Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist Jobs & Career Guide

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What Is an ABA Therapist?

Applied Behavior Analysis therapists administer treatment designed to improve social, communication, and listening skills in people with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

ABA therapists work under the direction of a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and with the help of a registered behavior technician (RBT), also known as a paraprofessional.

BCBAs build treatment plans for ABA therapists to administer, and RBTs assist the therapist in providing and monitoring the treatment.

ABA therapists mainly treat children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but also help teenage and adult patients with conditions such as traumatic brain injury, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more.

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How Does a Day in the Life of an ABA Therapist Look?

ABA therapist jobs are demanding but rewarding. People within this profession primarily work with young children who have developmental or intellectual disabilities. Their main responsibility is to improve their social skills, help them develop new skills, and increase positive behaviors while decreasing harmful ones.

Therapists must get their patients to trust them and enjoy spending time with them. Studies show that children with autism lack trust because it is difficult for them to read social cues, so this can prove difficult. Then how do ABA therapists build relationships with their patients? Through a specialized treatment plan.

ABA therapists work under the direction of a BCBA and are sometimes called behavior analyst assistants. The BCBA meets and spends time with patients before the therapist does. They assess their behavioral tendencies, stressors, and preferences and then build a concrete therapy plan.

The plan contains goals prefaced by steps that build safe and healthy behavior, such as communication and listening skills, while decreasing problem behaviors, such as partaking in a dangerous coping mechanism.

The BCBA hands their plan off to an ABA therapist who closely adheres to the detailed steps and monitors patient progress along the way, usually through specialized software. The data collected helps the BCBA adjust the behavioral plan as necessary.

Experts recommend approximately 25 hours of ABA therapy for young children per week, and daily sessions can range from two to five hours. Once assigned a patient, ABA therapists see them through the duration of their treatment to build trust and capture accurate data.

With that said, an ABA therapist’s day consists of multiple one-on-ones with their regular patients.

A typical meeting looks like the therapist prompting and directing the patient to partake in a specific behavior. For instance, if a child struggles with putting on their shoes, the therapist may say, “It is time to play outside. Please put on your shoes.”

If the patient follows the direction, they receive praise and a reward specific to their preference. If they do not, the teacher helps them but withholds positive reinforcement until they can fulfill the direction.

ABA therapy activities are built around the patient’s interests and cushioned with fun breaks like outside time or snacks. Not only does this prevent exhausting the patient, but it also builds trust between them and the therapist.

With that said, anyone seeking an ABA therapist job must have patience, compassion, and a genuine desire to help people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

They must also be personable as family members and peers play a significant role in ABA therapy. To maximize results, ABA therapists also coach family members. Many behavioral plans will include directions for ways household members can participate in treatment and support progress.

If applicable, plans may also call for trips to the patient’s school and communication with their teacher.

While this is what most ABA therapist jobs look like, responsibilities differ by the work environment. With ASD diagnoses nearly tripling since 2000, there is a growing demand for therapists.

Where Do ABA Therapists Work?

Travel is a significant portion of ABA therapist jobs. Therefore, people within this profession should be flexible.

Although ABA therapists travel a lot, they can expect to work in one or a combination of the following settings: patients’ homes, within the community, clinics, schools, and hospitals.

ABA therapists almost always work in patients’ homes as it eases them into treatment. For instance, teaching young children to share their toys with one of their parents or siblings at home is much less stressful than teaching them to share their toys with another child at the park or school. In-home ABA therapy also encourages family participation and understanding to maximize results.

As the patient progresses, their therapist or behavioral analyst may recommend new settings. For example, once the patient masters a skill at home, the therapist can accompany them and a guardian to the park to sharpen the new skill in a social setting.

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Additionally, some behavioral plans include a step that calls for transitioning from the home to the clinic. Clinic-based therapy takes place at an autism or related disorder center. The treatment is similar to in-home therapy, but therapists have additional tools and resources to count on.

Schools are also a common place for ABA therapists to work. Some may be there as part of their patient’s behavioral plan set by their clinic’s BCBA, or they may work for the school.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide accommodations to children with disabilities. Therefore, many schools employ ABA therapists or encourage their educators to become registered behavior technicians.

ABA therapists may also work in long-term care facilities to treat patients with traumatic brain injuries, developmental disabilities, neurological diseases, substance abuse issues, and more.

How Do You Get an ABA Therapist Job?

Many people confuse ABA therapists with board-certified behavior analysts and registered behavior technicians, but as previously mentioned, the three differ. The primary difference is their level of training.

RBTs require a high school diploma, 40 hours of training, and a passing grade on the competency assessment. They are often called paraprofessionals.

ABA therapists require an undergraduate degree, and BCBA’s require a master’s degree in behavior analysis, as well as board certification. To remain certified, BCBAs must take an exam every two years and contribute board fees.

There’s no specific undergraduate degree required, but most ABA therapists choose to study sociology or psychology as both paths equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary for the career. During their studies, many undergraduate students become RBTs and seek internships at clinics or schools to gain hands-on experience.

While not required by all employers, they may also become board-certified assistant behavior analysts (BCaBA) to set themselves apart. The certification also equips ABA therapists to oversee a team of RBTs.

Upon earning an undergraduate degree, aspiring ABA therapists can begin applying to work beneath a BCBA who will train them to carry out their prescribed behavioral plans.

How Much Do ABA Therapist Jobs Pay?

Current data shows that the national average salary is $51,285 per year. Entry-level therapists with less than one year of experience average $44,849 per year, while more experienced therapists with three to five years of experience make around $63,249 per year.

Salary varies by state, workplace, education, and experience. For instance, an ABA therapist that works in a clinic may make slightly more than one who works in a school. ABA therapist jobs in higher-demand states generally pay more, as well.

Additionally, board-certified ABA therapists may be able to demand a higher salary than non-certified candidates.

ABA Therapist Career Path

ABA therapist jobs come with an abundance of growth opportunities. After gaining work as an ABA therapist, they can grow into multiple positions.

Becoming a board-certified behavior analyst is the next step most ABA therapists take. They earn a graduate degree in behavior analysis, as well as a certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. They can open their clinic and oversee a team of ABA therapists and RBTs. They are responsible for building specialized treatment plans and ensuring therapists carry them out.

Some BCBAs go on to earn a doctorate, earning them the title of BCBA-D. BCBA-Ds do not have any additional privileges. Most BCBAs earn their Ph.D. because they desire to teach at the college level. A doctorate also permits behavior analysts to publish research and become tenured professionals within the field.

If ABA therapists do not wish to practice, they can become training coordinators or program directors.

ABA training coordinators typically work within ASD or related disorder clinics. They seek out new training and educational opportunities for the BCBAs, ABA therapists, and RBTs on staff. They also ensure they are up to date on any necessary certifications or licenses.

Program directors are BCBA’s right hand. Most of them once worked as a BCBA and have a master’s degree. Their primary responsibility is to oversee the clinic’s operations and set goals relating to treatment and growth.

Despite the route you desire, applied behavior analysis is a versatile field with various roles—all of which are in demand. Professionals within the field often move up or dabble in diverse environments to find what they most enjoy.

Latest Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapist Jobs & Career Guide Listings

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