Dordt University launches the Thrive Center for Applied Behavior Analysis

New center to offer behavior therapy for the local community

Thrive Center logo

Dordt University has launched the Thrive Center for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which will serve the Northwest Iowa region in the areas of behavior therapy and skills acquisition for children and adults. The Thrive Center for ABA will utilize Applied Behavior Analysis, a research-based intervention strategy shown to positively impact programming in school, homes, and the community for those with autism. The center will offer services for children ages two through six, with plans to expand and serve older children and adults in the future.

“As Christians, we believe that every child is valuable and worth the investment of time and resources needed to help that child thrive,” says Dr. Kathleen VanTol, faculty director. “Applied behavior analysis is a tool that has been used successfully to help many acquire new skills. At the Thrive Center, we will use the tools and understandings of this science to help a child continue to grow and develop skills that will enable him to reach his full potential to the glory of God.”

This new teaching center for Dordt University will take a holistic approach in collaborating with schools, families, and agencies to achieve the best outcomes for each client. The center will be led by Clinical Director Sarah Hawley and VanTol.

“Sarah and I had been meeting and dreaming about how we could make ABA more accessible to families in our area,” says VanTol. “We also wanted Dordt students to be able to have hands-on experience seeing this therapy implemented well. We felt this type of center would be a good fit for Dordt’s mission to equip students for Christ-centered renewal in all areas of life.”

Both Hawley and VanTol are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). There are approximately 36,000 BCBAs in the United States, according to the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). The IBCCES shares that “there is a lack of people who are qualified to treat autism across the world.” The organization estimates that 1 in 54 children in the U.S. have autism, and BCBAs provide one of the possible treatments.

“If parents are concerned about their child’s skill development, we recommend they speak with their child’s physician or teacher about next steps,” says VanTol. “We are here to provide services to those who would benefit.”

Treatment can vary, depending on the child’s needs. Skills such as communication, social skills, daily living related activities, learning strategies, and skills that can help a child thrive in their community are all areas that will be addressed by the center. Parents help develop goals and learn how to implement these strategies outside of the center.

“For example, we work with children and families on a variety of skills: anything from learning how to communicate through simple requests to learning skills to make outings more enjoyable for the whole family,” says Hawley.

The center will provide both comprehensive and focused ABA treatment, as well as social skills groups, and consultations and supportive services.

The Thrive Center for ABA pairs well with Dordt’s undergraduate and Master of Education programs. Undergraduate education students have the option to either major or minor in special education and the Master of Education offers an emphasis in special education. Both programs can lead to an Iowa special education endorsement.

To inquire further about utilizing the Thrive Center for ABA services contact thrivecenter@dordt.edu or call 712-722-6951. Visit dordt.edu/thrive-center for more information.

To learn more about the correlation between faith and behavior analysis, read Dr. VanTol’s article, “Can a Christian be a Good Behavior Analyst? Yes, Indeed!

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, Dordt University equips students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community to work toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. Dordt, located in Sioux Center, Iowa, is a comprehensive university named to the best college lists by The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Washington Monthly, and Princeton Review.