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What is a BCBA and What Do They Do?
A board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) is a graduate level healthcare professional that works with patients to provide behavior analytic services.
A BCBA is qualified to supervise RBTs and ABA Therapists who deliver behavior analytic services. However, it is the BCBA that meets with patients to observe and assess their behavior in order to develop a treatment plan to improve or change inappropriate or problem behaviors.
Most BCBAs tend to work in autism services providing Applied Behavior Analysis therapy for patients with autism, such as our clinic in New Jersey. But there are other fields that BCBAs are also qualified for. You can find BCBAs in special education, gerontology, alcohol and drug counseling, human resources and even environmental sustainability, which is predicted to be a fast growing field.
What are the requirements to become a BCBA?
Becoming a BCBA is hard work. The requirements are similar across states, including New Jersey. The first step is to earn a master’s degree or a doctoral degree from an accredited program of study. At least 18 units of the graduate program must be behavior analytic coursework. Some students pursue a graduate certificate if they already have a masters in a related field of study such as education or psychology. Others will pursue an entire masters program in applied behavior analysis.
The second step to becoming a BCBA is to earn the appropriate number of experience hours. Currently, candidates need 1500 total hours of supervision. In 2022, this will increase to 2000 hours. Completing the coursework and the supervisions both require a long commitment and strong focused study.
The fieldwork and the experience hours must be supervised by a qualified BCBA who will agree to sign on and supervise the BCBA candidate for at least 5% of the direct hours with clients. This process can take up to two years if the candidate is working no less than 20 hours per week as an RBT with clients. If the candidate works less than 20 hours, the two years can become much longer. Working with the client should be at least 50% of the supervision hours.
Then there are “unrestricted” supervision hours that include activities that will be part of the job as a BCBA. Data collection, creating behavior intervention plans, graphing behavior data, training paraprofessionals, writing summaries related to ABA, meeting with parents, observing caregivers implementing strategies, writing clinical notes, graphing and analyzing trends, conducting preference assessments and other technical duties that BCBAs are responsible for.
Once the coursework and hours are complete, the supervisor signs a final completion form and the candidate submits all of the tracking forms showing documentation of their field experience and supervision. They are finally qualified to sit for the board examination with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
The exam is four hours long and there are 150 questions. It is a difficult exam and the passing rate is about 63% for first time test takers. You can be sure that any BCBA you work with knows the meaning of hard work, patience and diligence. This is not an easy process!
What does the BCBA do?
So, after all of that work what exactly does a BCBA do? More specifically, what purpose does a BCBA serve in autism services for your child?
At our practice in New Jersey, the BCBA is the first person that will sit and observe and analyze behaviors in a patient during intake. They will take careful data and interview caretakers and close relatives about the patient to learn about likes and dislikes. They will ask about things that motivate them to pay attention and participate in activities, they will look for behavioral signs that might indicate the function of some of the problem behaviors and they will develop a plan of treatment for changing behavior, maintaining appropriate behavior or eliminating inappropriate behavior.
At Circle Care, our BCBAs supervise the registered behavior techs who come into the home, school or clinic setting to put the behavior plan to work with the patient who has autism. The BCBA will oversee as many as ten or twelve RBTs every week by looking over their data that they keep as they work through the treatment plan with the client. Face to face visits usually happen once a week or once every other week depending on how often the client receives ABA therapy services.
Parent training is another duty that BCBAs regularly perform. Not all ABA agencies provide this, but many will provide or require ABA training for parents so that they can understand what is happening during their child’s sessions. At Circle Care New Jersey, we strongly encourage parent involvement.
The BCBA is trained to do formal behavioral analysis and to train educational staff to take data on behaviors when trying to assess problem behaviors. This doesn’t happen too often because it is very difficult to get accurate data from staff without training in the behavioral sciences. But there are times when the BCBA is able to help to train school staff to monitor certain behaviors and then provide suggestions for gaining a student’s compliance in the classroom.
The BCBA is your child’s coach and strategist who has been rigorously educated and professionally trained and will map out your child’s plan to success in their behavioral treatment program. Everything that your BCBA has worked so hard for in their career as a behavior analyst has been specifically taught to meet the needs of everyone that they work with in professionalism, accuracy and success. Here’s to your child’s success!