When Richard Asztalos graduated from Boston University with a liberal arts degree in 1975, he had his sights set on applying to law school. In need of a job in the interim, he responded to an ad in the Boston Globe and landed a gig as a special education teacher. It didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the human services field. It’s been nearly five decades since then, and he hasn’t looked back.
Richard enrolled in an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) master’s program after teaching for two years. Upon graduation, he worked in a group home for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and saw the transformational power of ABA. There, he received a phone call from Bill Power, former President and CEO of The Guild, in 1981.
“Bill tasked me with standardizing clinical methodology across The Guild’s teams,” said Richard. “We focused on the science of ABA, which stresses that behavior is determined by the environment, to promote positive behaviors.”
Since starting at The Guild, Richard has worked as a behavior clinician advising staff in ABA best practices in full and part-time capacities. He says that his passion for working with clients and belief in The Guild’s person-centered approach keeps him motivated in his role.
“What gives me the most satisfaction is when a student graduates and they recognize the amazing progress they’ve made socially, academically, behaviorally, and in their living skills,” said Richard. “We don’t have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach at The Guild. We do whatever we can to support each person, and most importantly, we never give up on them.”
Human services employees like Richard who have been in the field since the 70s know that this compassionate, individualized approach to caring for people with disabilities wasn’t always the standard. When he first started, Richard worked in an institution and witnessed first-hand how harmful it is to keep people with disabilities secluded away from the community.
“We had 24 kids living in 3 rooms,” said Richard. “I saw what happens when you don’t give people the right type of living accommodations. Deinstitutionalization opened the door to places like The Guild that provide a safe, supportive home for people with intellectual disabilities.”
Richard’s impact as a clinician has been felt far beyond The Guild’s community. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Special Education Teacher, and Licensed Independent Social Worker, he has taught and supervised graduate students at Bay Path University and LaSalle University. He also worked in the special education department of Boston Public Schools for over three decades.
While he’s seen incredible progress within the I/DD services field, Richard acknowledges that there is still work to be done. He says he’d like to see increased advocacy and support for adults with I/DD who are over the age of 22.
“Right now, once folks turn 22, everything kind of falls off the cliff for people with I/DD,” he said. “As a field, we need to be able to provide and ensure a continuation of services.”
For now, Richard reflects on his career and says he feels grateful that, even after forty years, he still looks forward to coming to work.
“I have the same passion for my job and field as I did back in ’75,” he said. “I never thought about leaving. I believe that what we do at The Guild changes lives.”