ABA Therapist Job Description
ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapists use their knowledge of behavioral methods to help people living with intellectual or developmental disabilities, especially those with autism spectrum disorders. ABA therapists employ a systematic approach to help those they serve to develop better social and life skills. For instance, a child might get a sticker for brushing his teeth as positive reinforcement for good grooming habits.
Schools, group homes, and other facilities that use behavioral techniques hire ABA therapists. Some professionals also find work serving individual families in their homes. The job involves significant one-to-one interaction to figure out what works best for the individual. Though clients can be of any age, a good number of them are children. With roughly 1 in 68 US children on the autism spectrum, demand for ABA therapists and others who work to help these kids and their families should be strong in the years ahead, particularly because ABA is recognized as a safe and effective treatment and endorsed by the US Surgeon General.
ABA Therapist Duties and Responsibilities
As ABA therapists work to alter a person’s behavior, they perform a variety of tasks. Our analysis of job postings revealed the following as some of the core responsibilities:
Because ABA therapy is not one-size-fits-all, ABA therapists must evaluate each client. They have to figure out what the person knows, how he or she behaves, and which goals are most important to work on. Talking to parents and teachers, observing a child in a controlled environment, or shadowing a student at school may be part of the information-gathering process.
Once ABA therapists establish objectives, they come up with ways to promote desirable behavior. For instance, if the goal is for a child to stop smashing toys when he or she wants attention, they may reward him or her for gently tugging on someone’s sleeve instead. ABA therapists keep detailed records of actions in order to figure out what is working and what needs tweaking. They may turn their data into graphs in order to get a better picture of progress.
Parents, teachers, and other caregivers have a vested interest in what an ABA therapist discovers. ABA therapists show these people how to apply behavioral therapy to achieve results. This information may make a student more teachable or home life more pleasant. ABA therapists are expected to regularly take part in meetings to discuss concerns and answer questions.
ABA Therapist Skills
At the heart of being an ABA therapist is the desire to make a difference in someone’s life. Working with people who have mental or developmental difficulties, however, requires a great deal of patience and empathy. Other good characteristics for ABA therapists to possess include:
- Communicating clearly with others so that they know what to do to perform their role in behavioral therapy plans
- Attending to detail to notice which plans are effective and which need reevaluation
- Exhibiting excellent interpersonal skills
- Motivating clients to do their best
- Using creativity to solve problems or inspire action
- Recognizing the signs of overburdened caregivers and assisting them in finding relief
ABA Therapist Tools of the trade
If you plan on becoming an ABA therapist, you may want to familiarize yourself with the following terms:
- Baseline – where a patient is at the starting point before trying a treatment, such as how many words a preschooler already knows
- Target behavior – actions the ABA therapist wants to see happen, such as raising one’s hand in a classroom
- Positive reinforcement – recognizing or rewarding the behavior you want to see in order to strengthen the likelihood of it being repeated
- Incidental teaching – interactions initiated by the patient that can be used as learning opportunities
- Pivotal response training – an intervention method focusing on larger developmental areas rather than targeting individual behaviors one at a time
- Milieu therapy – providing a controlled environment to teach interaction skills with the hope that what is learned can later be transferred to “real life” scenarios
ABA Therapist Education and Training
ABA therapists hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field such as psychology or special education. Some post-secondary schools offer programs specifically in applied behavioral science. Becoming a certified ABA therapist requires an exam, education, and hands-on field experience.
ABA Therapist Resources
If you are interested in a challenging, yet rewarding, career as an ABA therapist, these resources we’ve compiled offer further information:
Autism Speaks – A go-to source for everything related to autism, this respected organization has been operating since 2005 to promote solutions throughout the lifespan for individuals with autism and their families.
Behavior Analyst Certification Board – Contact this nonprofit corporation to learn more about the certification process for ABA therapists.
The Parent’s Guide to In-Home ABA Programs: Frequently Asked Questions about Applied Behavior Analysis for Your Child – While written for parents of autistic children, this well-reviewed book also may answer many of the questions aspiring ABA therapists have about what the program is all about. One reader praises this comprehensive overview as a “must-read for anyone new to the ABA world.”
Teaching Children with Autism: An ABA Primer – Parents, educators, and anyone else interested in learning about the potential of ABA therapy can benefit from this guide.
ABA Therapists Rock! – Still have questions about becoming an ABA therapist? Chances are someone among the 5,000+ members of this LinkedIn group has answers!
ABA Therapist Resume Help
Explore these related job titles from our database of hundreds of thousands of expert-approved resume samples: