As the prevalence of autism continues to rise, many care professionals are curious about a career working with the autistic population. One common care provider for this group of individuals is an applied behavior analyst, specifically one who has a concentration or specialization in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that focuses on learning and behaviors. Therapists who work with this type of therapy are looking to answer three questions: how behavior works, how behavior is affected by the environment, and how learning takes place. The greater one’s understanding of behavior, the easier it will be to determine how that behavior plays out in real life situations, and subsequently, what modifications and improvements in behavior(s) need to be made. ABA techniques are often used to help people with autism make behavioral changes. Applied behavior analysts can work in a variety of settings, with people of all ages on the autism spectrum. Though ABA techniques have been around for many years, the organization Autism Speaks, a leading and respected voice in the ASD community, reports that ABA has become an important and widely accepted way of helping those with autism especially in the past decade.
Different Types of Settings for Applied Behavior Analysts
Applied behavior analysts are usually involved in a client’s modification or learning of many important life skills. This may include reading, listening, self-care, relating to others, increase in focus and attention, memory skills and holding conversations (and many more). Because these skills and behaviors play out differently in different environments, the therapist and the client will likely work together in a wide variety of settings. This may include homes, parks, malls, schools and therapy offices (and more).
Therapy sessions may take place with just the individuals, it may include family members, or it may occur in groups. These choices are made depending on the client’s specific needs and behaviors/skills that are being worked on. ABA has been shown to effective with very young children, so work in classrooms or early intervention programs is a likely possibility. When applied behavior analysts work with adults or young adults, the emphasis is often on teaching life skills that will help them to be more independent. Some applied behavior analysts may also work in clinics or hospitals. Essentially, any setting where a patient may need help working on behavioral issues or learning new skills is a place where an ABA therapist may find work.
A Variety of Jobs and Roles
A quick look at a job board can give one an idea of the many different types of roles and jobs that could be had with education in applied behavior analysis. Like any career, the full spectrum of opportunities would be dependent on education and certifications. Many professionals have a master’s degree in ABA and possess the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) designation, but note that this is not required in every state to work as an ABA therapist.
The following is a list of some careers specific to ABA and it’s patient population. Note that it is not all-inclusive:
Board Certified Behavior Analyst: These professionals have obtained board certification and a graduate degree. They may also continue on to achieve a post-doctoral certification. They must maintain their certification(s) by completing continuing education workshops and/or courses. BCBAs may treat ASD issues, social, developmental, and behavioral disorders. They are also typically the professionals under which an ABA therapist or an RBT work.
Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist: ABA therapists do similar work to that of a BCBA, but they do work under the BSBA’s supervision. While many possess a master’s degree, some employers are comfortable with a bachelor’s degree.
Registered Behavior Technician (RBT): Typically, these positions are available alongside the work of a BCBA or an ABA therapist. Some employers claim that they will hire candidates for ABA therapy without a bachelor’s degree, but the RBT certification can help one stand out and/or bolster a relatively empty resume. This certification is often pursued by professionals currently achieving their behavioral studies bachelor’s degree, in order to begin working while in school or to better their resume for their career search post-graduation.
Program Coordinator: This career is included in the discussion as it relates specifically to behavioral centers or organizations. These types of facilities will be best served by leadership that understands both the client’s needs and the needs of the medical professionals, so a coordinator with an ABA background would be extremely helpful.
Other Possible Careers in the ASD Care Team: For those with no direct training or education related to ABA or the ASD population, there are still a variety of other jobs that may offer the opportunity to help autistic patients grow and thrive. This includes childcare providers, child welfare workers, speech-language pathologists, clinical psychologists, and occupational therapists. Many of these professionals commonly work in tandem with applied behavior analysts or BCBA’s to help autistic clients achieve their learning goals.
Not everyone who studies ABA specifically concentrates on ASD, but there is no question that it can be an extremely rewarding area of focus. Individuals on the autism spectrum may present with all kinds of learning needs and ABA professionals get to help them improve their behavior and learn new skills that will hopefully improve their quality of life. If working with those with ASD is something that interests you, you might want to learn more about ABA and its increasingly positive results. There are a variety of careers that involve work with this patient population that should give you some extremely rewarding and fulfilling professional years.
ABA Programs Guide Staff
Updated May 2020
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