How Much Do Applied Behavior Analysts Make?

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How much applied behavior analysts make in wages is often a large concern for individuals considering a career in applied behavior analysis. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a form of therapy that focuses on improving certain behaviors by determining what causes the behaviors and replacing them with other behaviors. An applied behavior analyst’s wages vary by many things. Here is an overview of the career and the wage potentials.

What Factors Determine Wages?

Someone interested in pursuing a career as an applied behavior analyst may get general wage information. While some might be accurate, other wage information might be inaccurate because it’s factor-related. In other words, the applied behavior analyst’s wages can be affected by various factors. Here are some of the common factors that influence wages.

• Education Level – Although applied behavior analysts are only required to have a bachelor’s degree, many have master’s or doctoral degrees. The higher the education level, the better the wage and career opportunities. PayScale reports that applied behavior analysts with bachelor’s degrees earned an average yearly salary of $47,581. A master’s degree in applied behavior analysis salary is likely to be around $55,862, an increase of more than 17 percent. Those with doctoral degrees may find even higher-paying work opportunities.

• Experience – As is the case with most work, the more experience the analyst has, the better the wages. Applied behavior analysts with starting entry-level positions earned wages ranging from $32,000 to $43,000 annually, while those five to 10 years of experience earned $45,000 to $55,000. ABAs working for more than 10 years earned from $50,000 to $65,000 or more. An analyst may be able to earn a higher starting salary if they already have significant experience working as an assistant behavior analyst or as a registered behavior technician.

• Location – Where the applied behavior analyst works plays a large role in potential wages because some areas are more competitive or may have higher costs of living. The top-paying cities for ABA therapists are New York, NY, Boston, MA, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, and San Antonio, TX. The lowest-paying cities for ABA therapists are Greenville, NC, Houston, TX, Indianapolis, IN, Philadelphia, PA and San Diego, CA. Living and working in a lower-paying area is often still worth looking into. Many of these areas have a fairly low cost of living, so it may be feasible to live even on a lower salary.

Nearby competition may be a significant factor in earning potential. It’s somewhat rare to have a high concentration of applied behavior analysts in a given area, but if you work in an area like this, it can be difficult to price your services. You’ll want to make sure you earn something close to your fair market value, but you also will need to make sure pricing is competitive enough to draw in business.

• Certification – Applied Behavior Analysts who are board-certified typically earn much higher wages. Many Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA®) earned wages that ranged from $75,000 to $145,000 or more. Families looking for an analyst are usually looking for someone who is as qualified as possible, and board certification will increase a family’s confidence in a given analyst.

* Self-employment – This isn’t necessarily a way to determine wages, but it’s important to remember that self-employed people need to cover both their portion of FICA tax (Federal Insurance Contribution tax) and the portion that an employer would typically pay. Generally, it’s wise to set aside the approximate amount you will owe in taxes and pay estimated quarterly tax. However, if you intend to work as a self-employed professional, you may want to consult with a tax professional to develop a tax strategy and take advantage of any available deductions.

Average Wages for Applied Behavior Analysts

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The increasing awareness of its use as a successful treatment for autism has made applied behavior analysis recognized as a treatment for several other disorders. This recognition and respect have increased the career outlook and wage potential for applied behavior analysts. The wages for ABA therapists can vary by who is reporting the information as well. The average annual wage for applied behavior analysts was $33,898 as of a June 2018 wage report by PayScale. Wages ranged from $24,820 to $49,098. The average hourly rate was $15.77. While these statistics include applied behavior analysts with different degree levels, a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis salary tends to be on the higher end.

Board certification usually leads to much higher wages. Payscale reports that the average board-certified behavior analyst earns $62,439 per year. The lowest 10% of earners earned about $47,000, while the highest 10% earned about $78,000. Board certification takes a good bit of time and effort, but over time, it’s likely to pay off.

If you want to earn more, getting a doctorate in psychology may lead to a salary increase. According to Payscale, the average base salary for someone with a Ph.D.in psychology is $78,242. Of course, this takes into account all jobs someone can do with a doctorate in psychology, and some of these jobs may pay more than working as an applied behavior analyst.

Similarly, with a degree in applied behavior analysis, you can work in a few other positions. Once you have some experience in the field, you may be able to work as a Clinical Director, a position that has a median wage of $71,000. In this role, practitioners work to manage a team of healthcare professionals — usually, it’s a team of applied behavior analysts, assistant applied behavior analysts, and registered behavior technicians. This job necessitates a deep understanding of best practices for applied behavior analysis, and a good clinical director will be able to see the big picture and manage people well.

Before you get a master’s degree, you may want to work as an assistant applied behavioral analyst in order to get some hands-on experience in the field. Working as board-certified assistant behavior analyst pays fairly well, especially given the fact that this job does not require a master’s degree. On average, board-certified assistant behavior analysts make $24.75 an hour, with the bottom 10% earning an average of $16.94 an hour and the top 10% earning $48.48 an hour.

Working as a registered behavior technician is a good way to get an introduction to the field, and you can work as one with just a high school diploma. The median wage for these professionals is $16.50 per hour, with the bottom 10% of earners making $13.05 and the top 10% earning $21.96.

Of course, as mentioned above, keep in mind that wages can vary substantially, especially when it comes to cost of living in the area where you practice.

How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst

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The path to becoming an applied behavior analyst starts with a bachelor’s degree. Colleges and universities don’t typically offer degrees focused on this particular branch of psychology, so a candidate’s bachelor’s degree must be in a related field. Commonly, candidates choose a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or education. Any of these fields will start to introduce students to psychological concepts and interpersonal skills they will need to succeed as an applied behavior analyst.

A bachelor’s degree isn’t enough for someone to become an applied behavior analyst. But for people interested in the field who want to take a break from school before moving into a master’s program, it may be worthwhile to become certified as a registered behavior technician (RBT). These professionals work under the supervision and guidance of an applied behavior analyst, but they often do a lot of the hands-on work with clients. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to be an RBT — you just need a high school diploma. You’ll also need to complete a 40-hour training and pass an initial competency assessment. To become certified, you need to pass an RBT exam, and from there, you can begin working in the field.

Alternatively, interested candidates with a bachelor’s degree may want to become certified as a board-certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA). These people work alongside board-certified behavior analysts, and they can’t perform services without the supervision of an applied behavior analyst. The certification does require some additional coursework and supervised training, but it can be an excellent way to gain experience in the field.

Becoming an applied behavior analyst usually requires earning at least a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) requires candidates to have a master’s or doctorate in applied behavior analysis or a related field. In addition to the graduate degree, candidates should have work experience obtained through fieldwork or a supervised practicum or internship. Obtaining national certification is also a requirement in many areas. Board-certified applied behavioral analysts may provide services unsupervised, and they often supervise the work of both BCaBAs and RBTs.

You can become an applied behavioral analyst with a master’s degree, but some candidates choose to continue their study by pursuing a doctorate. Board-certified behavior analysts with doctorates may find both more work opportunities and higher-paying jobs. In some cases, they may choose to work in the field for a while with a master’s degree and then pursue a doctorate.

States differ in their licensing requirements, so candidates pursuing careers as ABAs should check with their state’s licensing board for requirements. Applied behavior analysis is still relatively new in many states, and these states have included specific wording into their medical insurance laws requiring that ABAs have a master’s degree and certification or equivalent education.

A Day in the Life of an Applied Behavior Analyst

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Just like with any field, it’s important to understand the general salary outlook for applied behavior analysts. But before deciding to pursue one or more degrees in the field, it’s a good idea to know the basics of what an applied behavior analyst does each day.

Of course, the exact responsibilities you’ll have will differ depending on the individual job description. But generally, a behavior analyst is responsible for performing initial evaluations of autistic children or adults. Often, they will visit the client’s home and observe them doing a variety of activities. They will be able to assess the client’s level of functioning and identify behavioral trouble spots. They’ll also need to get a sense of the client’s personality in order to create an effective treatment plan.

Some behavior analysts may be responsible for doing the hands-on work with clients. This work usually involves teaching the client useful life skills and coping skills to help them manage stress in a healthy way. It also usually involves working with the client to minimize negative behaviors. For example, an autistic child may often have meltdowns if there’s a change in their life (like a new babysitter or schedule disruption). Since the meltdowns get in the way of the child’s life, the applied behavior analyst will help them manage their emotions and practice healthier ways to cope. Applied behavior analysis often involves very intensive work — up to 40 hours a week — and it helps autistic individuals develop social skills, too.

In other cases, applied behavior analysts do not do hands-on work — they create treatment plans and then supervise assistant behavior analysts or registered behavior technicians as they carry that plan out. In order to supervise these people, applied behavior analysts need to be excellent communicators. Once a plan has been made, they will need to explain it well enough that an assistant behavior analyst or registered behavior technician has a clear idea of how to best execute the plan.

Depending on the size of an analyst’s caseload, this job may require excellent organizational skills. Analysts will need to be familiar with the details of each case they manage, which can be a bit of a challenge.

Applied behavior analysts will also usually need to educate family members on the best ways to help manage their loved one’s condition. The family will likely be able to observe the analyst at work, but they may not know exactly how to work with the autistic child or adult when agitated behaviors happen after therapy is over. Analysts will usually tell family members what steps to take to help de-escalate situations and keep their loved ones on track.

Applied behavior analysts are therapists who are in positions to help adults and children with various health-related disorders and issues, which can be rewarding and satisfying. They work in homes, schools, clinics, and various other settings. Applied behavior analysts do incredibly important work — they help autistic people identify ways they struggle in life and then help them develop skills that will improve their lives. And since these services are so essential, applied behavior analysts are generally compensated well.

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