More and more college students and professionals are becoming interested in joining the field of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a practice that seeks to understand the link between learning and behavior. It most commonly focuses on the objective evaluation and measurement of observable behavior. ABA specialists apply their knowledge by conducting behavioral assessments, authoring treatment plans, training others to implement programs, analyzing data, and often working directly with subjects. Behavior analysts are qualified to apply their skills to a variety of clients and needs.
There are several reasons why this field had become so popular. Reasons why behavioral professions are growing in demand vary. One reason is the general population’s increased awareness of mental health and behavioral health topics. Another is that an abundance of sound research has been conducted in the field of ABA and studies are available to all who seek them out. ABA has been proven to work on various groups of individuals and there is evidence to back it up. Lastly, ABA techniques and strategies can be used across different settings, such as the school, at home, out in the community, and within a clinical setting. This helps with generalizing new skills learned and sets the client up for greater success.
Keep reading to learn why it is beneficial to study Applied Behavior Analysis.
1. The number of children and adults living with autism is on the rise
Applied behavior specialists are most commonly employed in the assessment and programmatic treatment of adults and children with autism. According to a recent Scientific American article, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has some form of autism.
That number has doubled in rate since the year 2000.
While there is no set reason for developing autism, and this has been an issue for debate for decades, there are known contributing factors.
According to an article in Autism Speaks, there are at least 5 known factors that increase the risk of developing autism.
- Research indicates that genetics are involved in the vast majority of cases.
- Children born to older parents are at a higher risk of having autism.
- Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected.
- Studies have shown that among identical twins if one child has autism, the other will be affected about 36 to 95 percent of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has autism, then the other is affected about 31 percent of the time.
The article also debunks a myth that has been circulating for many years—that vaccines cause autism.
Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.
Another reason to take into consideration the “rise in autism” is the fact that the rising awareness of the disorder may be contributing to its prevalence. Not only are more young children being assessed for autism, but more people in general, including teachers, school counselors, parents, and clinicians have become more aware of symptoms to look for; therefore, more children are being diagnosed and adding to the increase in numbers.
What does this mean for applied behavior analysts?
Due to the increased number of children and adults being diagnosed with autism, there are more opportunities for behavior specialists to use their skills while helping those in this population.
Once an individual is diagnosed, analysts can begin assessing specific needs and come up with a treatment plan.
The sooner the better!
2. ABA is a growing field
The ABA profession has grown along with the rise in cases of autism, but it is also a field that can expand to how learning and behavior impact all of our daily lives. ABA professionals are not limited to the treatment and assessment of autism. The skill sets learned are in demand across a broad spectrum of job opportunities. There is no limit to how one can apply knowledge of the links between learning and behavior.
Applied behavior analysts work with a variety of different populations. Anyone who needs to modify behaviors and/or learn new skills benefit from ABA strategies.
Those who suffer from substance abuse, eating disorders, aging adults with memory problems, those with developmental disabilities, and people with unhealthy habits are all examples of populations analysts can work with.
ABA professionals can also work with those in an organization. Companies often hire applied behavior analysts along with industrial-organizational psychologists to make big changes in the workplace.
They can help leaders manage employees, change ineffective work ethics and habits, increase productivity, and incentivize employees for positive work, among other things.
While often referred to in the context of treating behavioral disorders or autism, ABA is not limited to those applications. ABA, through its study of psychology, learning, and behavioral influence can lead to a wide range of careers. Those with a degree in ABA could work in corporate education and training, physical therapy, health, addiction treatment, special education, general practice counseling, teaching, environmental science, and even behavioral economics.
Some have the misconception that applied behavior analysts only work in a clinical setting or within a school; however, there is a need for ABA in a range of settings, and becoming an analyst increases the opportunities to be able to work in multiple, engaging environments.
3. Creativity and fun are focal points in ABA
The full array of tools at the disposal of an ABA professional is in and of itself a draw to the profession. Learning happens on so many levels whether through art, imagery, visual or audio stimulation, or even coaching. ABA professionals will never be tied to a particular toolset and can always seek out different ways to most effectively reaching others.
When an analyst is finished assessing a new client, s/he then creates a treatment plan, and within that plan comes a plethora of techniques and strategies to choose from.
For example, a child who is learning a new skill set in the home and at school may be able to engage in naturalistic learning, art therapy, play therapy, role-playing, and use a variety of visuals, technology, and toys, depending on the skill.
When an analyst is teaching a new skill, the learning needs to seem fun and engaging to increase the likelihood that the skill will be learned. This also includes the use of frequent positive reinforcement.
Some ways in which analysts can keep things appealing are:
- Provide choices
- Rotate reinforcers
- Tailor strategies for the learner
- Choose optimal times to work
While the field of ABA is rather scientific and strategic, there is still fun to be had during sessions!
4. The day-to-day functions never get old
ABA specialists work hard from the second they start until they go home in the evening. While some analysts can set their own schedule, many work a typical 9-5 job. But that doesn’t mean things need to get dull or monotonous like some careers tend to do.
When an applied behavior analyst plans their day, they take into account each individual clients’ needs, and those needs will be unique and ABA strategies will be tailored to fit those.
Analysts get to choose from their enormous, proverbial toolbox of techniques and create an engaging and educational experience for their clients.
One day may entail going out into the community to generalize a skill with one client, observing another client in their classroom, and working with another at dinnertime at the client’s household with their family. Locations and tasks change from day to day and week to week, which keeps things interesting and exciting.
5. ABA is a Rewarding Field
However ABA study candidates choose to apply their skills, they are likely directly impacting individuals who are facing challenges. This type of service-oriented position can be advantageous and lead to a good deal of satisfaction. Helping individuals, educators, corporations, or even other professionals learn about the links between learning and behavior is a way to unlock doors.
Even though the work that applied behavior analysts do daily can be extremely tough and sometimes even frustrating, their overall client outcomes are worth it all. Analysts are rewarded by seeing their clients learn, grow, and be successful in life.
And in general, having a career in the “helping sector” yields many intrinsic rewards.
An article describes the top reasons for choosing a job that helps others.
These reasons are:
- To build meaningful relationships
- To lead a healthier lifestyle
- To make the world a better place
- To have career advancement opportunities
Of course, job satisfaction can stem from other reasons as well.
Conclusion to Reasons to Study Applied Behavior Analysis
The demand for qualified professionals in the field of applied behavior analysis is increasing to meet the needs of our society. The rise of autism diagnoses along with more public awareness of mental health and behavior health topics both have consequentially increased the need for more professionals in the field of ABA.
How this degree can be applied to a variety of careers is still being determined—in the future, the need for ABA specialists could potentially expand even more once more advanced research is done on the benefits of ABA. Since ABA professionals learn practical methods and treatment programs to help those with behavioral challenges, and the need is both direct and immediate and definitely rewarding.
If you are considering a degree to become an applied behavior analyst…
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Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated June 2021