Thank You: A Series of Tributes to Dr. Jerry Shook
Introduced by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, ASAT President
Since its very beginning, ASAT embraced a mission to work toward the adoption of higher standards of accountability for the care, education, and treatment of individuals with autism. ASAT has long recognized that the development of effective training models in university settings and professional credentialing were essential pathways for this mission to be realized. It should, therefore, be no surprise that Jerry Shook was one of the founding members of ASAT.
Looking back a few decades ago, it was clear the autism community was in crisis. The sharp and sudden increase in demand for behavior analytic services could not be satisfied by the existing and tiny group of qualified providers. This gap led to a number of unfortunate outcomes, including: unqualified individuals pawning themselves off as “experts,” parents being price-gouged by providers charging exorbitant fees, and seemingly well-intentioned providers practicing beyond their scope of practice due to the unavailability of more suitable providers.
I vividly recall a trip to Sydney, Australia in the late 90s and meeting a young lady attending my two-day workshop. When she shared her business card with me, I noticed that she used the moniker “Lovaas therapist.” That first day I politely questioned her, inquiring how one actually becomes a “Lovaas therapist.” The next day, I re-approached her and was more direct by pointing out the ethical and potentially legal ramifications of holding oneself out as a “therapist.” That was not the first time I had conversations of that nature, but I am pleased to share that the need for such has been reduced due to the establishment of the BACB, adoption of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board Guidelines for Responsible Conduct, and the newly enacted laws supporting and defining the practice of behavior analysis.
Jerry Shook had a vision, and for the last decade and a half he has worked tirelessly to promote credentialing that was sensitive to the intense demand for services and the establishment of standards of excellence. His journey was systematic and well-planned, but the outcome was nothing short of transformational. Professionals have a minimum set of credentials and experiences to obtain. Consumers have a framework with which to guide decisions about who may better shape their child’s precious future.
I have invited several colleagues to share their views on Jerry’s work. The final essay was authored by Jerry’s wife, BJ Quinn. Although each contributor comes from a different vantage point, the common threads that run through these essays describe an incredible man whose efforts advanced our discipline, benefited countless consumers, and will remain part of the fabric of our discipline for decades to come.
And for that, thank you Jerry!
Jerry Shook and the BACB: An Enduring Legacy
Written by James Carr, PhD, BCBA-D
Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Shook founded the nonprofit Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB) in 1999. The BACB was initially based on the Florida behavior analysis certification system, which Dr. Shook helped develop in the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning in December of 2012, Dr. Shook will transition out of his role as Chief Executive Officer of the BACB after 13 remarkably productive years. As Dr. Shook’s successor, I would like to highlight some of his accomplishments at the BACB and briefly touch on their importance to applied behavior analysis and those who benefit from its services.
From the outset, Dr. Shook’s mission was to develop quality credentials for behavior analysis practitioners in an effort to assist consumers in identifying practitioners with a defined background in behavior analysis. Those who practiced prior to the BACB’s inception likely remember just how nebulous things were — there existed no standard for calling oneself a “behavior analyst.” Dr. Shook’s development of the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) credentials has led to thousands of individuals being trained and credentialed in behavior analysis. Today, there are 9,661 certificants in 42 countries and the trend is increasing. In addition, there has been substantial growth in behavior analysis training programs to meet the growing demand by those seeking certification. There are currently 194 universities that offer BACB approved course sequences in behavior analysis in 22 countries, including recently approved sequences in Saudi Arabia and Russia. Dr. Shook’s efforts have truly had a remarkable impact on the growth of university training in behavior analysis, on the ability of employers to identify and hire quality providers, and on the availability of behavioral services for consumers who desperately need them.
Knowing that a certification program would not be viable if no one was eligible for it, Dr. Shook established a culture of steady, cumulative increases (i.e., shaping) in certification standards at the BACB. Consider the following requirements for the BCBA for applicants who apply under the standard “Coursework” option. Since 1999, Dr. Shook has overseen numerous standards increases in all of the certification requirements such that today’s BCBA requirements are more rigorous. By steadily increasing certification standards, Dr. Shook has enabled the BACB to take root, grow, and flourish. It is not difficult to imagine where this trend will lead.
The growth of the applied behavior analysis profession over the past decade has been accompanied by some growing pains, as well as numerous triumphs, but Dr. Shook’s steady hand and consistent long-term vision have brought us to a place I never imagined possible. It has been a pleasure knowing Dr. Shook for almost two decades, but it has been an absolute honor to work with him on BACB initiatives this past year while I have been “learning the ropes.” Succeeding Dr. Shook in this position that he founded is a daunting and humbling proposition. I can’t imagine how I will even begin to fill his shoes, but I am confident that his well-established vision for the field and the BACB infrastructure he created will be enormously helpful in the stewardship of his life’s work.
A Compassionate Visionary
Written by Suzanne Buchanan, PsyD, BCBA-D, Autism New Jersey
I am humbled by the opportunity to write about a man who has had such a positive impact on the fields of behavior analysis and autism intervention. I first met Jerry about five years ago. It was the night before a New Jersey Association for Behavior Analysis (NJABA) conference at which he was speaking. A few Board members, he and I were chatting over dinner. We discussed the viability of the credential and the response of the autism and behavior analytic communities. Of course, many viewed the credential as a welcome advancement in the field and that was the easy part of the discussion. As the conversation turned to people who were hesitant to value the credential, Jerry articulated the reasons why the credential was needed for consumers and professionals alike. He spoke of consumer education, minimum standards, and a common language to discuss just what a behavior analyst does. As a psychologist, behavior analyst, and long-time advocate for families of individuals with autism, his answers resounded with me. ABA services are too important to too many. I thought we must do more as a field to deliver high-quality intervention, and credentialing was a critical component in the evolution of ABA services.
Since that dinner, I have had the pleasure of speaking with Jerry on many occasions regarding advocacy for the credential in New Jersey and across the country. His advice is always sound and informed from multiple angles. You can always count on him for a reasoned explanation of the BACB’s initiatives and future plans. When NJABA asked the BACB for advice on pursuing licensure a number of years ago, he explained the advantages and risks in doing so. He also offered alternative ways to promote the credential to build a critical mass of consumers, professionals, and state government officials who were familiar with the credential. When NJABA requested an extension of the expedited application process for seasoned doctoral-level behavior analysts, he and the BACB responded in kind. This olive branch went a long way with these clinicians and helped unite New Jersey’s ABA community. Whenever I need advice, he is there.
We can probably all agree on a simple idea: the quality of autism intervention is a direct function of the competence of the person delivering the services. When parents of children and adults with autism ask me to recommend someone to work with their child, I educate them about ABA, the BACB credentials, and the importance of ethical conduct, relationship building, and accountability. Prior to the prominence of the BACB credentials, this was a much more nebulous conversation. Jerry’s efforts have directly resulted in improved consumer education and consumers’ access to many professionals who meet and exceed the BACB’s minimum qualifications.
In summary, one would like to think that others could have easily filled this role, in other words, that the current state of credentialing in our field has not been solely in his hands. While many talented and passionate people are there supporting him, one has to wonder if the BACB and the credentials’ impact on autism intervention would have been so successful had Jerry not taken the lead. What can you say about a man whose name is synonymous with the credentialing of behavior analysts? He is a pioneer, a visionary, and a compassionate advocate for the often vulnerable populations behavior analysts serve. Behavior analysis is evolving into a more mature practice and countless individuals are benefitting because of him. I speak for myself, and I believe many others, when I say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank you, Jerry.”
Tribute from the Autism SIG Leadership
Written by Lori Bechner, MA, BCBA, Bob Ross, EdD, BCBA-D, Ruth Donlin, MS, Mary Jane Weiss, PhD, BCBA-D and David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D
It is an impossible task to accurately describe the impact that Jerry Shook has had on the practice of behavior analysis. The field would literally never have developed from its infancy without his vision, wisdom, courage, and persistence. Like many professionals at the time, Jerry listened and heard the problems associated with non-credentialed professionals. Unlike others, he took risks and devoted his career to fixing the problem. In every stage of the evolution of our field, he has been a beacon of light, a source of reason, and a paragon of professionalism.
At the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG), Jerry has always been a grounding force for us –someone whom we turned to whenever we needed guidance, perspective, or support. Literally, there has been no initiative, project, or undertaking that the SIG engaged in that Jerry did not support, contribute to, and mold. He helped us do everything we have done. He attended EVERY SIG Business meeting, every year. He routinely updated the membership on BACB relevant information and often participated in SIG panels. The original version of the Autism SIG Consumer Guidelines, or its revision, would never have been finished without his vision, insight, support, editing, and encouragement.
Jerry also helped us to be the most professional behavior analysts we could be. As leaders of the SIG, we were sometimes confronted with perplexing and challenging situations. Jerry modeled professionalism, finesse, and a firm commitment to the greater good. We consistently benefitted from his cogent analysis and respectful approach.
And, no matter how often we had asked before, and no matter how unpleasant the task, Jerry always seemed genuinely happy to hear from us and truly delighted to help. He never, ever turned us down when we asked for help. We are not alone in that; he helped us all. We are all forever in his debt.
Thank you, Jerry, for giving us the BACB to protect our field and our consumers, and for modeling for each of us how to be an excellent behavior analyst and a great human being.
Thank you, Gentle Warrior
Written by Catherine Maurice, PhD, Founding Member of ASAT
In the years when I was actively involved in fighting for a science-based approach to autism research and intervention, Jerry Shook was (and continues to be) one of my heroes. I never thought about precisely why, but when David Celiberti asked me to write a few words for this tribute to Jerry, I had to sit down and reflect on why he meant so much to me. I guess it comes down to his quiet courage, clear vision of what was important and needed in the autism community, and gentlemanly way with all. In my own personal experience, which had to do largely with autism and not with the wider applications of behavioral science, I had early on been struck by the chaotic state of “qualifications” for any kind of therapist for autism. Anyone, it seemed, had the right to call themselves a “therapist” or a “specialist” or an “expert” in the education or treatment of vulnerable people who had been diagnosed with autism. Here we had a condition that had until very recently been blamed on insufficient emotional bonding; now it was postulated that there were genetic/neurological/environmental factors involved, and nobody knew precisely what those factors were, nor even what autism was, but hordes of people thought they knew how best to “treat” it. In any case, whatever the cause, parents and caregivers were most concerned with helping their newly diagnosed loved ones learn the basic rudiments of speech, language and communication, the gateway to all learning and self-determination.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was becoming clear that the evidence behind applied behavior analysis strongly indicated that most children and young adults could be helped to achieve varying degrees of communicative competence through early intensive structured intervention based on the principles of ABA. But, as this evidence began to mount, and finally to be recognized by a reluctant “mainstream” of psychiatric and medical professionals, and the need for quality ABA-based programs became more and more urgent, people were coming out of the woodwork asserting that they had the qualifications to deliver such intervention. I will never forget the array of people who astonished me by their claims of “expertise” in this domain – some after only a few workshops in behavioral intervention; some who had read a couple of books or articles on the subject; some because they felt that they alone had the “best” version of correct behavioral intervention for young children with autism; some because they had degrees in fields which they felt were “closely related,” such as social work. Yes, social work. I have nothing against social workers – my mother was a social worker who spent many long hours working with the elderly poor – but it would never have occurred to her to suddenly decide that her degree in social work (or communication, or speech language intervention, or early childhood education) magically qualified her to structure a therapeutic program based on applied behavior analysis.
Where were the behavior analysts? Why had they themselves not specified and clarified who could call themselves a “behavior analyst?” What were the qualifications for that type of title, and what was the process whereby one could achieve that level of professional expertise? To these questions, there was a mishmash of answers, depending on whom one spoke to. Did the qualification come from the universities? From some kind of institute or organization? From some type of overseeing academy or certifying body? From some god or guru? Unclear, uncertain, nobody could agree.
From a consumer standpoint (as a parent of two children diagnosed with autism), I thought there was some urgency to figuring out some answers to these questions. Parents could ill afford to shell out huge amounts of money to well-meaning people who had minimal training or understanding of essential ABA principles and practices. Insurers and educators and “gatekeepers” to services needed some kind of guideline as to who was qualified to deliver critical services to children, adolescents and adults with autism. I was relieved when I learned that Jerry Shook, PhD, highly respected and well liked by so many of his colleagues in a field known for its bickering and constant turf wars, was trying to establish a national certification board. When he called one day, I accepted his invitation to become one of the founding members of the BACB.
In my years of service on that BACB, I never met anyone as kind, as honorable or as courteous as Jerry Shook. I observed him in front of crowds of professionals, who quizzed him and challenged him on every aspect of what he was trying to do. He took every question with the utmost consideration and thoughtful respect. I observed him as he responded to comments, challenges, and critiques of the BACB exam and the process of certification itself, and he never once attacked the questioner, only tried to answer with facts and calm logic and reason. He understood the need for a standardized and nationally normed certification, because he understood the needs of those of us who were looking to behavior analysts for critical help – who were relying on behavior analysts for their theoretical and clinical expertise. I think that his principal goal and vision was to protect the “consumer” – the people who most needed some reliable benchmarks and clear standards as to what constituted professional competence.
Yes, a few lucky parents of children diagnosed with autism might have stumbled upon some hugely talented people who had yet to pass any such test; yes, there may have been generations of professors and PhDs in behavioral psychology who had never sat for any “certification” exam and never would – yet who had contributed mightily to the field of ABA. But identifying such geniuses and assuming that anyone who claimed to have such expertise was automatically to be believed was becoming more and more of a capricious roll of the dice. You could get lucky and hope that they rolled in your favor; or by seeking evidence of some kind of certification, you could increase the odds of finding someone with at least the basic knowledge and understanding needed as you sought every possible means of helping your loved one.
As we puzzled out the nuts and bolts of the mission together and wrestled with many a discussion and challenge, I used to laugh with him. He had a wry and dry sense of humor, beneath that proper suit and tie and that dignified air, and I could always rely on him to lighten the mood of the intense and incessant “autism wars” with some self-deprecating humor. He reminded me of a sweet and shy young man – so innocent and charming and “non worldly” in some ways, so lacking in guile or cynicism or jealousy. I am forever grateful to him, who worked so hard and so humbly for people like me, my family, and my children.
Deflected Glory – Reflected Grace
Written by Judith Favell, PhD, BCBA-D, President, BACB
I write this with the big blue BACB pen Jerry gave me long ago, reflecting on our time as friends and colleagues, and especially during the last years together, serving the BACB’s organization and its mission.
It would be expected and appropriate for me to address Jerry’s contribution to credentialing in applied behavior analysis. Indeed he has been the face and force of the BACB from its inception. It was his vision and conviction that began the entire credentialing effort, and since its beginning he has overseen the development, refinement and promulgation of virtually all aspects of certification as a method of defining and advancing standards in applied behavior analysis. The evidence of this effort can be seen everywhere: 10,000 certificants around the globe and thousands upon thousands of lives made better through their efforts, hundreds of educational programs with increasing breadth and depth of curricula, an examination process that meets the highest standards of accreditation, refined and enforced ethical guidelines and professional standards, enhanced preparation and oversight methods, and legislation and policies supporting the appropriate role and practice of behavior analysis.
While these achievements serve as testimony to Jerry’s prodigious efforts and effectiveness, they do not fully reveal the attributes and characteristics which have made him so singular.
His integrity is revealed in everything that he does. I cannot name a more decent, honest, pure of heart and principled individual than Jerry Shook, period.
Jerry is also selfless beyond measure. He has given of himself tirelessly and unwaveringly, devoting all of his talents, energy and resources to the field and its consumers, never seeking his own acknowledgement or reward. Time and again I have watched him deflect credit, focusing instead on the role and influence of others. It is never about Jerry; it is always about the mission.
Jerry is a gentleman. He reflects all of the grace that the word implies. He is kind to all, gracious in his ways, never abandoning good manners or decent decorum, even when addressing the toughest of challenges or the most difficult of times.
Jerry is a friend to many, and to me. He is generous with his time, concerned with others’ well-being, warm and easy as a companion, and even forgiving of my mistakes. It is said that we can count on one hand our true and enduring friends; he is the little finger on my left hand.
Of Jerry’s many attributes, a strength that has fueled his career and filled his life is BJ, his wife and partner. It is with her substantive and spiritual support that Jerry has been able to devote himself wholly to his mission, a mission she came to share and, through countless sacrifices, helped him achieve. Their relationship and life together have served as an inspiration and source of joy to me and many others.
Jerry has achieved and contributed much, forever changing the way the profession of applied behavior analysis conducts itself and serves its consumers. But perhaps even more than what he has done, is who he is. He set professional standards for the field, and his own behavior set personal standards for us. His integrity, selflessness, his gentle ways are a lesson to us all. His friendship with us and relationship with BJ are a model to admire and emulate. The lessons Jerry teaches us are profound and enduring. His life epitomizes the phrase: deflected glory, reflected grace.
Written by BJ Quinn, RPR, CRR, CBC Wife and Business Partner
When I first met Jerry Shook, he told me of his dream to begin a credentialing board for behavior analysts. Not being in the field, I did not fully understand this dream. But there was something he said that resonated with me: “I want to make sure those who cannot speak for themselves are given a voice through the most qualified help they can get.”
“It is going to be hard,” he said, warning me that, “This is not about money, and it will be a long dry period, needing our personal funds.”
As the years clicked by, I fell in love with this very strong, yet quiet man. We married, and his dream endured and grew. He left his job with the Florida state government, and in 1998 he set up shop, sharing office space and staff with my court reporting agency.
Those were lean years. To get the Board off the ground, we took out a second mortgage on the house. I can remember the three of us — Jerry, our office manager, Meredith Schafer, and myself — applauding each time a new certificant’s paperwork came in to the office-“Whoo-hoo, Certificant Number 250!!!” We celebrated every single certificant. A database was created, exams were developed and peer reviewed, and testing professionals were hired.
For decades, Jerry traveled tirelessly to states, other countries, and universities, educating governments and teaching institutions on the BACB requirements, and certification in general. He never complained about the rigors of the road; he simply knew what he had to do, and never gave up. The long hours and unpaid years of work it took to bring the BACB to the place it is now, made all of his efforts worth the journey.
When my husband’s dream became my dream, we became a team: a force, whose goal was single-minded.
Credentialing has given validity, education, and training to over 10,000 certificants. And through them, the dream has been realized: A voice- a source of advocacy- has been given to those who could not speak for themselves.
I have great pride in this man’s vision. I have stood in awe of the quiet tenacity my husband possessed to bring the BACB to where it is today: over 10,000 certificants, in all 50 states; approximately 200 university programs teaching the BACB course content; 200 U.S. testing sites, and 150 non-U.S. testing sites; nearly 50 different countries boasting of Board Certified Behavior Analysts. The test has even been translated into Chinese and Spanish.
The Board has also received the prestigious accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence.
The journey has been long, spanning decades; and the work, at times, has been very arduous. But there are no regrets. It has been my great privilege and honor to be Jerry Shook’s partner and wife, and witness the fruition of his incredible dream.
Citation for this article:
Celiberti, D., Carr, J., Buchanan, S., Bechner, L., Ross, B., Weiss, M., … Pritchard, J. (2011). Thank you: A series of tributes to Dr. Jerry Shook. Science in Autism Treatment, 8(4), 1-7.