By Bay Stephens EBS Editorial Assistant

BIG SKY- A new behavioral analyst is in town. Jeanne Lightbody opened up her practice in applied behavioral analysis in February of this year and specializes in working with children 2-15 years old, especially those with autism or developmental disabilities.

Originally from New York, she moved to Big Sky with her husband two years ago after 10 years of vacationing here with their kids.

“We just love the area and it’s beautiful,” Lightbody said with a touch of the Big Apple in her accent. “We had raised our family in the metropolitan New York area for years and years…we wanted to try something different before we got too old and we couldn’t.”

After nine years as a nursery school teacher in New York, Lightbody was bothered by her limited capability to work with children that were developmentally different.

“I got frustrated with the fact that if a child didn’t learn in a typical way…we just didn’t know what to do with him or her,” Lightbody said. She decided to go back to finish her master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis, a discipline that centers around the concept that all behavior is functional. “The idea is to figure out what the function [of the behavior] is, and then to work with it,” she said.

ABA is used in skill acquisition, to support functional communication for children with special needs, as well as in behavioral intervention. She said this intervention involves a lot of parent training—teaching parents not to reinforce inappropriate behavior, but to change how they react to their children in a way that encourages behavior that will function in the real world. ABA therapists often approach an aberrant behavior by finding replacement behaviors that serve the same function.

For instance, if a child is nonverbal and usually screams when he or she wants water, Lightbody can teach the child how to use picture cards—called PECS cards—to communicate their thirst. “That’s a much more appropriate way of getting your needs met than screaming,” Lightbody said. “And that’s a [method] that can be taken out into the real world and actually used.”

ABA is one of the few therapies for autism that is covered by insurance, Lightbody said. It’s considered an evidence-based field because behavioral analysts are able to take hard data and graph the progress of therapy. The data shows whether or not a child has learned the specific skills they’ve been taught, and also allows behavioral analysts to see if the data will hold up across a variety of children and scenarios.

When working with children, Lightbody prefers to meet them at home or school so they’ll continue to utilize the skills they’ve developed with her after she’s gone. Ideally, she works in conjunction with other specialists—such as speech pathologists or occupational therapists—whom a child may be seeing in order to give the best support.

Lightbody is Big Sky’s only board-certified behavioral analyst, and among just 30 practitioners to receive that accreditation statewide. She said she is willing to work with Big Sky’s schools to support them and their students any way she can. She also works part-time for Family Outreach, a Bozeman-based nonprofit that serves children and adults with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays.

For more information, visit bigskybehavioraltherapy.com or contact Jeanne Lightbody at (914) 391-9972.