Applied behavior analysis is a discipline with tenets that can be applied to a variety of areas, including organizational behavior and instructional design. However, applied behavior analysis, or ABA as it is sometimes termed, is best known as an intervention for youngsters with autism and related disorders.
Since autism is believed to affect well over one percent of the population -- and since this is a population that benefits from intensive early intervention -- ABA is on the rise. There are now a number of states that license the profession. The regulatory scene is different than it was even a few years back.
Applied behavior therapists look at client's behavior in its environmental context, collecting information from sources such as client files, caretaker interviews, and direct observations and assessments. They are educators, and as such, carry out task analysis. Among the principles of ABA: shaping small units of behavior that will later build to significant functional change.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board lists five potential treatment settings: home, residential care, inpatient/ hospital, outpatient/ clinic, and school/ community. An ultimate goal is transfer of skills across settings.
ABA can be prescribed. Services may be covered by insurance carriers. There are many out there who can use services of qualified applied behavior analysts. Not all have equal access to resources. Still, legislation has brought services within reach for many of the poorest. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that many states mandate that children in their Medicaid systems receive coverage for autism (http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/autism-and-insurance-coverage-state-laws.aspx). The particulars vary by state. A number provide more money for services for younger children.
ABA is typically delivered through tiered-service models. The applied behavior analyst has education at the master's level and bears the responsibility of creating appropriate treatment plans. Duties typically include case management, clinical direction, and supervision of technicians. Much of the service plan may be carried out by non-degreed technicians. Some systems also use bachelor's level applied behavior analyst assistants as a middle tier.
Payscale has reported a median salary of about $55,000 for board-certified behavior analysts.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board is considered the standard setter. The BACB mandates that certified behavior analysts hold master's degrees. In order to be accepted, the degree must be in applied behavior analysis, education, or psychology or must include a particular set of courses referred to as the Approved Course Sequence (ACS).
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Moreover, candidates must have 270 hours of core curriculum. Generally, this translates into six university courses. The BACB may consider coursework that was not taken as part of a pre-approved sequence. Professionals who already have qualifying master’s degrees sometimes elect to take their coursework as part of a post-master certificate program. A doctoral degree is another option.
Students who opt for graduate programs in applied behavior analysis have several degree options. A Master of Education may have a unique bent due to its location within a college of education. A prospective student will, however, need to peruse materials at the program level to know whether they include a significant amount of special education coursework.
The BACB can accept either an approved university-supervised practicum or 1,500 hours of supervised work experience. The number of total practicum hours required depends on the intensity of supervision. It may be as few as 750.
Certification forms the basis for licensure in most states that license. However, the ultimate authority rests with the state, and prospective applied behavior analysts will do well to look ahead. Arizona, for example, requires 1,500 experience hours, whether completed as practicum or through employment.
The Association of Professional Behavior Analysts can provide many career resources (http://www.apbahome.net/). Prospective practitioners may want to look up their state chapter.