Parents and guardians often seek help from a BCBA when a child, teen, or adult is engaging in challenging behaviors that are impacting the individual’s ability to function within their community, home, or school. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, the service a BCBA often supervises, is a research-based treatment for symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. A BCBA may also work with children with other disorders who need help with challenging behaviors, social language or social interaction.
What is their training?
BCBA certification is attained in three acceptable ways.
The applicant has a graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) from an accredited university in an acceptable area of study. Approved fields are psychology, education, and behavior analysis. Before 2013, candidates could hold a graduate level degree in any area of study. In addition to a degree, a BCBA applicant must complete an approved coursework sequence that covers all the content outlined in the Fourth Edition Task List. The task list covers basic behavior analytic principles, foundational knowledge, and client-centered skills necessary to work with clients, parents, and other professionals. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) determines the concepts. The applicant must also complete supervised experience hours. The three different ways to meet the supervised experience requirement are as follows: (1) supervised independent fieldwork, (2) a practicum, and (3) an intensive practicum. All experience must be approved by the BACB and must have a qualified supervisor overseeing the applicant’s direct and indirect work with clients. During the supervised experience, the applicant helps conduct assessments related to behavioral intervention and design and also implements and monitors treatment programs under the direction of a supervisor. The applicant must document all hours accumulated and have the supervisor approve all hours completed. Once the applicant has completed all coursework and experience hours, the individual must pass the BCBA exam. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board puts out a different version of the exam every year. Applicants take the test at an official testing center where other standardized tests are administered.
Similar to option 1, the applicant has a graduate degree (master’s or doctoral) from an accredited university in an acceptable area of study. Approved fields are psychology, education, and behavior analysis. Instead of completing a coursework sequence, the applicant must hold a full time teaching position at an accredited university or college for at least three years. During that time, the applicant must teach at least 5 sections of coursework that are exclusively or primarily behavior analytic in nature and publish at least one article about behavior analytic concepts and/or principles. The applicant must also meet the same supervised experience standards outlined in option 1 and pass the BCBA exam.
This option is for doctoral level applicants. The individual must hold a doctorate in an acceptable area of study, such as psychology, behavior analysis, or education. He/she is also required to complete ten years of full-time postdoctoral experience practicing behavior analysis. Five hundred supervised experience hours must be completed after the ten years of postdoctoral work. The supervised experience must meet all of the same standards outlined in option 1. Once these requirements are met, the applicant must pass the BCBA exam.
After passing the exam, a BCBA must maintain the credential by completing 32 continuing education credits (CEUs) every two years. The continuing education workshops, courses, and seminars must be approved by the BACB. The trainings keep the BCBA up to date on the latest research and assessment tools. The BACB requires the behavior analyst to complete at least three CEU hours in the area of ethics and professional behavior. If the BCBA is providing supervision to individuals working to get their BCBA, then he/she must complete three hours of CEUs in the area of supervision.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst – Doctoral (BCBA-D)
A BCBA who holds a doctoral degree may wish to add a doctoral designation to their certification. It is not a separate credential and does not grant any special privileges over a BCBA. A candidate that wishes to become a BCBA-D must first become a BCBA and then meet the additional requirements for the designation. Three possible qualifications allow the candidate to receive the designation, as follows: (1) Hold a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysts International; (2) Hold a doctoral degree from a non-accredited university in which the candidate completed a behavior analytics dissertation and either passed 4 behavior analytic courses, was supervised/advised by a faculty member who held a BCBA, or authored 2 peer reviewed journal articles that were behavior analytic in nature; or (3) The applicant has a doctoral degree from a qualifying university or institution and has accumulated 1,800 hours of experience in applied behavior analysis during a postdoctoral fellowship or postdoctoral employment under the supervision of a qualifying BCBA. The candidate must also author 2 peer-reviewed journal articles on behavior analysis.
All of the information about BCBA and BCBA-D training can be found on the BACB website:
When do you need a BCBA?
Parents and guardians often seek help from a BCBA when a child, teen, or adult is engaging in challenging behaviors that are impacting the individual’s ability to function within their community, home, or school. A BCBA can help in a variety of ways.
BCBA Direct Treatment Model
You may be looking for a BCBA to provide Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for your child, teen, or adult child. The BCBA could be working alone or as part of a company. Therapy may occur in-home or at a center.
Here is what to expect from a BCBA providing direct treatment. The BCBA will initially complete a behavioral assessment in order to identify what problem behaviors are present for reduction, which replacement skills are needed, and what skills the individual already has in their repertoire. The assessment should include a parent interview, a client interview (if the teen or adult is able to participate), an observation of the individual in his/her natural environment (where the behaviors of concern generally occur), and direct testing that may include the completion of an assessment tool. A few examples of assessment tools are the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB MAPP), the Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS), Essential for Living, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), and/or a Functional Analysis (FA).
The initial assessment may take more than one session to complete. Once it is complete, the BCBA will create an individualized treatment plan based on the results of the assessment. The plan should outline what problem behaviors need to be reduced and what skills need to be taught. The behaviors and skills should be clearly defined and measurable. The plan should also include baseline (pretreatment) levels for all behaviors, which strategies will be used to reduce behaviors, and what data collection methods will be used to monitor progress. You should expect your BCBA to review the plan with you and to discuss your consent to begin treatment sessions. The BCBA may also recommend other therapies your child could benefit from at this time. Treatment would occur on a regular schedule and would be provided directly by the BCBA. All BCBAs should take data on behaviors during sessions and create graphs. They should monitor progress on a regular basis and share this information with parents.
Direct Treatment delivered by a therapy team
You may need a BCBA to supervise the ABA therapy being delivered by one or more therapists. This model will look slightly different from the BCBA direct model. Behavior technicians would provide most if not all of the direct treatment; however, a BCBA would oversee the technicians to ensure that all therapists are consistently implementing strategies correctly and that the individual is making progress. An initial assessment and treatment plan as described in the previous example would be completed by the BCBA. Behavior technicians may assist in the assessment process and may help write portions of the treatment plan. Once the treatment plan is completed and parents have given consent to implement the plan, treatment would begin. For in-home programs, the BCBA would come to your home periodically to observe and train the technicians, make needed changes to the current programs, and check-in with parents/caregivers to see how things are going. For center-based programs, the supervision would occur periodically at the center.
BCBAs can also provide training for parents or consult on behavioral concerns occurring in the home, community, or school. Some commonly addressed behaviors are toilet training, sleep issues, difficulty with daily living skills, completing homework, and teaching independent living skills. BCBAs work with parents to identify the problems and to create a plan for how to make changes. The BCBA would not be providing on-going direct treatment with the individual; instead, the parents would implement the recommended strategies. The BCBA would check-in on a less frequent basis. Bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly intervals are standard.
BCBAs are also employed by school districts. They work with the Special Education Departments to help create Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP) for children or teens. The plans outline the problem behavior(s) that need to be reduced and the skills that need to be taught to the individual in order for them to be more successful in school. BIPs are based on assessments completed by the BCBA.
The BCBA working for a school district may attend your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting to help explain the BIP and to answer any questions you might have regarding the plan. The BCBA will train teachers, school staff, and paraprofessionals working with your child or teen on the best ways to help reduce the problem behaviors and to encourage the replacement skills.
Can they diagnose?
BCBAs cannot diagnose unless they are licensed psychologists with training in assessment and diagnosis.
How to find one
The BACB maintains a list of all current BCBAs in good standing across the country and internationally. You can search for a BCBA by name or by area on their website. http://info.bacb.com/
If you are looking for an agency or individual that provides ABA therapy, your insurance company maintains a list of in-network providers in your area. These providers may not have BCBAs. Make sure to visit the provider’s website, or call them for more specific details about their program and who provides therapy. You can also search Google or another reliable search engine for ABA providers in your area. Again, make sure you review the provider’s website to ensure that they have BCBAs on staff.