Note: The guidelines on this page were written by a local parent. For Guidelines developed by the Autism Special Interest Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis see: Parent Guidelines for Identifying, Selecting, and Evaluating Behavior Analysts Providing Treatment for Individuals Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
1. I’ve heard that ABA is the best treatment for kids with autism. How do I get ABA services for my child?
ABA programs have made remarkable differences in many children’s lives. Finding a good Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program can be challenging, however. The listings on this site can be helpful, plus be sure to ask other parents, get recommendations and be sure a program feels like a good match for your child. Your insurance may cover your child’s program if it is supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Also, to make the best, most informed choice for your child as a “consumer” or someone who uses ABA services, it may help to have some guidelines. The questions and answers in the “Consumer Guidelines” that are found here provide tips on what to look for and how to choose an ABA program run by a behavior professional who has the training and experience that will benefit your child.
2. Where do I find a program?
ABA programs can be in the home, in a free-standing clinic, in a hospital clinic, in a university program, at a mental health services center or in a school. Unless you live in a very large city, you will most likely have only a couple of choices available. Some very rural areas may only have the option of creating a program in your home under supervision of a behavior analyst.
3. How do I know whether a program is good and will be good for my child?
You have to make sure that the person in charge of the program has the training, skills, experience and certifications to run a program. In addition, the person needs to have experience treating and creating programs for children like your child.
There are many sub-specialties within the field of ABA. Behavior professionals can specialize in anything from designing safety programs for the workplace to developing treatment programs for children with autism. Just like it can take a different mechanic to work on a Chevy versus a Mercedes, young children (younger than five) who are learning to talk need a different kind of programming than an eight-year-old child who is developing language. You need to make sure that the person running the program has experience in the area that your child needs.
This means you have to have an idea of the main focus of your child’s programming so that you know what kind of professional you are looking for. Is your child actually a young adult with aggression issues? Do you have a three-year-old child who can say an approximate word or two or are they making absolutely no sounds? Does your child need a focus on social understanding in the classroom or need to be toilet trained? Teaching children with autism can be so challenging that a behavior professional who develops wonderful programs for a child with one set of needs may not be as effective working with children with other needs.
4. What basic training, skills, experience and certifications should I expect to see in a behavior professional in charge of an ABA program for children with autism?
A professional who is in charge of an ABA program should be either
a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCABA) under the supervision of a BCBA
a professional with a degree in a closely related field like psychology with considerable experience creating behaviorally based treatment programs for children with autism
If you are considering a professional who does NOT have a BCBA you need to look for proof that he/she:
has a Master’s or PhD in behavior analysis or a closely related field like psychology
is a current “Full” member in the Association for Behavior Analysis and possibly one of its regional chapters (to see a list of regional chapters, go to this link:
has at least ten years starting, designing, overseeing ABA services for individuals with autism.
published research articles in a peer reviewed journal like Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Publishing a book or articles on a website or blog do not count as published, peer reviewed research.
has made presentations about ABA treatment programs for persons with autism at conferences on behavior analysis such as a state or national conference sponsored by the Association of Behavior Analysis. Please note that conference presentations do not substitute for published articles in a peer-reviewed journal.
5. Why can some professionals who don’t have a BCBA or BCaBA run an ABA program for a person with autism?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a relatively new entity. There is a small group of competent and well-trained professionals who completed their training and education long before the BACB program began and are in the later stages of their careers. Some of these have served hundreds of individuals with autism. The Autism SIG recognizes that a professional without a behavior certification from the BACB may have the necessary skills and experience to provide good programming.
6. Why must a BCaBA running a program always be supervised by a BCBA?
The certification board does not consider the requirements for earning a BCaBA to be enough to take responsibility for all aspects of running a behavior program. If you hire a BCaBA, the Autism SIG encourages you to ask very specific questions about the what kind and how much supervision the BCaBA gets.
7. What type of supervision should I expect to see the BCaBA getting?
There should be a BCBA who oversees and takes full responsibility for any programming started by the BCaBA. The BCBA should directly and closely observe the client, meet frequently in person or by phone with the BCBA and take the lead in clinical decision-making. If the BCaBA is working towards full certification, you should ask about the BCaBA’s progress on a regular basis—even asking to see course transcripts and how many of the required supervised field hours have been completed.
8. What’s the difference between a BCBA and a BCaBA?
A BCBA has more education (a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s), more experience, more supervised time working directly with individuals with autism and a great knowledge of how the principles of behavior work in real time.
Specifically a BCBA has:
225 hours of graduate level coursework in approved courses
1500 hours supervised independent experience in designing and using behavior interventions
Passing score on BCBA exam
A BCaBA has:
135 hours of undergraduate coursework in approved courses
Supervised independent experience in implementing behavior interventions.
Passing score on the BCaBA exam
You can find out more about the differences by going to the www.BACB.com. In the consumer guidelines section there is a very detailed description of standards for certification for both BCBAs and BCaBAs. It’s a good idea to check the website periodically because standards do change over time. You can also check on a specific person by e-mailing info@BACB.com to request their certification status.
9. Can a BCaBA develop programming for persons with autism?
Not without the supervision of a BCBA. A BCaBA usually has less education and less supervised time in the clinic. The Autism SIG strongly recommends that BCaBAs deliver behavior analytic intervention and assist with program design in familiar cases only if they are adequately supervised by BCBAs who are appropriately qualified. If you decide to hire a BCaBA as a provider for your child’s program, you should ask for the name and contact information of the BCBA supervisor and check with the BCBA supervisor periodically regarding your child’s case. Ask the BCBA supervisor about the amount and type of supervision provided. If the BCaBA currently doesn’t have a BCBA supervisor and isn’t actively working towards getting a BCBA certification, then you may want to look elsewhere for someone to direct your child’s programming.
10. How do I know what kind of training the BCBA has?
You have the right to and should always ask the BCBA. A good BCBA has a resume prepared to give to potential clients who do ask. If they don’t, that may be an indicator that you may need to look elsewhere.
11. What kinds of evidence should I ask for to know if someone is qualified to direct my child’s ABA program?
You can and should ask about the following:
Certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
Certification as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) with adequate supervision by a BCBA
Information about the amount and type of supervision they provide to all supervisees who deliver intervention directly to individuals with autism
Membership in the Association for Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Membership in TxABA
Undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate training in behavior analysis specifically, as differentiated from non-behavior analytic study in psychology, special education, education, or other disciplines
Letters of reference from employment supervisors and/or families for whom they have directed ABA programming for similar individuals with autism (with appropriate safeguards taken to ensure privacy and confidentiality)
Publications of behavior analytic research in peer-reviewed professional journals (for a minority of behavior analysts)
12. How do I find a BCBA in my area?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board maintains a list of everyone who has earned his certification. If you go to www.BACB.com, there is a section for consumers where you can type in your address and locate the name of a certified behavior professional near you. Behavior analysts interested in working with children with autism often meet together in a SIG or Special Interest Group. To see if there is one in your area, go to https://www.abainternational.org/constituents/chapters/usa-chapters.aspx.
13. Certified? Aren’t BCBA’s and BCaBA’s licensed?
No. The field of behavior analysis is relatively new (since the 1960s). Only in the last ten years has there been a tremendous increase in demand for behavior professionals. In Texas, there has not yet been support to expendthe money for a state licensing board, which can be more than $100,000 a year to run. Usually license fees go to pay for the cost of operating a licensing board, which would place a financial burden on those who obtain licenses. Behavior analysts do, however, very much want professional standards to be rigorous and uniform. That way someone who has earned their certification can be counted on to have a minimum knowledge about the principles of behavior. Currently it is the national certification board that gives the examinations and sets the requirements for certification.
14. Do behavior analysts only need to earn their certification once?
No, it is an on-going process because the field of behavior analysis keeps improving as more research is done. The certificate must be renewed annually by taking continuing education courses. BCBAs and BCaBAs must be recertified every three years by retaking the exam.
15. So does having a BCBA or BCaBA certification guarantee that the person is an expert in treating autism?
Absolutely not. The field of behavior analysis is very broad. Some BCBAs have met all the requirements, but still have little or no experience providing “hands on” services to a person with autism. The Autism SIG (Special Interest Group of behavior analysts) suggests that a BCBA also needs the following training and experience:
one full calendar year (1000 clock hours) of supervised, hands-on training providing ABA to persons with autism
additional five years experience in ABA programming for persons with autism
During these minimum six years of direct experience working directly with persons with autism, a program director should learn how to:
Use proven intervention methods and be able to evaluate unproven interventions. New methods are continuously being studied and articles about these new methods are published in an accepted journal like the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Take the lead in designing and using comprehensive programming that builds skills and teaches the person to function independently in
Learning to learn. Teaching the person to observe, listen, follow directions, and imitate for example
Communication, both verbal and non-verbal
Gross and fine motor
Play and leisure activities
Self control or self monitoring
Pre-vocational and vocational skills
Be able to provide ABA programming to at least eight individuals with autism who represent a range of ages, abilities, and needs
Be able to use a variety of behavior analytic teaching procedures: discrete trial instruction, modeling, incidental teaching, natural environment teaching, discrimination training, activity-embedded instruction, task analysis, and chaining—just to name a few. These are technical terms for specific behavior techniques. Parents of persons with autism who have their child in an ABA program should at least know the meaning of these words in order to understand their child’s program.
Be able to utilize teaching techniques such as prompting, errorless teaching and error correction, maximizing learning opportunities, effective reinforcement and motivation techniques, techniques for establishing stimulus control, preference assessments and choice procedures.
Be able to use ABA methods in a variety of settings: one-to-one instruction, small and large group instruction, and in transitions across these situations.
Be able to use a wide range of strategies to address skill acquisition and generalization over time and across people, settings, situations, and materials.
Be able to systematically evaluate data to modify instructional programs.
Be able to conduct functional assessments of challenging behavior and be able to select the appropriate assessment methods suited to the behavior and situation.
Be able to design and implement programs to reduce stereotypic, disruptive, and destructive behavior, based on systematic analysis of the variables (antecedents and consequences) that cause and maintain the behavior and to match treatment to the determined function(s) of the behavior.
Be able to incorporate extinction and the full array of differential reinforcement procedures into behavior reduction programs.
Be able to modify behavior reduction programs based on frequent, systematic evaluation of direct observational data.
Be able to provide training in ABA methods and other support services to family members of at least five individuals with autism.
Be able to provide training and supervision to at least eight professionals, paraprofessionals, or students providing ABA services to individuals with autism.
Be able to collaborate effectively with professionals from other disciplines and with family members to promote consistent intervention and to maximize outcomes, while maintaining a commitment to scientifically validated interventions and data-based decision making.
A program director should also have additional and ongoing training in directing and supervising ABA programs for individuals with autism that involves:
Formal training and/or self-study to develop knowledge of the best available scientific evidence about the characteristics of autism and related disorders, and implications of those characteristics for designing and implementing educational and treatment programs, including their impact on family and community life.
Formal training and/or self-study to develop knowledge of at least one curriculum for learners with autism consisting of:
a scope and sequence of skills based on normal developmental milestones, broken down into component skills based on research on teaching individuals with autism and related disorders;
prototype programs for teaching each skill in the curriculum, using behavior analytic methods;
data recording and tracking systems; and
Formal training and/or self-study to develop skills in using scientifically validated methods to assess and build vocal-verbal and nonverbal communication repertoires in people with autism, consistent with the principles and practices of behavior analysis. This includes augmentative and alternative communication systems for individuals with limited vocal repertoires that are matched to the needs and abilities of each individual learner.
Participation in continuing education to remain informed about the best available research from behavior analysis and other scientific disciplines as it relates to autism treatment. The Autism SIG encourages consumers to ask prospective directors of ABA services for evidence that they have recently participated in continuing education activities relevant to the treatment of individuals with autism like those they will be serving (e.g. preschoolers, adults, individuals with limited vocal-verbal repertoires, etc.).
16. I recently saw a workshop from a person with a PhD. Is that the same as a BCBA?
No. Though some BCBAs might also have PhDs, a PhD is not equivalent to the BCBA certification. The BCBA certification assures that a behavior consultant has met certain educational and professional requirements. Please refer to FAQ #4 to learn more.
17. I’m a little suspicious about a prospective behavior consultant’s qualification to direct my child’s program. What do I need to be cautious about?
Attending or delivering some workshops, taking some courses, or getting brief hands-on experiences does NOT qualify an individual to practice applied behavior analysis effectively and adequately. Unfortunately, there may be some individuals who misrepresent their training, skills, and experiences or inappropriately guarantee certain outcomes.
Evidence of attendance and active participation in professional meetings and conferences in behavior analysis (e.g. the annual meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis) is certainly desirable. Such activities by themselves, however, do not constitute training in behavior analysis, and conference presentations are not equivalent to publications in peer-reviewed professional journals because conference presentations typically are not reviewed carefully by a number of other behavior analysts and do not have to meet scientific standards. Therefore, it is important for consumers to differentiate presentations at conferences and workshops from research published in peer-reviewed journals.
18. I had a bad experience with a behavior consultant. What recourse do I have?
Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts are on their honor to follow the BACB’s Guidelines for Responsible Conduct for Behavior Analysts©, which are not enforced by the BACB at this time. BCBAs and BCABAs must be in compliance with the BACB Professional Disciplinary Standards© which are enforced by the BACB. Consumers are encouraged to become familiar with those Guidelines and Standards, available at www.BACB.com. Consumers who have concerns about the ethical behavior of individuals providing ABA services are strongly encouraged to contact the Behavior Analyst Certification Board in the case of a BCBA or BCABA who may not be in compliance with the BACB Professional Disciplinary Standards©, and discipline-specific licensing boards in the case of those holding professional licensure (such as psychologists, speech-language pathologists, physicians, social workers).
19. How can I be sure the behavior consultant will be available for my family
Because there is an inadequate supply of behavior analysts qualified to work in autism, many providers are overextended. The Autism SIG believes that professionals should ensure that they can effectively manage their caseloads. Although there are no guidelines currently available regarding optimal caseloads, we encourage consumers to ask prospective providers of ABA services about their availability and responsiveness. Important questions include:
How much time will a qualified behavior analyst dedicate to the individual with autism?
How will this change if programming needs change (e.g., if serious behavior problems emerge)?
What is the typical response time to a crisis?
Is the amount of available time adequate to meet the needs of the individual or individuals?
How often will the behavior analyst communicate with the consumer?
What form will that communication take (i.e., face-to-face meetings, phone conversations, email)?
20. Where can I go to learn more?
The Behavior Analyst has an updated version of its autism spectrum disorder practice guidelines, now titled Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Funders and Managers (2nd ed.) To learn more go to: http://www.bacb.com/index.php?page=100772