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    So You Want to be a BCBA?

    Topics: Autism Treatment Options, Adult (22+)

    Maybe you’ve been working with a child or adult who has autism and you’ve decided to make a career out of it. There are plenty of related jobs in fields like education and speech, but one of the most sought after positions for supporting people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is that of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

    What is a BCBA?

    A Board Certified Behavior Analyst is a professional who evaluates, monitors and works to improve maladaptive behavior in individuals with ASD. While working to reduce challenging behaviors, BCBAs also help their clients to develop functional, communication and life skills. The professional may work with a student on things like sitting “ready,” requesting an item, using the bathroom, using a communication device, handwashing routines, or even basic reading and math skills. They analyze data frequently to monitor student needs and adapt behavioral goals.

    BCBA working with child with autism on planning their dayOne modern advantage of being a BCBA is the opportunity to use virtual mental health supports via teletherapy for the mutual good of all. Whether in-person or more remote applications, the BCBA typically works with registered behavior technicians (RBTs) for help with the implementation process. A RBT is like a staff member who can provide “boots on the ground,” following the plans as developed by the BCBA and help to collect data. 

    Technology such as phone, videoconferencing, email, instant messengers and other apps can deliver higher quality interventions to people with ASD regardless of their location, while BCBAs can also build a larger client base through using teletherapy.

    What will day-to-day work look like as a BCBA?

    There are many components to working in this rewarding career; here are some of the things to expect:

    • Supervision: A BCBA is in charge of providing on-site supervision for program implementers such as RBTs and parents. They help make sure implementation is consistent across all clients, answer on-the-spot questions, model, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
    • Data: A critical component in the decision-making process is analyzing, collecting, reviewing, and drawing conclusions from data. The professional looks for patterns and makes adjustments to programming to help students make progress.
    • Training: Supervision and data analysis can make clear where and when follow-up training is needed. This can entail on-the-spot training, the creation of formalized training materials or presentations, program writing, and treatment-plan revisions.
    • Compliance: BCBAs are on contract with different companies and providers and must ensure professional standards, policies and procedures are being followed. The BCBA is also responsible for maintaining student confidentiality and funding source requirements.

    BCBA working with child with autism and his familyAfter so much focus on the overview and detailed background, you may be left wondering, “When do they get to work one-on-one with the kids?” Time is a tremendous challenge, especially when traveling from site to site, navigating routes and schedules. That’s why, particularly over the past year, teletherapy has become a vital and realistic option for BCBAs looking to manage their time better and meet the needs of more students. BCBAs also work with children in person, and many balance there time between remote learning and therapy and in person.

    What are typical salaries?

    The salary for a BCBA will vary depending on experience level, but the average U.S. salary is about $60,000 per year. Of course, depending on your job and specific responsibilities, there is potential to earn much more. One particularly lucrative option for a higher salary would be through teletherapy in a private practice or through a clinic. In this way, BCBAs could meet the country’s high demand for autism services across densely populated regions even if they do not live in a metropolitan area. BCBAs working in private practice have the potential to earn more than $100,000 annually.

    What kind of jobs are available?

    BCBAs are often independent contractors, so companies or organizations contract with them to develop and implement therapy supports. Some of the most common work settings include:

    • Public and private schools
    • Mental health clinics
    • Hospitals
    • Autism-related nonprofit organizations
    • Insurance agencies
    • Local and state entities

    While BCBAs may contract through any of these organizations, the work usually involves some travel to implement interventions within the community, in client’s homes and in schools. The use of teletherapy could help to minimize some of that travel.  

    What’s the future look like for BCBAs?

    The rising demand for behavior analysts is likely tied to the steady increase of autism diagnoses and insurance plans covering applied behavior analysis (ABA) services. According to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, the nationwide demand for BCBAs has grown 800% since 2010. While that eight-fold increase has moderated, growth will likely extend into the future as the use of ABA therapy is recognized as an effective intervention for more people than only those with autism. From 2018 to 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 22% job growth for Board Certified Behavior Analysts.

    BCBA working with child with autism on communication skills

    What kind of education do BCBAs need?

    In addition to completing a postgraduate degree in education, psychology or behavior analysis, this field also requires completion of a Behavior Analyst Certified Board (BACB)-Verified Course Sequence (VCS) in order to qualify to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) exam.

    If you’re just starting your educational career or are looking for the next steps, many of these colleges have a blend of online and in-person programs in ABA. Check out some of the top rated ABA programs across the United States:

    If you’re reading this and already have a graduate degree in one of those areas, then you just need to complete the BACB-VCS to join the pathway to becoming a BCBA. There are many options for purely online programs if you need some flexibility; here are some more schools to consider:

    So after getting the run-down on what a BCBA does and how to obtain licensure, do you still want to be a behavior analyst? What about the job interests and excites you the most? Let us know if you have questions.

    References:

    https://www.joinsprouttherapy.com/studio/behavior-analysts/bcba-salaries

    https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/62-best-schools-with-100-online-aba-masters-and-certificate-programs/ 

    https://www.iloveaba.com/2018/06/a-day-in-life.html

    Frankie Kietzman, Ed.S.

    Written by Frankie Kietzman, Ed.S.

    Frankie Kietzman is a behavior coach for the Olathe School District in Olathe, KS. She has experience teaching as an elementary teacher, self-contained autism teacher for elementary and secondary students, autism specialist and now as a coach for teachers in dealing with challenging behaviors. Frankie’s passion for supporting children and adults with autism originates from growing up with her brother who is deaf and has autism. As one of her brother’s legal guardians, she continues to learn about post-graduate opportunities and outcomes for people with autism. Frankie’s dream is to bridge general and special education to create a more inclusive culture. She has a passion for peer-mediated interventions, social emotional learning, visual supports and community-based instruction. Frankie has a Bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in Elementary Education, a Master’s degree in high and low incidence disabilities from Pittsburg State University and in 2021, completed another Master’s degree in Advanced Leadership in Special Education from Pittsburg State University.