Autism is a developmental condition that affects 1 in 68 children born today. If you are passionate about helping those with special needs, why not make it a career as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist? This article will cover the ins and outs of life as an ABA therapist, including some daily tasks and the skills required. It will also cover salary information and the education and training required to get a job as an ABA therapist.
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What Does an ABA Therapist Do?
An applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapist teaches life skills and academic strategies to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most of their day is spent in a one-on-one setting with an autistic child, teaching them speech and language and positive strategies for handling social interaction. ABA therapists typically work under a behavioral analyst in an office setting.
Being an ABA therapist requires a deep technical understanding of ASD and the strategies used to rehabilitate children with this condition. Here are some typical tasks that arise during an ABA therapist’s day:
Communicative tasks, such as one-on-one sessions with clients.
Interpersonal tasks, such as empathizing with clients and their families.
Clerical tasks include taking session notes by hand and inputting them into the database.
Analytical tasks include observing client behavior and deciding on a corresponding rehabilitation strategy.
How Do You Become an ABA Therapist?
Learning the steps to becoming an ABA therapist will help you decide if you want to pursue an ABA therapy career.
Complete your bachelor’s degree:
According to the job postings we studied, the educational requirements for an ABA therapist vary by employer. Most say only a high school diploma or equivalent is necessary but prefer candidates to have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, special education or a related field. Coursework in these degrees would focus on abnormal and clinical psychology, human development and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some programs may include fieldwork hours designed to give students hands-on experience working with autistic children. While a bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete, the good news is that some employers are willing to hire students to pursue a degree part-time.
There are no certifications one is required to earn to become an ABA Therapist. With that being said, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board offers a Registered Behavior Technician certification. Although voluntary, many higher-paying employers prefer candidates who have this certification. The requirements to earn this certification are as follows:
- 18 years of age or older
- High School graduate
- Complete 40 hours of training under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
- Complete the registered behavior technician competency assessment.
- Pass a criminal background check.
One important stipulation is the trainer of the candidate, called the responsible certificate, cannot be an employer or relative. You can find out more about the contents of the 40-hour training program and competency assessment here and here.
Growth trends for ABA therapists:
Demand for ABA therapists is increasing rapidly. 1 in 68 children born today is diagnosed with autism, which means ABA Therapists will always be in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps ABA therapists and other specialty therapists in the “Therapists; All Other” category. The BLS has demand for specialty therapists increasing 24% through 2024. They estimate 830 new jobs will be created annually, and a good chunk of those will be in ABA therapy. Given the number of Autism cases nationwide, ABA therapists will find job openings in hospitals and healthcare facilities in virtually every state.
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ABA Therapist Skills
Being an ABA therapist is a career path where theoretical knowledge can only take you so far. An ABA therapist has to have excellent interpersonal skills to have the empathy required to work with children who have autism.
They must be driven by a desire to understand autism as deeply as possible to maximize the help they can provide their clients. A great ABA therapist has a high energy level and a positive outlook on life. They also have good verbal communication skills, which are necessary for communicating therapy strategies to family members and at-home caregivers.
A person who wants to work with people with a disability or mental health disorder should know that most of the skills required will the use of soft skills:
Best seven critical technical skills required for the job:
Insights from an ABA Therapist
Being an ABA Therapist is both challenging and rewarding. Many people get into the profession after seeing the effectiveness of ABA therapy first-hand, says Jennifer Godwin, vice president of program and clinical services for the Early Autism Project, Inc. We talked to Goodwin to get more insights about being an ABA Therapist. Here's what she shared.
What is the common career path for an ABA Therapist?
Many Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists are initially introduced to the field of ABA therapy by working with, or knowing, a child on the autism spectrum. ABA therapy is widely recognized as the most effective, evidence-based treatment for autism. After seeing the success an ABA program can have in the life of a child with autism and their family, individuals are often motivated to gain additional educational degrees, experience and certifications so they can help children reach their full potential. A common career goal for an ABA Therapist is to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
What should someone consider before becoming an ABA Therapist?
Many ABA Therapists have less traditional work hours and even though the work is rewarding, it is also challenging. Individuals considering pursuing a profession in ABA therapy should network with other people in the field and develop a professional support system to share information and best practices. Having a network of friends/colleagues who are ABA therapists is incredibly important in ensuring your professional success and job satisfaction.
What type of person excels in this job?
Compassionate individuals who truly love children and want to help them succeed are typically ideal candidates for the ABA therapist career path. The work of an ABA Therapist is also very data driven career so most of us also enjoy science and possess a drive to always learn more.
What are some of the most important skills for an ABA Therapist to have?
ABA Therapists need to be caring, creative and fun so they can relate to their young clients during their one-on-one instruction, and they also must be comfortable providing corrective feedback, developing treatment plans and training parents and other therapists. Therapists also need to embrace technology and be proficient using computer programs such as Excel for data tracking and analysis.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an ABA Therapist?
The most rewarding aspect of being an ABA therapist is to help children with autism develop the skills to live a happy and productive life and to see the positive impact the therapy has on children and their families. It is also rewarding to work with other therapists who are equally excited by the field and are passionate about making a difference.
How Much does an ABA Therapist get Paid?
The National Bureau of Labor Statistics quotes the median hourly wage for ABA Therapists at $26.93. Those in the top 10 percent of earners make $44.76, while those in the bottom 10 percent of earners make $15.56.
Top 10 States for ABA Therapist Hourly Wage
ABA Therapist Resources
Those looking to find out more information about being an ABA Therapist can continue to explore through the resources below.
On the Web
This blog is ran by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst named Tameika Meadows. It covers life as an ABA Therapist, as well as real-life stories featuring patients with Autism.
Autism Speaks is a digital hub designed to provide resources to families and caregivers of those with Autism. This is a great place for an Aspiring ABA Therapist to learn about the real challenges faced by parents with Autistic children.
Difflearn has been a resource for parents and Therapists since 1995. Follow this link to be taken to their series of four books that collectively serve as a procedural bible for ABA Therapists.
Applied Behavior Analysis: 2nd Edition
This textbook is Amazon’s #1 best seller in the Special Education category. It is an excellent academic resource for aspiring ABA Therapists.
Behavioral Analyst Certification Board
This is the organization that administers the Registered Behavior Technician certification. Their website contains all the information you need to earn your RBT.
Association of Professional Behavior Analysts
The APBA is a non-profit organization dedicated to being an all-encompassing professional development resource for those practicing Applied Behavior Analysis.