An unregulated profession: Anyone can "hang out a shingle" and claim expertise in ABA. It is up to you to determine if they are qualified to work with your child. Many schools offer degrees in behavior analysis. A stronger indication (not guarantee!) of professional expertise is the letters BCBA, "Board Certified Behavior Analyst" (or BCABA, similar but requiring less experience). This indicates the person has completed coursework in behavior analysis, had clinical training, and passed an exam administered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

See also: Consumer Guidelines for Identifying, Selecting, and Evaluating Behavior Analysts Working with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDF)


The following is by Dr. Gina Green. Dr. Green has a PhD in psychology with a specialty in behavior analysis. She is the co-editor of the book Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism, and a member of the Executive Council and Chair of the Professional Standards Committee of the Association for Behavior Analysis.

(With permission of the author, reproduction permitted provided the preceding credit is attached.)


Who is qualified to oversee intensive, comprehensive behavioral programming for young children with autism/PDD?

This is truly a $64,000 question, at least. Presently there are no "official" standards for certifying or licensing applied behavior analysts nationwide. Some states, however, have certification or registration procedures for behavior analysts (e.g., Florida, California), and the field has identified the following formal training and competencies required of professionals in behavior analysis:

Formal training

Competencies

Skills for the competent practice of behavior analysis were identified in a national survey conducted recently by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Specific skills, too numerous to list here, were identified in the following areas. For the complete list of competencies, see "Identifying qualified professional in behavior analysis" by Gerald Shook and Judith Favell in Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism, edited by Catherine Maurice, co-edited by Gina Green and Stephen Luce; PRO-ED, 1996.

Directing and supervising intensive, comprehensive behavioral programs for young children with autism requires special skills in addition to the general competencies in applied behavior analysis listed above. These skills are best developed through supervised, hands-on experience in providing this kind of programming to youngsters with autism/PDD. Specific competencies in this area have not yet been defined formally, but many can be gleaned from a number of sources, such as the book cited above. Some important competency areas that have been suggested include:

Unfortunately, a number of individuals and programs who claim to be able to provide intensive behavioral programming for young children with autism are not qualified to do so. Some of these claims appear to be based on the misconception that "behavioral programming" refers only to procedures for reducing problem behavior. Others seem to be based on the invalid assumption that one can learn to provide this kind of intervention simply by watching some videotapes, reading some books, attending a workshop or two, or having some experience teaching individuals with autism. Still others reflect a response to the increased demand for these services that may be uninformed at best, blatantly opportunistic at worst. Parents and other concerned persons should ask prospective directors or supervisors of intensive behavioral programs for young children with autism/PDD to provide documentation of their qualifications in the form of: degrees; letters of reference from professors, employment supervisors, and/or families to whom they have provided similar services; evidence of any certificates or licenses; results of any competency exams they may have taken in applied behavior analysis; participation in professional meetings and conferences in behavior analysis and therapy; or publications of behavior analytic research in professional journals. A few workshops or courses do not qualify one to practice applied behavior analysis effectively and ethically.

There are many behavior analysts with expertise in studying and treating autistic behavior, and many public and private treatment and education programs for people with autism and related disorders that use the principles of applied behavior analysis (although not nearly enough of them!). The Association for Behavior Analysis (ABA), the international organization for professional behavior analysts, publishes a directory of its members and a guide to graduate training programs in behavior analysis. Its Autism Special Interest group consists of behavior analysts with interest and experience in autism. The organization sponsors a conference annually (usually late May) that includes presentations and workshops on the latest behavioral research and its applications to teaching persons with autism, as well as many other socially significant problems.

Association for Behavior Analysis 
1219 South Park Street 
Kalamazoo, MI 49001-5607 
Phone: (269)492-9310 
e-mail: mail@abainternational.org

[End of Dr. Green's text]


Revised Guidelines for Consumers of
Applied Behavior Analysis Services
to Individuals with Autism and Related Disorders

Autism Special Interest Group (SIG)
Association for Behavior Analysis
Revision Adopted September 15, 2004
Original Version Adopted May 23, 1998
 
The Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association for Behavior Analysis asserts that all children and adults with autism and related disorders have the right to effective education and treatment based on the best available scientific evidence. Research has clearly documented the effectiveness of applied behavior analysis (ABA) methods in the education and treatment of people with autism (e.g., Matson et al., 1996; Smith, 1996; New York Department of Health, 1999; U.S. Surgeon General, 1999).

Planning, directing, and monitoring effective ABA programs for individuals with autism requires specific competencies. Individuals with autism, their families, and other consumers have the right to know whether persons who claim to be qualified to direct ABA programs actually have the necessary competencies. All consumers also have the right to hold those individuals accountable for providing quality services (e.g., to ask them to show how they use objective data to plan, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions they use). Because of the diversity of needs of individuals in the autism spectrum and the array of specific competencies amongst the pool of potential service providers, consumers also need to focus on the match between their needs and the specific competencies of a particular provider.

Formal credentialing of professional behavior analysts through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) can provide some safeguards for consumers, including a means of screening potential providers, and some recourse if incompetent or unethical practices are encountered. Unfortunately, there continues to exist a tremendous gap between the supply of qualified behavior analysts and the demand for ABA services. Nonetheless, as with any other credentialed professionals, consumers should exercise caution when working with individuals who have, or claim to have, credentials in behavior analysis. Although a formal credential in behavior analysis is evidence that a professional has met minimum competency standards, it does not guarantee that the individual has specific expertise in autism, nor that s/he can produce optimal treatment outcomes. Furthermore, the credentialing of professional behavior analysts has only been in place on an international level since 2000 and there may be some competent service providers who are still in the process of applying for BACB certification.

The Autism SIG recommends that consumers seek to determine if those who claim to be qualified to direct ABA programs for people with autism meet the following minimum standards:

I. Certification by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), or documented evidence of equivalent education, professional training, and supervised experience in applied behavior analysis.

Standards for certification as a BCBA, which can be found at www.BACB.com (Consumer Information Section), include: at least a master's degree in behavior analysis or a related area; 225 hours of graduate level coursework in specific behavior analytic content areas (as of the deadline for Spring 2005 applications); 18 months of mentored experience or 9 months of supervised experience in designing and implementing applied behavior analysis interventions; and a passing score on a standardized examination. Consumers are urged to check the BACB website as these requirements may change from time to time. An individual's BACB certification status may be verified by going to www.BACB.com, clicking on "Consumer Information," and then clicking "Registry."

Note that there is also a lower level of BACB certification, Board Certified Associate Behavior Analyst (BCABA), for individuals who have a bachelor's degree, 135 hours of classroom instruction in behavior analysis (effective for Spring 2005 applications), 12 months of mentored experience or 6 months of supervised experience in implementing applied behavior analysis interventions, and a passing score on a standardized examination.

A complete list of skills and knowledge covered on the Behavior Analyst Certification Board examinations is available at www.BACB.com. Both BCBAs and BCABAs must renew their BACB certification annually, participate in continuing education activities that must meet BACB standards, and adhere to the BACB's Guidelines for Responsible Conduct (also available at www.BACB.com).

With respect to BCABAs, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board explicitly states that

The BCABA designs and oversees interventions in familiar cases (e.g., similar to those encountered during their training) that are consistent with the dimensions of applied behavior analysis. The BCABA obtains technical direction from a BCBA for unfamiliar situations. The BCABA is able to teach others to carry out interventions once the BCABA has demonstrated competency with the procedures involved under the direct supervision of a BCBA. The BCABA may assist a BCBA with the design and delivery of introductory level instruction in behavior analysis. It is strongly recommended that the BCABA practice under the supervision of a BCBA, and that those governmental entities regulating BCABAs require this supervision.

The Autism SIG does not consider BCABAs, or individuals with equivalent or less training and experience, to be qualified to independently design, direct, and guide behavior analytic programming for individuals with autism. They may deliver behavior analytic intervention, and may assist with program design, but should be adequately supervised by BCBAs or the equivalent. The Autism Special Interest Group encourages consumers to request the name and contact information of the BCABA's supervisor and check to see that the supervisor is a BCBA or equivalent, as well as the information about the amount and type of supervision he/she provides.

The Autism SIG asserts that certification as a BCBA or documented equivalent training and experience is a necessary but not sufficient qualification to direct programming for individuals with autism. Consumers should be aware that the discipline of applied behavior analysis is broad and varied, and that many individuals who hold certification as a BCBA have little to no experience directing or delivering ABA programming to individuals with autism. Therefore, the Autism SIG considers the following training and experience, in addition to certification as a BCBA or the equivalent, to be necessary to competently direct ABA programming for individuals with autism:

IIa. At least one full calendar year (full-time equivalent of 1000 clock hours [25 hrs/wk for 40 weeks]) of hands-on training in providing ABA services directly to children and/or adults with autism under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or the equivalent with at least 5 years of experience in ABA programming for individuals with autism.

The training and supervision should assure competency in the following areas:

  1. Experience in assuming the lead role in designing and implementing comprehensive ABA programming for individuals with autism. The experience should involve designing and implementing individualized programs to build skills and promote independent functioning in each of the following areas: "learning to learn" (e.g., observing, listening, following instructions, imitating); communication (vocal and nonvocal); social interaction; self-care; school readiness; academics; self-preservation; motor; play and leisure; community living; self-monitoring; and pre-vocational and vocational skills.
  2. Providing ABA programming to at least 8 individuals with autism spectrum disorders who represent a range of repertoires and ages.
  3. Employing an array of scientifically validated behavior analytic teaching procedures, including (but not limited to) discrete trial instruction, modeling, incidental teaching and other "naturalistic" teaching methods, small group instruction, activity-embedded instruction, task analysis, and chaining.
  4. Incorporating the following techniques into skill-building programs: prompting; error correction; reinforcement and manipulation of motivational variables; stimulus control (including discrimination training); preference assessments; and choice procedures.
  5. Employing a wide array of strategies to program for and assess both skill acquisition and skill generalization.
  6. Modifying instructional programs based on frequent, systematic evaluation of direct observational data.
  7. Conducting functional assessments (including functional analyses) of challenging behavior and becoming familiar with the array of considerations that would indicate certain assessment methods over others.
  8. Designing and implementing programs to reduce stereotypic, disruptive, and destructive behavior based on systematic analysis of the variables that cause and maintain the behavior and matching treatment to the determined function(s) of the behavior.
  9. Incorporating differential reinforcement of appropriate alternative responses into behavior reduction programs and efforts to teach replacement skills, based on the best available research evidence.
  10. Modifying behavior reduction programs based on frequent, systematic evaluation of direct observational data.
  11. Providing training in ABA methods and other support services to the families of at least 8 individuals with autism.
  12. Providing training and supervision to at least 5 professionals, paraprofessionals, or college students providing ABA services to individuals with autism.
  13. Collaborating effectively with professionals from other disciplines and with family members to promote consistent intervention and to maximize outcomes.

IIb. Additional training in directing and supervising ABA programs for individuals with autism that involves:

The Autism SIG urges consumers to ask prospective directors of ABA services (including those who use titles such as "consultant") to provide evidence of their qualifications in the form of:

Consumers should be aware of the following:

  1. Attending or giving some workshops, taking some courses, or getting brief hands-on experiences does NOT qualify an individual to practice applied behavior analysis effectively and ethically. Unfortunately, there may be some individuals who misrepresent themselves when describing their skills and experiences to consumers.
  2. Evidence of attendance and active participation in professional meetings and conferences in behavior analysis (e.g., the annual meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis) is certainly desirable. Such activities by themselves, however, do not constitute training in behavior analysis, and conference presentations are not equivalent to publications in peer-reviewed professional journals because conference presentations typically are not reviewed carefully by a number of other behavior analysts, and do not have to meet scientific standards. Therefore, it is important for consumers to differentiate presentations at conferences and workshops from publications in peer-reviewed journals.
  3. Consumers who have concerns about the ethical behavior of individuals providing ABA services are strongly encouraged to contact the Behavior Analyst Certification Board in the case of a BCBA or BCABA, and discipline-specific licensing boards in the case of those holding professional licensure (such as psychologists, speech-language pathologists, physicians, social workers).

DISCLAIMER: This document suggests guidelines for consumers to use in determining who may be qualified to direct applied behavior analysis programs for individuals with autism, as recommended by the Autism Special Interest Group of the Association for Behavior Analysis International. It does not represent the official policy, position, or opinions of the Association for Behavior Analysis, its members, or its Executive Council.


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