Characteristics of an ABA Specialist
An applied behavior analyst is a professional who has a license and both training and education in the ABA fields. Applied behavior analysts work with children and adults who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and tailor behavior intervention plans to meet their individual needs. ABA specialists are flexible and can work in different environments, essentially wherever the client needs assistance. This can be in a school setting, on the job, out in the community, at home, or in a clinical setting.
There are a variety of hallmarks that make an effective applied behavior analyst, including being a good communicator and having strong organizational skills. Analysts also have to be trained and educated in very specialized skills and interventions. ABA specialists typically have a graduate degree, though some have doctoral degrees too. Those interested in studying ABA at these upper levels should consider the characteristics of specialists to determine if they are a good fit for the job.
Five characteristics of an analyst that this article will be going into more depth on are:
- Educated and Certified
Anyone who wants to work as an ABA specialist or therapist must be a good communicator. Not only do they need to know how to explain complex topics to their clients, but they’ll also need to work with the families of those clients. Many also use their communication skills as they train assistants and others who will work with their clients. ABA specialists need to know how to address issues through the spoken word and written communications as well.
Applied behavior analysts need to be able to communicate with clients on an intellectual and developmental spectrum. They may have clients ranging in age, independence and verbal levels, and abilities. How an analyst communicates with one client is going to be different in how they communicate with others. All clients will have different needs and levels of comprehension, therefore the specialists need specific communication skills that will fit different scenarios and environments.
Not only do ABA specialists need to have great communication skills themselves, but they also must be proficient in teaching communication skills to others, which is a major part of their job.
Examples of communication interventions that analysts might work on with their clients are:
- Functional communication training
- Augmentative and alternative communication
- Sign language
- Communication boards
Overall, applied behavior analysts need to have amazing communication skills with a wide variety of individuals and to use interventions to teach their clients communication skills for them to be successful.
ABA therapists can work in schools and for school districts, but they can also work in the homes of their clients and in treatment or research centers. They often work with dozens of clients and their families every week. This will require that they have strong organizational skills. They need to know how to organize their time and how to organize the paperwork that they use during client meetings. Those who spend a lot of time on the road as they drive to clients’ homes will take that paperwork with them from a dedicated office. The last thing they want to happen is to mix up important client files, be late for appointments, or not be prepared.
Applied behavior analysts often have a lot of equipment, technology, and materials that they use with their clients. Neatly hauling these things around and maintaining a clean and organized office space is important, especially when working with individuals with autism, who can often be quite particular and need an organized space.
There are ABA specialists’ blogs, YouTube videos, and Pinterest ideas all over the internet on how to stay organized like a professional. Some ideas include how to store materials and label things appropriately, how to properly set up a workspace, as well as technology that can be used to stay organized.
Four main reasons for analysts to utilize technology to stay organized are:
- To schedule appointments and engage with clients
Examples of software include:
- Kareo Clinical
2. To track data
Examples of software/apps include:
- ABC Data Pro
- Behavior Tracker Pro
- Autism Track
3. To organize client information and reports
Examples of software/apps include:
- Total ABA
4. To positively reinforce clients
Examples of software/apps include
- Class Dojo
- Choice Board Creator
Although it is beneficial for ABA specialists to be natural organizers, there are loads of tools, equipment, and resources available to them to be even more organized.
Proficiency in the job is an obvious must. ABA specialists work with vulnerable populations that need individualized help and being any less than proficient would be a disservice to their clients.
Applied behavior analysts have various job requirements that are equally important and that take education and specified training to become certified and proficient.
Some of these important tasks include:
- Study patient behavior and apply ABA principles
- Respond appropriately to different situations common among Autism patients and others with behavioral and developmental challenges
- Utilize key communication skills to provide effective feedback to patients
- Effectively communicate positive feedback to patients
- Be able to recognize and respond to critical improvements in patient behaviors
- Become familiar with and use behavioral redirection techniques
- Know how to respond to negative behaviors appropriately
- Provide written documentation on each patient
And these are only part of an ABA specialist’s job. They need to be able to multi-task, be flexible, work under high pressure and stress, handle clients who may become aggressive or disruptive, follow ethics, laws, and regulations, provide a safe environment for everyone involved in therapy, and stay up-to-date on ABA research and topics. It is an all-encompassing career that is not for someone who cannot meet these requirements.
While many ABA specialists work with those diagnosed with autism and those on the autism spectrum, they can also work with others who suffer from related conditions, including attachment disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Those working in this field must know how to solve problems and how to approach problems from different angles. They are the ones who evaluate an individual’s behavior and decide which treatment methods and programs will best address the issues they see.
No individual is the same. Each client or patient comes from a unique environment and has had different life experiences. From birth to the time they begin treatment with an ABA specialist, various factors have come into play to make that person who they are now.
With that being said, clients’ problems and needs are going to need to be looked at in an individualized way and not generally lumping all of them together. Even two clients from the same family present differently and need unique interventions to assist with their behavior management.
Applied behavior analysts must be effective problem solvers. In a way, they are similar to doctors: they take data, assess what is going on, apply an intervention, continue to take data, tweak interventions if necessary, and watch their hard work pay off.
5. Educated and Certified
Lastly, an important hallmark of being an ABA therapist is that they all must obtain their board certification.
The following information comes from Applied Behavior Analysis Edu and will explain the different options in getting certified as an applied behavior analysis:
Generally, some combination of a degree and a specified number of classroom hours in specific behavior analysis studies would qualify a candidate for licensing. Many states, particularly those that have adopted the BACB Model Act closely, require a BCBA® certification.
The BCBA® recognizes three options for candidates applying for the certificate:
- An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university, including coursework in behavior analysis
- A defined period of supervised practical experience
- Passing the BCBA® exam
- An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university
- A full-time faculty position teaching behavior analysis
- Passing the BCBA® exam
- An acceptable doctoral degree conferred at least ten years prior to applying for a license
- Ten years of practical experience
- Passing the BCBA® exam
In nearly every state, even those that do not require the BCBA®, a master’s degree is the standard minimum qualification required to become a licensed applied behavior analyst. A doctoral degree or educational specialist degree will also serve.
Individuals can apply to take the certification exam if they have an advanced degree and some supervised clinical/professional experience. The exam is also open to those who have a doctoral degree or an advanced degree and some teaching experience. Those who take the exam and get their certification can work with clients of different ages and in different settings.
Conclusion to 5 Hallmarks of an Effective Applied Behavior Analyst
Applied behavior analysis is an up-and-coming field that is gaining in research, popularity, and need. This type of therapy and support works on those suffering from a variety of conditions and disorders. Not just anyone is qualified or should work with people in this capacity. Those who show proficiency and experience, as well as the rest of the hallmarks of ABA listed in this article, will make an effective applied behavior analyst.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated May 2021