5 Duties of an ABA Therapist in an Autism Clinic

Clinical Responsibilities of Applied Behavior Analysts

  • Initial Interview and Assessment
  • Set Short and Long-Term Goals
  • Conduct Treatment Sessions
  • Engage Patients and Family
  • Track and Encourage Growth

Therapists who are licensed and qualified to practice applied behavior analysis (ABA) can choose to work with people, primarily children and youth, who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many professionals deliver this kind of care within the context of an autism clinic, which is a client-oriented organization that caters specifically to patients with autism. ABA therapists take on a number of duties and responsibilities in these clinics depending on their experience and qualifications. Some eventually adopt management or administrative positions after years of practical work with clinic patients.

Initial Interview and Assessment

The ability to comfortably interview and accurately assess patients is an essential skill for any practical behavior analyst. There are many degrees and types of autism, and each diagnosed person faces their own set of challenges resulting from the condition. That’s why therapists conduct detailed interviews and create written assessments to establish a baseline to measure the efficacy of future treatment. This stage also allows the therapist to start building trust and familiarity with their patient, which is essential for long-term engagement.

Set Short and Long-Term Treatment Goals

Compared to other disciplines within the field of psychology, ABA places a strong emphasis on measurable variables and quantifiable progress. Therapists work directly with patients, as well as families or caregivers, to identify priority behaviors that need to be addressed first. These socially significant behaviors are usually ones that are particularly disruptive, like inappropriate verbalization or deficiencies in personal hygiene, according to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD).

Conduct Therapy Sessions

Practical therapists in a clinic also spend a significant amount of time planning and conducting individual therapy sessions with clients. These interactions can range in length and take different forms depending on the needs of the patient. Sessions may primarily revolve around conversational therapy or focus more on direct behavior modification through discrete trial training (DTT). DTT isolates specific behaviors and uses basic conditioning techniques, like positive or negative reinforcement, to help patients develop more productive responses.

Engage Patients and Family

Since participation in autism clinics is usually completely voluntary, ABA therapists also need to make an effort to really connect with patients and their families. Behavior analysis requires consistency and commitment to yield optimal results, so keeping participants engaged and returning on a regular basis is a vital skill. Behavior analysts also need to help families and caregivers learn about autism and how life at home, school or with friends can impact its development.

Track and Encourage Growth

Much like the initial assessment, clinical therapists need to keep detailed notes and records regarding patient progress. Building a detailed file over a period of weeks or months provides much deeper insight into a patient than a single interview. Therapists must leverage this knowledge and information to track individual progress and evolve treatment strategies to accommodate these changes. They can also use this information to help patients note and appreciate the progress they’ve already made through therapy.

Related Resource: 10 Best ABA PhD Degree Programs

Applied behavior analysts who are interested in clinical work can start building their professional skills while still in school. Internship and other employment opportunities are extremely valuable, as they allow students to get a clear perspective on their prospective career path. While specific responsibilities depend on the individual organization, most ABA therapists can expect to perform many of the same basic duties in any autism clinic.