- Community Development
Mustard Seed Hill
**This article was originally published by Smiley Pete Publishing. Community Ventures, in partnership with Traditional Bank and the Small Business Development Center, helped to finance Amanda’s business.**
Improving the quality of life is the founding principle of Amanda Ralston’s company, Verbal Behavior Consulting Inc.
She and her staff offer consultation and therapy services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. VBC’s current clients range from 20 months to 24 years old. Verbal behavior therapy is based on a 1957 book by psychologist B.F. Skinner, and the practice has been updated to recognize eight different ways of using language. Ralston and her staff might incorporate sign language or an electronic tablet “to teach them to communicate what they want and need,” she said.
The impetus for starting her business? “Angry autism moms,” Ralston said, because they are “champions for their children.”
Before founding VBC in 2007, Ralston was an independent contractor. She was often asked to the table by school officials when parents demanded a behavior analyst be brought in.
“I did a good job and I was fair,” she said. “I didn’t tell the district they were doing everything wrong. I got a reputation of being a good provider.”
Her name was passed from district to district.
“I would spend a day in Prestonsburg and a day in Hazard, and then in Ohio and in Indiana,” she said.
She also hosted quarterly workshops for parents and teachers. It was a great way to make her name and reputation known, but Ralston wasn’t all that keen on the travel. When she opened her own business she immediately hired a longtime colleague, Jonathan Keefe, as clinical director. She has made one or two hires every year and had a big growth spurt last year by going in network with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. She now has 30 employees.
As the owner of the business, Ralston wears several titled hats, including president, executive director and chief clinician. Helping young people by providing them with effective behavioral treatments is soul-satisfying work, yet Ralston knows it’s not a stopping point. Her mission extends beyond direct client work to “guide and train the next generation of effective and ethical behavior analysts.”
Ralston has a degree in psychology from Centre College, a master’s in education from Arizona State University and is board-certified in applied behavior analysis. Behavior analysis, or applied behavior analysis, is a fairly new field in health care. Board certification has been available for less than 20 years. In 2001 Ralston was one of the first 500 people in the world to be certified in applied behavior analysis by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, based in Littleton, Colorado. Kentucky formed a state licensing board in 2010 under what was formerly the Office of Occupations and Professions, which was renamed the Kentucky Department of Professional Licensing in December 2016.
Verbal Behavior Consulting employs four board-certified analysts in Lexington and is in the process of training and supervising 20 other candidates for certification. Ralston is proud to be a job creator. And while business is booming with year-over-year growth, VBC can hardly keep pace with the demand for services. The company has a waiting list of almost three dozen people.
“There are not enough providers,” Ralston explained.
She is gearing up for expansion, though. After renting a space off Winchester Road for three years, Ralston recently purchased the building and operates out of 6,000 square feet of the 9,500 available, giving the company physical room to grow. The ability to work out of her own office building had its origins in working out. Attending CrossFit classes a couple of years ago, Ralston got to know Fausto Sarmiento, a management consultant with the Bluegrass Small Business Development Center. He helped her with the process of procuring an SBA 504 loan (through the Small Business Administration) to purchase the building. Sarmiento also nominated Ralston for the Kentucky Small Business Administration’s “small-business person of the year” award in 2015, the same year she won the Lexington Young Professionals Association’s Rising Star Award. Ralston has been nominated for a Kentucky SBA award again this year; winners will be announced in May.
Ralston grew up in Weston, West Virginia, where her father owned a fourth-generation pharmacy that her family started in 1856.
“He didn’t sit me down and teach me about business practices,” Ralston said, “but he was a good inspiration on creating a company where employees and customers were happy.”
Today she is creating longstanding jobs for people here in Lexington.
“I grew up in a town of 3,000 people,” she said. “Lexington felt like a metropolis, and now it feels like a really cool small town.”
To learn more about Verbal Behavior Consulting, visit www.vbcaba.com.