy. I’d love to be able to provide that assistance without them having to travel.”