While Jeff Steimer, BCBA, was working at The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) he already had a plan.
“I had details written down in a notepad of how I would structure a center similar to NECC if I were to open it on my own,” says Steimer. “Even back then, just a few years into my career, I was already thinking about next steps.”
Now eight years removed from his time at NECC, Steimer is a shining example of what one can do with the expertise gained from working at NECC. Currently residing in Georgia, Steimer is a key player in providing applied behavior analysis (ABA) programming for children with autism in his home state, and a model for those looking to impact the lives of individuals with autism beyond the scope of NECC.
After graduating from Spring Hill College (Mobile, Alabama) in 2007, he sought to find work that would keep him in the psychology field. Being a teacher at NECC provided him with this opportunity with the added bonus of graduate school partnerships. Equipped with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, and newly married in the summer of 2007, Steimer and his wife moved north to begin their careers at NECC.
“It was a bit of a shock when we first moved here to work at the Center,” remembers Steimer. “That first winter I was so unprepared for the cold and snow. I didn’t even have a jacket or winter boots when we got our first snowstorm.”
Despite the initial culture shock, Steimer quickly felt at home with NECC. He found the work rewarding and knew that the experience he was gaining was unique, and more importantly, valuable as he advanced his career. To take advantage of everything NECC had to offer, Steimer’s five-year tenure included stints on multiple different teams in the residential and day programs. In addition, he enrolled in the Western New England University graduate partnership to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA). Throughout his time at NECC, Steimer began dreaming of using ABA principles to help children with autism in his home state. This dream looked as though it was going to become a reality in 2013 when, upon completion of his graduate degree with BCBA certification, he made the decision to return to Georgia. There was, however, one obstacle.
“At the time, there were issues in Georgia with insurance covering ABA programs for children with autism. Because of this, opening my own center there wasn’t possible,” says Steimer.
With this unfortunate reality, Steimer’s career took a slight detour. He began working at an adult facility for individuals with autism in Chattanooga, Tennessee shortly after leaving NECC. Following his time in Tennessee, he worked for a homebased program for children with autism in Wilmington, North Carolina on a military base. In early 2020, though, Steimer’s luck changed.
After issues with insurance coverage halted his work in the homebased program in Wilmington, Steimer decided to move back to Georgia, where ABA services were now covered by insurance. Once back in Georgia, he began partnering with Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), and Speech-Language Clinics to provide more comprehensive services to their clients using ABA principles. Ultimately, these partnerships led him to joining Hearts and Hands Therapy Services, a pediatric clinic specializing in outpatient speech-language, OT, PT, and ABA therapy.
As part of the Hearts and Hands team, Steimer has played an instrumental role in expanding their services to include ABA and opening multiple locations of the clinic. Hearts and Hands now has two locations in the greater Atlanta area, the most recent of which opened in July 2020. Under Steimer’s leadership, this new location already serves fifteen clients and allows Steimer to live his dream of helping children with autism in his home state. In addition to using his experience from NECC to work with his clients, Steimer also uses the ACE® ABA software system, developed through research at NECC, with his team of BCBAs. From how he has structured the clinics, to using the ACE, NECC has shaped so much about how Steimer approaches his work for Hearts and Hands, and because of this, he is grateful for his time at the Center.
“NECC taught me so much about helping children with autism and using research-based principles to change their lives.” says Steimer. “The work they do in training and developing autism educators is truly unmatched. Even now I look for NECC alumni to work for Hearts and Hands.”
Beyond providing a powerful example of what a career at NECC can do, Steimer’s belief in the power of the Center’s network of former staff also makes him a valued NECC community member. Steimer is the founder of a NECC alumni Facebook page which helps connect autism educators who began or advanced their career at the Center. This page with nearly 600 members, allows former NECC staff to maintain a strong network as they continue their careers in autism education beyond NECC. For Steimer, this network he has built within the NECC community, is another part of what makes NECC special.
“I still keep in touch with people from NECC and will go to them when I need help with unique situations. Having all of these professionals, with the shared experience of autism research and education is a powerful tool.”
Steimer has credited all of his aspirations for helping children with autism back to NECC. His goal for the next year is to fully establish Hearts and Hands’ second location before setting his sights to opening a third. Whether it be through his own work with Hearts and Hands, or in helping connect BCBAs from NECC’s staff alumni network to work together to help children with autism elsewhere, he continues to make a difference.