Board certified behavior analysts, also known as BCBAs, are currently in high demand. With the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disorders, many child development clinics and mental health organizations have been looking to hire qualified BCBAs. With all of the demand for BCBAs, you might be wondering if there is a need for board certified behavior analysts in schools or other educational institutions.
What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst?
A board certified behavior analyst is a professional who practices applied behavior analysis or is a behavior specialist and has received additional education and credentials to allow them to practice independently. BCBAs are responsible for assessing and evaluating students with behavior, psychological, developmental or social disabilities and then developing a treatment plan that involves using applied behavior analysis, reinforcement and task analysis. In addition, behavior analysts also work with teachers, caregivers, parents and family members to help them better understand how to identify, modify or understand a child’s behavior. BCBAs also typically supervise registered behavior technicians and board certified assistant behavior analysts (BCaBA).
While the field of autism therapies is rapidly expanding, applied behavior analysis continues to remain the gold star standard of autism treatment. As such, it is often one of the only treatment options covered by insurance companies and accepted by school districts. BCBAs play an essential role in developing and administering ABA programs.
How are BCBAs Certified?
To be a BCBA, the practitioner must have a masters (BCBA) or doctoral degree (BCBA-D) from an acceptable graduate degree program, plus supervised experience and either a faculty appointment or additional coursework. For those who received a doctoral degree at least 10 years before, the education component can be replaced with post-doctoral experience. Regardless of the educational path taken, the BCBA applicant must also pass the BCBA examination before earning final certification as a board certified behavior analyst.
BCBAs in the Educational Field
Many children with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities are offered behavior services as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Many times, these services are offered in the way of a positive behavior support plan (PBSP). These plants are typically developed and monitored by a BCBA, or in some cases, by a BCaBA under the supervisions of a BCBA. This means that many school districts will employ at least one board certified behavior analyst to develop PBSPs.
In some school districts, board certified behavior analysts work directly with students in the special education setting. However, in many districts, direct work with the children is typically left to intervention specialists or BCaBAs. In these districts, BCBAs work as consultants and IEP team leaders, instructing and training teachers, aids and BCaBAs to work with the child. They might also conduct classroom-based evaluations to collect data on the behaviors of particular students, looking for antecedents to behaviors and giving the teacher tools to use in order to shape more appropriate classroom behaviors.
How Often Do BCBAs Need Certified?
Though a BCBA needs special certification to work in the educational field, professionals need recertification too. They generally need to apply at least once every two years. Under the only guidelines, BCBAs needed to complete a minimum of 36 clinical hours of work within the last two years. The new guidelines increase the total amount of hours needed by more than 20%. They also need to show a strong understanding of the ethics associated with working in BCBA schools.
To maintain their certifications, BCBA professionals must meet the continuing education standards, which can include working in BCBA schools as well as attending a graduate or doctoral program. Some of those programs are now available online. In addition to college and university classes, they can earn continuing education credits through professional workshops that they attend and special activities that take place in special education classrooms and schools. They can also take the BCBA exam, which meets the continuing education criteria.
How Do Continuing Education Credits Work?
BCBA professionals receive one continuing education credit for every 50 minutes of classroom instruction that they complete. Taking a graduate-level class each semester can earn them multiple credits. The BACB also hosts special events that include classroom training and workshops that help professionals better understand the basics of working with students on the autism spectrum. These events will usually help them earn up to two credits. The board awards those who write and publish work in related journals with at least one credit for each piece too. They earn more credits when they write and publish more.
The BACB requires that BCBAs document the work that they do. At the end of the recertification cycle, an applicant will need to sign into a BACB account and pay the $215 certification fee with a debit or credit card. They will complete the application steps that ask about the work that they did and why they think they met the minimum hours required. The application also asks for documentation that shows the applicant completed that work. If the BACB approves those hours, it will allow the applicant to take the recertification exam. It may contact some applicants and ask for more information.
How Much Do BCBAs Make?
According to the most recent salary data, BCBA professionals make an average of $87,535 across the country. The average salary varies greatly based on where the individuals live though. This profession has an average range of between $32,500 and $153,500 a year. When broken down to an hourly rate, a BCBA can make as little as $15.62 to as much as $73.80 every hour. The average salary for the BCBA profession is $42 an hour. Those seeking recertification tend to make more than those just starting out do.
Where Do BCBAs Work?
Though BCBA schools hire professionals to work one on one with students and in small or large groups, professionals can work in other locations too. Many work in clinical and counseling positions where they can help educators stage interventions to help parents and students understand their needs. In clinical settings, they may test students to find their strengths and weaknesses or identify their educational needs. They can also work for government agencies and in hospitals and other medical facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics places BCBAs with psychologists and found that 24% of these professionals work in elementary and secondary schools in both private and public settings.
Do School Districts Hire BCBAs?
Both BCBA schools and school districts hire professionals to work with students and others. They need a minimum of a graduate degree in education, educational leadership, autism spectrum disorders, behavioral analysis or a similar field. Most school districts look more applicants who have more experience and may require a minimum of two years of professional experience. Recent graduate school graduates can show that they gained experience through internships and similar programs in university. Students may have experience in their personal lives or while they were in an undergraduate program too.
School District BCBA Duties
The duties of a BCBA working for a school district vary based on the district. Most ask that the individual conduct behavioral assessments, which allow them to identify the behavioral struggles that the student has and determine the best way to help that student in a school setting. They are also responsible for creating individualized education programs or IEPs. An IEP is a program created for each student based on his or her strengths and weaknesses. Any student in a special education classroom needs this type of plan. Federal law calls for any student with a documented disability to have an IEP on file.
What Goes Into an IEP?
An IEP serves as a written document that goes over the needs of a child and how the school and its workers will meet those needs. It should include the student’s goals for the following school year such as helping the student improve his or her grades in one specific course or assisting the student in moving to the next grade. An IEP may include social goals too such as getting the child to make one new friend or encouraging the child to play and sit with others in the cafeteria. BCBAs are responsible for following up on the IEP and ensuring that both the student and teachers work towards those goals.
Writing a new IEP is only one step in helping students on the spectrum and those who suffer from other behavioral disorders. A BCBA must also track the progress of the student and add notes to the student’s file. They need to monitor the student’s progress both in the classroom and in social settings, which may involve trips to the cafeteria or playground. If a BCBA notes a failure in making progress, he or she can meet with the student as well as the parents and teachers. They may need to implement a new IEP or make significant changes to the current plan.
School District Interventions
Another duty that BCBAs handle is an intervention. This often occurs among younger students who have less school experience. Kids often present some of the early symptoms of autism and related disorders when they are two years old, but not all kids attend preschool and programs where professionals can identify those signs. BCBA schools can not only identify those signs but stage interventions as a way to help both the students and their parents as well as their teachers. An intervention helps parents realize that a problem exists and ensures that everyone knows what they can do to help the student.
While most school districts have a few special education teachers and assistants, they may not have enough teachers to work in more than one classroom. A BCBA who works for a school district is often responsible for personnel training. Not only do they train any new workers hired, but they also handle the training of current personnel. This may include working with substitute teachers who have little experience with special education students and elementary school teachers moving to a new class.
Do BCBAs Work with Interns?
Most ABA and similar graduate school programs either require that students do internships or give them the option of earning credits for completing a similar program. This allows students to do fieldwork and gain first-hand experience working with the same students they will assist late in the classroom. BCBAs who work for school districts often assist interns in these programs. They will go over what the school expects of them at the beginning of the semester and monitor their work in the coming months. The BCBA signs a document at the end of the term that shows the student completed the necessary work and should earn credit.
Do BCBAs Do Passive Restraint Training?
Some school districts require that BCBAs go through passive restraint training and that they train others in this technique. This is a type of intervention that can help educators deal with students who act out, but it is often the last resort for teachers. It typically works best on students who are nonverbal and cannot communicate their emotions or thoughts. Passive restraint methods allow teachers to restrain students until help can arrive or the student calms down. A BCBA who works for a school district and trains others will need to teach this method.
Other Job Duties
When working for a school district, a BCBA is responsible for handling all the duties listed in the job description and any that the district assigns to them later. This often includes consultations with parents. If a teacher identifies a behavioral problem in a student, the BCBA will talk with the teacher about the problem and how it affects the student and others in the classroom. They can then meet with parents to talk about the issue and decide what to do next. A BCBA can also advise others who work with the child, including classroom assistants and cafeteria workers.
BCBA professionals also offer in-service training and similar programs. This refers to a type of training program that allows teachers to talk about their experiences and share with others. It often involves small peer groups that can meet on weekends or school holidays. The BCBA will lead the group and offer suggestions as needed. Professionals may discuss caseloads and what they can do to lighten their caseloads as well as the methods that they found work best in the classroom. BCBA schools often have several in-service training sessions every year.
Related Resource: 10 Best Online ABA Master’s Degree Programs
With federal education laws such as the Every Student Succeeds Act and Free and Appropriate Public Education, as well as with increasing numbers of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities, many school districts today are seeing the importance of hiring qualified board certified behavior analysts. Staffing BCBAs allows school districts to better meet the needs of students by having a behavior expert available to observe students, evaluate behaviors and design positive behavior support plans that are necessary for ensuring that every child has access to the school’s curriculum.
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