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5 Characteristics of a Successful Applied Behavior Analyst

Traits of an Effective Applied Behavior Analyst

  • Empathetic
  • Collaborative
  • Unflappable
  • Dedicated
  • Well-Informed

A successful applied behavior analyst (ABA) excels in both technical and interpersonal skills. Both qualifications pave the way to client cooperation and behavioral transformation. Such expertise also wins the support of caregivers and other medical professionals. Here are five traits by which a reputable ABA is known.


Empathy is “walking in another person’s shoes,” identifying with their challenges. Upon graduation, an ABA has a broad range of employment settings from which to choose. Among them are residential treatment programs, schools, businesses, hospitals, and government agencies. Wherever an ABA works, they must earn the trust of those in close relationship with clients, such as parents and other family members. One way to connect is by using “empathy statements.”

Here’s an example. Two exhausted parents call upon an ABA to help their autistic child cooperate at bedtime. Mom and Dad are sorely sleep deprived from the nightly battles. The ABA, deeply moved by their situation, says, “You must be so exasperated. But, don’t worry. Working together, bedtime will become a pleasant event for your child.”

Empathy requires focused listening, with an open mind and heart. Attentive listening is a two-way conversation, by which others feel supported. It’s also vital to developing productive treatment plans.


Typically, an ABA works in tandem with other medical specialists involved in client care. A multidisciplinary team may have several members, such as a physician, occupational therapist, speech and language pathologist, mental health counselor, and nurses, among others. All team members are united by a common aim – improving client behavior across a range of skills.

For the best coordination of care, team members should meet regularly. During conferences, an effective ABA communicates clearly, intent on keeping everyone abreast of client developments. With adaptability, an ABA is humbly receptive to the observations and suggestions of fellow professionals.

Additionally, a successful therapist is approachable, with a knack for putting people at ease. Such friendliness helps caregivers feel comfortable sharing their concerns. In some work settings, an ABA may interact with employers or teachers. Rapport is developed by being responsive to their direction and feedback.


Depending on their client population, an ABA may be subject to aggressive behavior, such as screaming, fighting, and tantrums. All the while, they must stay composed and nonreactive. It takes self-control to maintain a neutral stance. Here’s where empathy is helpful, not judging clients for their inappropriate conduct.

Working with autistic clients can be especially taxing. Common to this disorder is difficulty communicating and following instructions. Consequently, extra patience and understanding are required. When an autistic learner gets frightened or upset, an ABA must speak gently while ensuring their surroundings are also calm. This strategy is likewise helpful for anxious seniors, particularly those with dementia.

Here, Huff Post reveals an ABA’s ingenious plan for teaching an autistic child to ride a bike.


A successful ABA is passionate about helping clients express their potential. With steadfast enthusiasm, they tailor learning approaches to a person’s needs. Likewise, they take pleasure in finding the most effective reinforcement methods for each client. Through a process called “pairing,” the therapist uses rewards their client prefers. With this technique, a client develops a positive association with the therapist, fostering cooperation.

An impassioned therapist, brimming with creativity, makes learning fun! As a result, therapy sessions are full of encouragement, affirmations, and praise. Every client victory is heartily celebrated. Work is thrilling and fulfilling. This is because applied behavior analysis is a calling, in which a gifted ABA shines.

Another hallmark of dedication is reliability. This is shown by arriving punctually for each therapy session and staying for the entire scheduled length. A responsible ABA returns phone calls within 24 hours of receipt. Being highly accountable, they realize their efforts are widely influential, affecting a client’s family, neighbors, and community.


A progressive therapist is up-to-date on the best ABA practices in use. As an avid reader, they continually pore over the latest books and articles featuring ABA topics. Movies can also impart insightful knowledge. A qualified practitioner is an active member of professional organizations, such as the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA).

Plus, they regularly participate in skill development workshops. Examples of noteworthy events are the ABAI Annual Autism Conference, the APBA Annual Convention, and the BABAT Annual Conference. Since each of these meetings has a different focus, they all merit attending.

Related Resource: 10 Best Online RBT (Registered Behavioral Technician) Training Programs

Miracle Worker

A successful applied behavior analyst is empathetic, collaborative, unflappable, dedicated, and well-informed. Have you ever read The Miracle Worker by William Gibson? This account of Helen Keller’s life illustrates ABA principles.

When Helen was 1½ years old, she lost her vision and hearing to an illness. By age 6, the disabilities had produced severe behavioral problems. That was until she met Anne Sullivan, an extraordinary teacher. With relentless determination, Ms. Sullivan freed Helen of internal torment and external chaos. Follow the example of this model practitioner. With your ABA expertise, you’ll be a miracle worker!