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BCBA vs ABA: What’s the difference?

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Both have to do with applied behavior analysis.

Both have to do with treating autism and behavioral disorders.

But there are several differences between an ABA and a BCBA. These differences go beyond just the name and the degree you need for each. The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist works with patients in need of applied behavior analysis therapy. However, the ABA typically works under the supervision of the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). ABA therapists typically have a bachelor’s degree. They are also known as BCaBA, or Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts. BCBA therapists usually have a master’s degree in order to be certified by the BACB. They are two separate professionals who are working for the same goal. Do you wonder what is ABA degree compared with BCBA, or what is a BCBA as compared to what is an ABA? What does ABA therapy stand for? What does BCBA stand for? Read on to find out.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

ABAs and BCBAs often use applied behavioral analysis to work with students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autismspeaks.org describes some core symptoms of ASD. These are “social communication challenges and restricted, repetitive behavior.” Some symptoms that can be seen when the child is very young include:

  • repetitive behavior
  • a lack of babbling as a baby
  • less responsiveness to their name. 

Many people with ASD are not diagnosed until they are older, and therefore cannot benefit from applied behavioral analysis or other therapy until then.

Regardless of age, ASD patients often struggle with communication. They may have difficulty recognizing when an expression is not meant to be taken literally. They may misuse eye contact or tone of voice. They might struggle with verbal communication. According to the website, about one in three ASD patients are nonverbal. They may also struggle with: 

  • recognizing emotions in others
  • dealing with their own emotions
  • taking turns in conversation
  • following social norms like personal space

Repetitive behavior is also a symptom of ASD. Repetitive motions, staring at lights or spinning objects, and resistance to change in routine are all common behaviors. In addition, ASD patients often have a deep and specific interest in a particular subject. 

There are many misconceptions about autism, according to an author at researchautism.com in an article entitled “Ten Things Autism Isn’t.” The author says that many people see autism simply as social awkwardness, but it goes deeper than that. People often also think that people with autism never grow up; however, says the author, this is not at all the case. Autism, she says, is neither terrible nor wonderful. It is simply another way of seeing the world. ABA professionals must understand this as they practice behavioral analysis. 

In the case of children with autism, however, there are basic skills that may need to be learned, depending on the child. People with ASD often simply need guidance to reach their potential. This is where people with an ABA degree and BCBA therapy professionals come into the picture. 

See Also: Important Duties of a Registered Behavioral Technician or Autism Behavior Technician

ABA and BCBA professionals do not only work with autistic patients. They may also work with people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They also use behavior analysis to help those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Post-traumatic stress disorder patients can also be helped by BCBA or ABA therapists. 

What is an ABA Therapist?

What is an ABA degree useful for? An ABA therapist is an individual who treats patients and clients through the use of applied behavioral analysis. ABA is the practice of studying behavioral patterns to determine the type of treatment the client needs. Although ABA therapy is often used and is highly effective for autism, it is not exclusive to autism. ABA is also used for those with other social, physical, developmental, and emotional disorders. 

Applied Behavioral Analysis and Communication

One of the ways that ABA therapists help students with ASD is by increasing their language and communication skills. ASD patients often have language development issues, according to an article from appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org. The challenge for ABA is that it can be difficult to tell when a language development issue is the result of a speech impediment and when it is due to a behavioral issue.

For example, an autistic child may have difficulty progessing because of their behavior. They may also begin “acting out” because of their frustration at their lack of communication skills. Behavior can be the cause of language issues; however, language issues can be the root cause of undesirable behavior. It can be difficult to tell which came first. This is part of the job of a therapist with an ABA degree.

ABA therapists usually use three ABA methods to help patients with their language skills. The ABA method known as Verbal Behavior connects language with rewards. For example, if a child considers a snack a reward, the therapist would work to connect the word “snack” with the reward of eating a snack.

Picture Communication Training allows the therapist to connect with the child without the use of words, instead using non-verbal communication methods such as pictures or technology. This may help the child who is frustrated with their lack of verbal communication skills or who feels they cannot express themselves. Through this particular kind of non-verbal communication, the child can connect with their therapist and express themselves.

In Pivotal Response Training, the therapist concentrates on improvements, however small, and overlooks whatever imperfections may exist. Pivotal Response Training, in a language development setting, often includes some type of immersion experience in the language that the patient is trying to learn. 

Applied Behavior Analysis and Problematic Behaviors

According to marcus.org, ABA therapists often use ABA to help with problematic behaviors that autistic children struggle with. These could include:

  • aggression, such as scratching, biting, or hitting others
  • self-harm
  • tantrums
  • screaming
  • wandering off

This can make even very ordinary tasks highly difficult. A trip to the store can be very hard on the parent if the child often exhibits these behaviors. ABA therapists help the child overcome these behaviors inseveral ways.

The first way is by rewarding the behaviors that are desirable. Another way that ABA therapists help is by not giving in to undesirable behaviors and giving a child what they want. For example, if a child is screaming because they want a particular snack, it is important not to give it to them. Otherwise, they may begin to believe that this is an effective and desirable way of getting what they want. A third way that ABA therapists work with the child is by using visuals to communicate rules. If the child is nonverbal, it can be difficult to help them understand what is expected. Using visual signals is one way to overcome this difficulty.

How Does the ABA Process Work?

Generally, the therapist starts with achievable goals in the ABA process. Starting with small goals allows the children to reach success earlier, which leads to more motivation and more success later on. For example, a child might have trouble waiting for a snack. The therapist will begin with the goal of having them wait for five seconds the first time. This gives the child a high likelihood of success. If this goal is met successfully, the child will wait a little longer the next time. They will be able to progress to a place where waiting is no longer such a great struggle. 

A therapist with an ABA degree also generally works with one child or client at a time so they can provide the patient with one-on-one treatment. However, it may be helpful to the child to also work with them in settings where they will interact with others. This is espeically helpful since interaction with others can be something that autistic children struggle with. 

An ABA therapist works with and assists a BCBA, but they are generally under the supervision of the BCBA. ABA therapists typically spend more time actually working with a client in the day-to-day learning process. Although many ABA therapists have a graduate degree, some are hired with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field. ABA therapists may work in a medical office setting, but they may also travel to the client’s home or workplace to provide therapy.

BCBA Meaning: What is a BCBA Therapist?

Are you wondering, what is a BCBA therapist? BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst is an Applied Behavior Analyst. They have earned a graduate degree and certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. To earn the BCBA certification, individuals must meet specific educational and experiential requirements. They provide behavior analysis services to those who need them.

Some tips to become a BCBA include:

  • choosing a school with a high BCBA pass rate
  • working closely with colleagues and professors
  • graduating with a masters degree in a timely manner

Certification and licensure requirements vary from state to state. Like ABA therapists, BCBAs work a lot with autistic patients but are not exclusive to autism. For a BCBA, autism is often an issue to evaluate.

Usually, according to autismspeaks.org, the BCBA is responsible for evaluating a client and creating goals related to applied behavior analysis. These depend on the client’s age, but may include: 

  • social skills
  • self-care
  • motor skills
  • academic skills

The BCBA is often the supervisor for the ABA. The BCBA customizes the program. They do this by taking into account the client’s:

  • age
  • interests
  • skills
  • family situation

 They may determine what systems or methods should be used with each particular learner and what the learner needs to work on next. 

To work as a BCBA, the candidate must:

  • have at least a master’s degree
  • pass state certification exams
  • maintain the certification by completing continuing education courses or workshops
  • meet the code of ethics requirements set by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board

Board Certified Behavior Analysts who want to take their education to the highest level often earn a doctoral degree. Some earn a post-doctoral certification in behavioral psychology through the American Psychological Association.

Career Outlook for Applied Behavior Analysis

Career Outlook for Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis therapists and Board Certified Behavior Analysts have another thing in common – they are both very much in demand. The area of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling is growing. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted this field should grow 18 percent from 2022 to 2032. This is much faster than average. The median annual pay was $49,710 in May 2022. Note that this was for the broad areas listed above, but it gives a general idea of what can be expected. This works out to $23.90 per hour. Those with an ABA degree and BCBAs can both expect positive career growth. The demand is highest for those that are board-certified and have a master’s degree.

California, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts were the states in which the most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were employed. This includes board certified behavior analysts. Nevada, Utah, Alaska, Hawai’i and New Jersey were the top-paying states for these professionals in 2022.

In Conclusion

Working as a behavior analyst can be as rewarding as it is challenging. Consider becoming a BCaBA if:

  • you would rather work face-to-face with clients in the day-to-day process of learning
  • you prefer not to get a master’s degree and be BCBA certified

Do you prefer making plans and goals? Are you interested in continuing on and learning more in order to be BCBA-certified? You may want to consider a career as a BCBA.

Once you learn the differences between a BCBA vs ABA, and what is a BCBA therapist, you can research the licensure requirements in your state. They you can be on your way toward a fulfilling career in the field of applied behavior analysis.


November 2023

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This concludes our article on the differences between ABAs and BCBAs in the field of applied behavior analysis.