Becoming an Applied Behavior Analyst: What they do and the Education and Certification you need to get there
If you become an applied behavior analysist, you will use behavioral science to help individuals meet their needs within their social and physical environments. You will be part of a discipline that draws from both education and psychology.
Your client could be just about anyone who needs to function more optimally in their environment – or has an interest in seeing others do so. Sometimes ABA principles are even applied on an organizational level. It’s ABA’s efficacy with autistic children, though, that has put it on the map. Other populations, according to the Florida Association of Behavior Analysists, include the developmentally disabled, brain injured, and elderly.
Your work will involve task analysis: breaking big goals into their constituent parts, setting goals that are bite-size and measurable. You may select from different ABA approaches and derivatives; some practitioners favor naturalistic approaches such as pivotal response (http://autismbayarea.org/naturalistic-teaching-strategies-and-applied-behavior-analysis/). Self-employment is not uncommon.
In some cases, applied behavior analysis is covered by insurance carriers. Some low-income children with autism receive ABA therapy as a Medicaid benefit. ABA has a track record as autism therapy, and one effect – from the standpoint of a practitioner – is more potential job positions.
Like physical therapy and occupational therapy, ABA is often administered through tiered service delivery plans. Clients receiving applied behavioral analysis have high needs, and a lot of one-on-one can be authorized. However, it’s often not the board-certified behavior analyst who is sitting at the table with the child, gradually providing skills and reinforcing target behaviors. The behavior analyst is the one who sees the big picture: aggregating and analyzing data, setting and modifying treatment protocols, supervising technicians, educating caregivers, and planning for eventual discharge.
Typical roles include consultant and case manager. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has recommended a caseload of six to fifteen; one variable that determines caseload manageability is the comprehensiveness of the services that clients receive. Sometimes services are delivered through a three-tier delivery model. In this instance, the caseload may be larger.
Meeting Educational Standards
If you want to become an applied behavior analyst, plan on earning a degree at the master’s level. You will want to select a program with your end goal in mind. Your career path will likely require you to earn certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. It may also involve state licensure.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board requires specific course content and a practicum or supervised work experience. Advance planning can mean meeting both requirements by the time of graduation. If you complete a master’s programs that includes the Approved Course Sequence (ACS) and a BACB-approved practicum or intensive practicum, you can expect a direct path to post-graduation certification.
Even online programs sometimes include an approved practicum experience. As a practicum student, you will spend 10 to 30 hours a week developing skills under supervision.
Some schools give you a chance to explore different settings and ABA applications. Partnerships might include autism centers and schools, behavioral health centers, and community service agencies.
Master’s programs in applied behavior analysis may award any of several degrees, including Master of Arts, Master of Science, and Master of Education. The distinguishing feature of an M.Ed degree, across disciplines, is often that the program is housed within a college of education. Be aware that individual schools use their own criteria to determine degree requirements and program eligibility. Simmons College notes that prior education is the distinguishing criteria between its MS and M.Ed degree programs.
If you already have a graduate degree in education or psychology, you may opt for a post-degree certificate; many schools also offer this option. If you have the opportunity to work under supervision (as guided by BACB standards) you will not need a university-supervised practicum.
If you pursue certification, you will take a certification examination after you have met prerequisite requirements. You will maintain your credential through continuing education – and through continued adherence to professional standards.