Since ABA therapists work with a vulnerable population, it is important that they meet several criteria. Educational requirements, certification, and state licenses are all ways you can certify that you have found a good ABA therapist.
You can get recommendations from your child’s pediatrician and other specialists on their treatment team, government websites, or lists provided by autism support nonprofits. Once you find an ABA practitioner you are interested in, ask them about their qualifications and practice. Ensure you feel like it’s a good fit before you sign up.
The Leading Treatment for Children With Autism
There is no cure for autism, as it is a developmental condition, but there are many treatment options like behavior therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and nutritional and dietary support that can greatly improve the lives of children and adults who are on the autism spectrum.
One of the leading treatments is applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. Founded in the 1950s, this therapy uses measurements and objective analysis to understand how much an individual with autism is improving. Because ABA therapy relies on objective measurements of success, medical studies and ongoing evaluation have led to refined techniques, focused on positive behavioral changes.
Certification Requirements for ABA Therapists
ABA therapy aims to improve specific skills that people with autism struggle with, such as motor skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, social skills, and cognition, especially learning and academic skills. Therapists who practice this treatment approach tailor each plan to their client’s individual needs.
ABA therapists often work directly with children or adults in private practice. Some practice as part of a larger organization, such as in schools, workplaces, and clinics. All ABA professionals must be certified by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB). There are currently four types of ABA providers:
- Registered behavior technicians (RBTs): This type of ABA provider typically works directly with a client with autism, implementing the steps of the treatment plan that is designed and overseen by a BCBA. This is considered an entry-level position, and it was created by the BACB in response to a lack of BCBAs who could work directly with every client who needed treatment. RBTs are on the front lines, doing much of the direct data gathering on each client’s treatment.
- Board certified assistant behavior analysts (BCaBAs): This is a position much like a BCBA, but it only requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field rather than a graduate degree. BCaBAs must have a certain amount of education and experience before they can apply for certification to work with BCBAs in a clinical setting. BCaBAs can supervise RBTs, but they must do so under the guidance of a BCBA.
- Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs): This is the position many people think of when they think about an ABA therapist. BCBAs run teams of RBTs and BCaBAs, who implement treatment plans and gather data. The BCBA will then examine this data to understand how well each client responds to their treatment. BCBAs must have at least a master’s degree, receive a specific amount of ABA training and supervised experience, and then pass the certification exam.
- Board certified behavior analysts, doctoral (BCBA-D): This professional is like a BCBA, but they hold a doctoral degree in a related field. Many people who become BCBAs pursue further work for a doctorate degree, which can then qualify them to receive the -D extension. There is little difference in the actual clinical or research work that BCBA-Ds perform compared to BCBAs.
When you search for an ABA therapist, start by looking for these credentials. If the person you want to work with does not list their certification on their website or their business information, ask about it. They should be able to tell you what level of certification they have and who their supervisors are. You can also use the BACB website to search their directory of professionals.
Ask about state-level certification too, as these requirements vary between states. Every state requires that medical providers like therapists have a license to practice, which means they need to pass certain health and safety requirements based on what the state government deems important.
Places to Search for ABA Therapist Recommendations
There may be clinics advertising that they provide behavior therapy or ABA therapy. Make sure to check their credentials. If they are not certified by the BACB, they cannot practice ABA therapy.
To find legitimate ABA therapists, you can ask your child’s pediatrician, school administrators, or a specialist in developmental disorders. You can also use the following resources to find ABA therapists:
- Autism Treatment Network from Autism Speaks
- Autism Support through the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Getting Set Up With the Right ABA Therapist for You
Once you’ve connected with an ABA therapist near you, ask questions about their background, experience, and credentials. While most ABA therapists work with autistic clients, ensure they have plenty of experience with clients in your child’s age demographic. Discuss the specific needs of your child and confirm they have positive experience working in this area.
Ask about their team and treatment process, including who implements the therapy plan. Generally, BCBAs create the overall plan, and it’s implemented by RBTs. Some BCBAs deliver the therapy themselves. Make sure to meet every professional who will be interacting with you and your child to ensure you feel comfortable with every member of the team.
Setting the Therapy Schedule
When you find an ABA therapist you want to work with, you will likely receive an intake packet. This will have information about the practice, and they’ll require you to complete personal information and a medical history for your child. This helps the therapist or clinic understand basic needs, developmental stages, and your prior history interacting with other medical or educational interventions. There may also be information on the child’s personal preferences, which helps the therapist find activities and rewards that may help start the process.
As the therapist, generally the BCBA or BCBA-D, crafts the treatment plan for your child, you’ll be a vital part of this process. The information you provide will help to shape the initial plan, and your continued feedback will be influential in the overall course of treatment.
You will work with the therapist to come up with a schedule that meets your child’s therapeutic needs, fits your availability, and works around your family’s other needs. While the regular therapy sessions will generally be given by an RBT, you’ll remain in contact with the BCBA throughout the therapeutic schedule.
When you find a reputable ABA therapist near you, you’ve found a member of your child’s treatment team that will be a fundamental part of your child’s success. With consistent ABA therapy, children with autism can see significant gains, helping them to live fuller, more independent lives.
- Applied Behavior Analysis. Psychology Today.
- Homepage. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Registered Behavior Technician. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Doctoral. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- ABA Intake Packet. University of Washington Autism Center.