We had the good fortune of connecting with Cathie Christmas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cathie, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
The single most important decision I made that contributed to our success in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Therapy was to create a culture amongst our team that values treating everyone with respect, dignity, and empathy. Our young clients, their parents and our employees all deserve this consideration. Growing up with a younger sibling with significant needs has taught me to take others’ perspectives and abilities into account. My sister continues to show me that we need to focus on the good things in life and overcome our differences and difficulties. This has driven me my whole life. I watched my mother fight for services for my sister and advocate for her education relentlessly. Through this experience, I learned that parents and families often have to fight much harder to support their children than most people realize. When I opened my own business focused on developmental and ABA therapy for children with special needs, I focused on being a family-friendly and supportive environment where we support the parents and assist them in advocating for their children. The best way we support our clients is by supporting and respecting our staff. I understand that to make the most impact for my clients, our staff have to be confident in their positions with us and committed to the field and overarching goal. We understand that life has unexpected curves and often requires flexibility. We try to work with our staff and treat them with kindness and understanding. We felt their love come full circle at the beginning of the Covid-19 Quarantine period when our staff stuck by our side and supported us through a very stressful time. Above all, we respect our clients. Our clients are some of the greatest individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I learn something new every day from my clients and look forward to each new day. I want my clients to let their personalities shine and celebrate with them and their families with every victory no matter how small or how big. By bringing every decision back to respect and empathy, we allow ourselves to be humble, human and kind.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
When people ask me how long I’ve been working in the field of behavior therapy, I often tell them that I’ve been doing this my whole life, in a sense, but I didn’t know that there was a specific scientific field dedicated to it until 2005. “Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientific discipline concerned with applying techniques based upon the principles of learning to change behavior of social significance” (Baer, 1968 and… Wikipedia). Growing up in Great Falls, Montana, I was the fourth child in a family of five kids. My little sister, Teresa, was born with a chromosomal abnormality that presents with developmental and cognitive functioning similar to a combination of Down’s Syndrome and autism. Being the closest in age to Teresa, I was almost always in the same school as her. So naturally, it became my responsibility to help her stay safe, healthy, and on track through her daily routine. I learned along the way that helping someone learn a healthy behavior takes a combination of being patient as well as stubborn; I am proud to be both! Teresa has always been a great trainer for me! It has not been a smooth road but at least the stress is mine, and if it is bothering me I can take care of it since I have ultimate control of the options. The biggest struggles have been balancing being a clinician and business owner while raising two young energetic boys, aged four and two. Growing up with my sister Teresa gave me a different perspective on life. Without Teresa, I may not have developed my strong sense of personal responsibility, my work ethic, and my passion for helping people with special needs. My mother taught me to be resourceful and persistent, and she gave me my sense of humor. In my Longmont office, I tacked a small poster to the wall that reads, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” This sounds like something my mom would have told me. I miss her dearly!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My favorite spots in the city would be with nature. I love seeing the Rocky Mountains. Having grown up in Montana the mountains of Colorado remind me of home. My guilty pleasure of a fun place to visit is Ikea, but that’s just because I love to organize and reorganize. With our two small children wanting to get out of the house on weekends, we spend a lot of time at the Denver Zoo and the public parks around the Boulder Valley.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My shoutout would go to my husband and my first clinical supervisor. My husband, Walter Christmas, has believed in me every step of the way more than I will ever believe in myself. He now works full time for our business (with no background in the field) supporting us in any way that he can. I could not do this without his unwavering support. Lisa Miller, my first Clinical Supervisor, is my rock. She came to me at a time that I didn’t even know how much I needed her help. With her assistance and support we have been able to grow the business, strengthen the quality of care, and support the community in a more meaningful way.