As a parent of a child with autism, navigating the world of therapy can be overwhelming. Among the various therapeutic approaches, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has emerged as a widely recognized and evidence-based method, particularly for children with autism spectrum disorder.
In this guide, I aim to introduce you to a key player in ABA therapy – the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). We’ll explore the BCBA’s role in your child’s therapy journey, offer insights into their responsibilities, and discuss how to choose the right one for your child.
Additionally, for those considering a rewarding career in this field, I will provide an overview of the requirements, work environment, and potential growth opportunities. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how BCBAs contribute to the well-being of children and families while offering guidance and support throughout the ABA therapy process.
- What is a BCBA?
- Where do BCBAs Work?
- What Do BCBAs Do?
- How Do You Choose the Right BCBA for Your Child?
- What Are Individualized Treatment Plans?
- How Do You Collaborate with Your Child's BCBA?
- A Day in the Life of a BCBA
- Data Analysis to Support Your Child's Progress
- What Are Common ABA Techniques?
- What Funding and Insurance Coverage is Available for ABA Therapy?
- Final Words
What is a BCBA?
A BCBA is a master’s level clinician with extensive training in behavior analytic techniques and principles. To receive BCBA certification, one must earn a minimum of a master’s degree, complete ABA-specific coursework, finish supervised fieldwork hours, and pass a certification exam.
BCBA stands for a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Behavior analysts are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Board certified behavior analysts are highly trained professionals in the field of ABA. They play a crucial role in designing, implementing, and supervising ABA therapy programs. While BCBAs don’t exclusively work with the autistic population, a large majority, roughly 72% of BCBAs, do.
Where do BCBAs Work?
With the majority of BCBAs providing ABA therapy to autistic children, the predominant work settings include children’s homes, clinics, and schools. BCBAs can also work in other capacities, such as in child welfare, brain injury rehabilitation, research, sports and fitness, higher education, and organizational behavior management (OBM).
Often, BCBAs work in multiple settings with their learners to ensure generalization among settings, enhancing the best possible outcomes. They may work with the same client in their home, at a clinic, and out in the community, for example. BCBAs working in children’s homes have more opportunities to work directly with caregivers and the family as a whole, providing more personalized care and training.
What Do BCBAs Do?
The role of a BCBA is vital in the overall success of an ABA program. They have several responsibilities in the implementation and oversight of the therapy.
● Conduct assessments. BCBAs conduct skill and behavioral assessments to identify each child’s unique strengths and areas of need.
● Create individualized treatment plans. As ABA therapy is highly individualized, each client has a treatment plan uniquely tailored to their goals. The BCBA is responsible for developing these plans that outline goals and how the team will support the child to achieve their goals.
● Create interventions. For each skill development goal, the BCBA creates a skill acquisition plan that outlines the specific ABA procedures that will be used to teach that skill. Additionally, for behavior reduction goals, they create a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that outlines strategies for preventing and responding to specified target behaviors.
● Train and supervise behavior technicians. BCBAs train behavior technicians (BTs) or Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) on each learner’s individualized plans. They then provide supervision and case oversight on an ongoing basis to ensure that the plans are being followed as written.
● Monitor progress. BCBAs closely monitor their learner’s data on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are making progress. If an intervention is not working as intended, the BCBA makes modifications and trains the technician to implement the changes.
● Provide caregiver training and support. An important aspect of a BCBAs role is caregiver training. Consistency among people and settings is beneficial for long-term success and generalization, so BCBAs train caregivers to follow through on procedures that are used with their child during sessions.
● Collaboration with other providers. For children who are in school or see other therapists (i.e., Occupational therapists, speech therapists, etc.), BCBAs collaborate with these professionals to share strategies and ensure a cohesive team approach to client care.
How Do You Choose the Right BCBA for Your Child?
Choosing an ABA company and finding the right BCBA that best fits your family’s needs and values can be an overwhelming experience. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a BCBA.
Experience and qualifications
Seek a behavior analyst who is certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and is in good standing. Consider their experience with autistic children of a similar age group to your child.
Areas of expertise
Consider the BCBA’s areas of expertise and how they match up with what your child needs. For example, if your child is pre-verbal and does not have a functional mode of communication, consider seeking a BCBA who has significant experience working with children on the development of verbal language skills.
Ability to connect with your child.
While this is more difficult to assess before starting therapy, it is helpful to pay attention to the rapport your BCBA has with your child and how well they can connect. Positive relationships can improve the success of therapy, making rapport an essential consideration.
For more tips, see our article on choosing the best ABA therapy provider for your child
What Are Individualized Treatment Plans?
As briefly touched on, individualized treatment plans are a key aspect of ABA therapy. Each child’s goals are unique to their needs, so no two children have the same plan. BCBAs develop individualized treatment plans based on a thorough assessment of their learner’s strengths and needs, in collaboration with caregivers.
The BCBA uses various tools to assess the child’s strengths and needs. These may include client and caregiver interviews, checklists, direct observations of the child, a record review, and formal skill assessments.
To identify behavior goals and create behavior intervention plans (BIPs), the BCBA conducts a functional behavior assessment (FBA). The results of an FBA will help the BCBA better understand why the child engages in a particular behavior and how they could modify the environment to better support the child and reduce or eliminate the need to engage in challenging behaviors.
Upon completion of the assessments, the BCBA analyzes the information gathered and creates specific goals that would address areas of need. From there, they create individualized plans that build on a child’s strengths and interests to teach new skills.
This is typically an ongoing process, as priorities and needs change as a child grows and progresses through current goals.
How Do You Collaborate with Your Child’s BCBA?
Collaborating with your child’s BCBA is essential to maximize your child’s progress.
Collaboration may be done in a few different ways. Let’s review some of the ways you can communicate with your child’s BCBA to enhance care.
Your BCBA may meet with you to discuss your child’s progress through their treatment plan goals. You might review graphs and data to observe the progress your child is making. Provide your input during these meetings regarding current and future goals to ensure you and your therapy team are aligned.
Caregiver training/coaching sessions
Your BCBA will meet with you regularly to provide what is often called parent training or coaching. During these meetings, your BCBA will check in with you to see how therapy is progressing, ask what questions or concerns you have, and see what ways they can better support you and your child.
A central focus of these meetings will be to teach you ABA activities, strategies and behavior management techniques to empower you to continue your child’s care outside of therapy sessions. They may also have you work directly with your child during caregiver coaching sessions to have your child demonstrate skills they have mastered and ensure they can generalize those skills with you.
This is one of the most important aspects of ABA therapy, as the carryover from therapy to home life is essential for long-term success.
Ongoing and open communication.
Questions or concerns often come up in between meetings or caregiver training sessions. Your BCBA should provide you with contact information for reaching out. Open communication is vital for ongoing progress. Communicating your questions and concerns when they arise can help expedite the process of resolving them.
Your BCBA may also collaborate with you and other professionals via IEPs or other meetings. Reach out to your BCBA if you would like their support in multidisciplinary meetings.
A Day in the Life of a BCBA
For a BCBA, each day is unique and ever-changing, as their role tends to require many different responsibilities to meet the needs of their clients. On a typical day, a BCBA most often has a few sessions working with clients and supervisees, as well as various administrative responsibilities. For in-home therapy providers, travel between clients is also built into their day.
Consider the following example of what a day in the life of an in-home BCBA might look like:
8:00-10:00 AM: Client A’s in-home session–BCBA observes an RBT run a direct session with Client A, while providing feedback and support. BCBA implements a new behavior intervention plan, which they train the RBT on.
10:00-11:00 AM: BCBA runs a caregiver coaching session with Client A’s parents, training them to run the new intervention plan, reviewing goals and progress, and discussing parents’ questions and concerns.
11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Lunch/travel to next client
12:00-1:30 PM: Client B’s in-home session–Because Client B’s RBT called in sick, BCBA fills in, running a direct session with the client. BCBA runs the current programs, probes new skills, and records data on the client’s responses.
1:30-2:00 PM: Travel to next client
2:00-4:00 PM: Client C’s in-home session–BCBA observes the RBT run a direct session with Client C, while providing feedback and support. BCBA reviews the data, analyzes graphs, and modifies the programs as necessary.
4:00-4:15 PM: Travel home (or to the clinic)
4:15-5:30 PM: Administrative work at home or at the clinic–BCBA catches up on emails and returns phone calls, then spends time working on a new skill program for Client B.
Each day can vary significantly depending on the number of clients they see that day, the client’s schedules, administrative tasks they have, and other factors.
Data Analysis to Support Your Child’s Progress
Data collection and analysis are vital components of ABA.
BCBAs and RBTs record data on their client’s behavior and skill acquisition goals to inform treatment decisions. BCBAs graph and analyze the data to identify trends and determine when modifications are necessary. An ability to quickly identify when something is not working for a particular child by analyzing data helps to improve practices that result in the best possible outcomes.
What Are Common ABA Techniques?
BCBAs use a variety of ABA techniques to teach new skills and reduce behaviors that interfere with a child’s ability to learn and make progress. Positive reinforcement is at the heart of ABA. Positive reinforcement is used to increase the likelihood of a particular desired behavior occurring again in the future. Functional communication training (FCT) is another common strategy used that works by teaching children alternative ways of communicating their needs, to replace the need to engage in a challenging behavior such as aggression or self-injurious behavior.
To learn more, see our article on the common ABA techniques used during ABA therapy sessions.
What Funding and Insurance Coverage is Available for ABA Therapy?
Recent federal mandates have improved access to care for children with autism and other developmental challenges.
Private insurance and Medicaid are the most common funding sources for ABA coverage. In many cases, Medicaid and private insurance are required to cover ABA therapy, if it is deemed medically necessary. Other financial assistance programs may be available as well, depending on your area of residence.
BCBAs can make a profound impact on the lives of autistic children and their families. If your child is experiencing behavioral, communication, and social challenges, ABA therapy may benefit them in learning new skills, finding more positive communication methods, and reducing challenging behavior. We encourage you to learn more about how a BCBA can support your family in ABA therapy.
Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2019). Applied Behavior Analysis (3rd Edition). Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education