An Interview with Dr. Stephen Eversole
Founder and owner of Behavior Development Solutions.

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stephen Eversole, founder and owner of Behavior Development Solutions.

David: Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. Kindly share some details with our readers about your career path and how you became involved in autism treatment.

Dr. Stephen Eversole

Stephen: My career path in autism treatment is inextricably tied to my interest in applied behavior analysis (ABA). It began when I read Beyond Freedom and Dignity in high school. It just made so much sense—we behave as we do as a result of consequences. I saw that everywhere—consequences explained it all. Well, of course, it doesn’t explain everything, but for a neophyte, it was enough to whet my interest to learn more. I was pretty much sold after learning how well ABA worked with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in grad school at Western Michigan. I was really hooked when I saw the smiles of students after they’d exhibit a new skill for the first time or when they could go into a supermarket without hitting themselves. You can’t experience that kind of success without it pulling at your heart strings.

David:  How did Behavior Development Solutions come to be?

Stephen: It was a matter of several fortuitous events coming together almost by coincidence.  In the mid-90s, computer-based training was just getting off the ground. I thought that this new technology could be leveraged to develop training of some sort. I purchased authoring software and began to develop a parent training program (At the time, I was doing family counseling.). At about the same time, I completed my EdD and got a job at a developmental center in Tennessee where I met Dr. Patrick McGreevy. He suggested that I develop training for the Florida CBAs (Certified Behavior Analysts).  I thought that was a great idea—much better than my parent training idea, which really wasn’t coming together. At around the same time I attended an instructional design workshop by Drs. Guy Bruce and John Eshleman. I used what I learned in that workshop as the foundation for our instructional design model.  A few weeks after beginning work on this new training program, I learned that Jerry Shook was establishing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). The rest is history. But I honestly don’t believe we would have come into being if not for Dr. McGreevy’s suggestion and the Bruce/Eshleman workshop. I am grateful for their contribution over 20 years ago and they remain valued friends to this day.

David:  How has your subsequent training and experience as a behavior analyst shaped your product development? 

Stephen: When you learn ABA, you learn how to teach. That is, you learn how to arrange stimuli to get the desired response – how to prompt, how to reinforce, how to give corrective feedback, and the importance of practicing to fluency.  I simply took the ABA methods I learned and used them to teaching ABA to adults – after all, the same principles apply.

For instance, we know that active student responding (e.g., answering questions) is an effective strategy.  It only makes sense that if you want to teach someone a skill, they have to do the skill. If you want someone to learn to talk, they’re not going to learn if they just watch others talk – they have to talk themselves.  Similarly, in our case, if you want to strengthen learners’ mastery of a subject, they have to be able to answer difficult questions that require them to demonstrate that understanding. Once they could do this fluently (i.e., without hesitation), you can be confident that they’ve learned the skill, it is likely to stick, and the learner could use it in a variety of contexts.

David: I can see that these principles are well integrated into your curricula. BDS has prepared scores of individuals to pass the BCBA exam.  What advice do you have for newly credentialed BCBAs?

Stephen: Today’s new BCBAs are fortunate in the sense that there is a tremendous market for their skills and their credentials. I list both of these because some employers may value your credentials, but perhaps not so much your skills. That is, you may be put in situations where your credentials make your services billable, but because the employer doesn’t value ABA, you and your budding skills will be relegated to the back of the room, left to atrophy.  I don’t believe this is too common, but if you find yourself in this situation, immediately consider employment elsewhere. After all, opportunities abound.

Seek opportunities where you are most likely to grow. Look for organizations that function well, teams that work collaboratively, and supervisors who are knowledgeable and will push you to be your best.  Today BCBAs are respected and well paid. People want what we have to offer and we make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a fantastic time to be a BCBA!

David: That is wonderful advice! What do you see as a challenge related to credentialing new behavior analysts at this time?

Stephen: The challenge that concerns me is pressure I see put on Verified Course Sequences (the university programs that train BCBAs) to lower their academic standards.  As a result, I see a small handful of students who have completed their coursework, but are not prepared for advanced study to prepare for the BCBA exam.  Many of these students have paid tens of thousands of dollars preparing for a credential that they won’t receive because they can’t pass the exam. These students should be taught the prerequisite skills needed before enrolling in advanced coursework. It is my hope that measures are taken to do this so that students who don’t achieve those skills do not spend thousands of dollars and years of their lives working on a credential they don’t achieve.

David:  BDS is such a generous supporter of ASAT.  Why have you been such a longstanding supporter of our work?

Stephen: I think it is important to give back, especially to a cause that is so important. Science is the best method for seeking truth and for finding relations in nature that make a difference. But when people, understandably, want a quick fix, the charlatans of the world come out of the woodwork. Empirically validated ABA treatment is often difficult. Naturally, there is a tendency to try the quick fix. I just think it is important to resist this tendency, which is why I support ASAT an org- anization for which this is its mission.

David:  What is next for Behavior Development Solutions?

Stephen: BDS has been doing ABA education for 20 years and I expect that we’ll be doing it for 20 more.  Along the way we’ve dabbled in some other training ventures that haven’t turned out to be fruitful.  However, just recently we’ve decided to explore the possibility of climate change education. Addressing climate change is the greatest challenge of this generation and how we handle it will determine how (and maybe even if) future generations live. The science is solid. People need to act and they can’t act unless they are informed.  We hope to help.

Otherwise, we plan on continuing to develop the best online training for the ABA community. We recently completed our Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Readiness (40-hour required) course. We’ll continue to improve the CBA Learning Module Series, and we’ll continue to improve our learning platform; making adjustments, guided by the data.

David:  It is of great concern that we are leaving our children’s children in such a perilous situation. Your efforts to tackle the important topic of climate change is very interesting, timely, and appreciated! Any final thoughts you wanted to share with SIAT readers?

Stephen: Thank you very much for this opportunity—I’ve really enjoyed it. I can’t leave this interview without giving a shout-out to all of the giants in the literature upon whose shoulders we stand and without whose wisdom and fidelity to the scientific method we could not have been successful. In addition to the plethora of researchers who developed the body of literature upon which our strategy is founded and Drs. McGreevy, Eshleman, and Bruce mentioned above, I would also like to thank Dr. Mike Nelson, my advisor at the University of Kentucky, who taught me so much related to teaching and writing. Most of all, we would not exist today if not for the wonderful team of colleagues with whom I have the pleasure of working with every day at BDS—Terry Adams, Eric Walch, Bela Beaupre, Christine O’Donnell, Joel Weik, Alex Beaupre, Lydia Eversole, Venu Metha, Dr. Janelle Allison, Marisa Caruso, Dr. Kim Kelly, Kate Johnson-Patagoc, Chris Wogksch, and Jessica Daly.

David: I want to thank all of you for sharing your background and wisdom. We are also very grateful for your Partner level sponsorship. We are able to continue our efforts to keep science at the forefront because of the generous support of organizations like Behavior Development Solutions.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D. (2019). An interview with Dr. Stephen Eversole, founder and owner of Behavior Development Solutions. Science in Autism Treatment, 16(7).

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