Registered behavior technicians (RBTs) specialize in helping families with autism. The work they do every day has the potential to change lives for the better.
For many people, an RBT certification represents an entry into the autism treatment world. You don't need an advanced degree to get started, and you don't have to spend years in school. With just a few months of study, you can start work.
To really help families, you'll need to know as much about autism as you can. To improve your career, you'll need to invest in further education.
What Do RBTs Do?
RBTs tackle entry-level work within the field of autism. You will have a meaningful impact on the families you serve, but you will have few independent responsibilities.
As an RBT, you'll work beneath a trained professional, such as a:
- BCaBA (board certified assistant behavior analyst).
- BCBA (board certified behavior analyst).
- BCBA-D (doctoral-level board certified behavior analyst).
These professionals will meet with clients, conduct autism assessments, and create comprehensive treatment programs. They maintain charts to document progress, and they work with insurance companies to bill families properly.
Your role as an RBT is to carry out the treatment program your supervisor designed. You will not deviate from that plan in any way, and you won't be responsible for diagnosing clients or changing the direction of the treatment plan.
As you work, you'll learn more about how trained professionals conduct themselves with their clients. After some time practicing as an RBT, you may decide to advance your career and become certified in a more advanced ABA role. But many people hold lifelong, fulfilling careers as RBTs as well.
Understand RBT Eligibility
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) manages applications and certifications for RBTs. You must work with this group to start your job and help families.
The BACB sets eligibility requirements for RBTs. To apply for certification, you must:
- Demonstrate your age. Applicants must be 18 or older.
- Graduate from high school. You must provide your diploma as proof of your education.
- Have a clean record. A background check is required.
- Complete a training class. You must offer proof that you've sat through 40 hours of training from an approved vendor.
- Pass a test. You must prove initial competency before you can apply.
Completing a 40-hour training may seem like a hurdle, but plenty of vendors want to help you. Finish your training with:
- Autism Partnership Foundation. Complete the course online at your pace. Pay no fee to enroll.
- Autism Speaks. Follow the link to enroll in an online program and learn at your own pace.
Once you've completed the course, you can apply with the BACB for the initial authorization test. Passing that exam doesn't mean you're certified. You have another test to take (and pass) before you're certified as an RBT.
The BACB says most people who enroll in certifications already work in the autism field. They've been employed, and they may have started to work in the office, but their employers have asked them to move through these steps to gain authenticity.
Ongoing RBT Requirements
Once you've passed both tests, you're officially certified as an RBT, but your work isn't quite done. The BACB makes RBTs move through an annual competency assessment to keep your certification.
As part of your assessment, you will:
- Choose an assessor. Someone with a BCaBA certification or higher can help you with this test.
- Complete tasks. Role-playing exercises demonstrate you adhere to best practices.
- Participate in an interview. Your assessor asks questions about your work and autism.
The more you know about autism, the better you will move through your annual recertification process. Spend time outside of sessions reading up on research, watching videos, and expanding your knowledge. You may find that you can answer questions more competently after conducting research.
During your assessment, you must also reaffirm your commitment to the RBT ethics code. Take time to read this at least yearly, so you can ensure you're doing your job in the proper manner.
Autism Resources to Consider
You want to learn all you can about autism, but you're not quite sure where to start. These resources could give you the information you need to help your clients even more effectively.
Your research could also help to quell critics. Some researchers say that RBTs don't know enough about autism to deliver vital services. This just isn’t true of most RBTs. You could be part of a community that converts naysayers into true believers.
Boost your knowledge with these resources:
- Autism Certification Center: Complete your 40-hour coursework with this organization, or sign up for independent classes to improve your education.
- The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder: Download free resources made for people who work with clients on the spectrum. Find out how to plan treatments, and learn how to monitor effectiveness.
- Autism Internet Modules: Use online guides made for teachers and therapists. Each one comes with a case study, glossaries, and more. All modules are available for free. Pay a small fee for proof you've completed the class.
Don't neglect the opportunity to learn something new every day. Scour news sites for research about autism, and ask your coworkers to tell you about writers and bloggers they follow. Read memoirs written by people with autism, and learn about different life experiences of those with the disorder. You could kick off every day with knowledge.
Improve Your Career
Your research will help you deliver better client care, but your career might need a bit of extra help. As an RBT, you are just entering a field filled with many opportunities. It's up to you to make the most of that.
You'll work very closely under the supervision of a professional. That person can teach you a lot about autism and how it works. Your mentor can also help to boost your career advancement opportunities. It pays to have a good working relationship.
Connect with your supervisor and avoid conflict by:
- Defining goals. Determine just what your boss will do with each client. Find out what steps are yours to take. For example, if a family asks you to adjust a therapy technique due to feedback from a child, can you make that call alone? Or does your supervisor require a conversation first?
- Remaining respectful. As your knowledge grows, it might be tempting to push back against your supervisor. Resist the temptation. Respect the person's seniority, and always put professionalism first.
- Communicating frequently. Go above and beyond in explaining your work, your progress, and your plans. If your supervisor is watching over many RBTs, your sharing will make their supervision easier. This open communication is key to a good working relationship, and it contributes to the success of your clients.
If you feel you've mastered the RBT position and you're ready for more responsibilities, consider applying for the BCaBA position. You'll need to finish a bachelor’s degree and complete fieldwork before you begin. That can mean taking time away from work.
Explain your plans to your supervisor and ask for help. You may find that you have an ally who will happily help you deepen your knowledge and expertise.
BCaBAs operate under the supervision of a BCBA, but they can supervise teams of RBTs. This higher level of certification comes with a decent increase in pay.
If you’d like to take your career to an ever further level, you can look into becoming a BCBA. You’ll need a master’s degree to get this certification, but you’ll be able to design treatment plans and supervise BCaBAs and RBTs.
No matter which career path you ultimately choose, a job as an RBT is a good starting point for a career in applied behavior analysis. There is much potential for career advancement and professional fulfillment.
Registered Behavior Technician. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Registered Behavior Technician: 40-Hour Training. Autism Partnership Foundation.
RBT 40-Hour Training Program Requirements. (November 2019). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Training Course. (September 2018). Autism Speaks.
Registered Behavior Technician Handbook. (May 2020). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
RBT Ethics Code. (February 2019). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
RBT Renewal Competency Assessment Packet. (October 2019). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Concerns About the Registered Behavior Technician in Relation to Effective Autism Intervention. (September 2016). Behavior Analysis in Practice.
Behavior Assessment and Planning With Evidence-Based Interventions. Autism Certification Center.
Home. The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Home. Autism Internet Modules.
Improve Your Relationship With Your Boss. (November 2016). Harvard Business Review.
Six Simple Ways to Improve Working With Your Boss. (January 2020). Robert Half.
Bad Relationship With Your Boss? How to Fix It. (May 2019). Society for Human Resources Management.
Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. Behavior Analyst Certification Board.