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Applied Behavior Analysts are behavior specialists that help people to manage and improve behaviors that interfere with daily lives. The term “ABA therapist” is often used loosely to refer to Registered Behavior Techs (RBTs) among teachers, parents and caregivers, but it generally refers to the person who works directly with a child at home, in school or maybe in a clinic setting. The terms RBT and ABA therapist can be used interchangeably.
The RBT or ABA therapist is the person who spends the most hours with your child and carries out the plan that has been carefully constructed by an overseeing board certified behavior analyst, also known as a BCBA.
Do ABA Therapists Only Treat Autism?
While most people think of autism when they hear the term ABA, it is not the only population that ABA therapists work with.
Applied Behavior Analysis is also used in:
- drug addiction programs
- with the elderly who suffer with Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems
- in corporate settings to improve workplace performance
- in environmental sustainability programs (one of the newest growing fields for ABAs)
ABA therapists work primarily in the field of autism and the 40 hour certificate course to become a Registered Behavior Technician is focused on autism. Other areas like the ones mentioned above would most likely require a BCBA.
What’s the Role of an ABA Therapist?
ABA therapists work under the guidance of a graduate level supervisor (BCBA) who is board certified and trained to evaluate clients and customize treatment plans to fit the needs of the client. The RBT follows the treatment plan that has been created by the BCBA to teach new skills and behaviors that are socially appropriate.
The RBT can teach the client skills in speech and communication, how to conduct themselves appropriately in social settings, how to increase their focus and attention span, how to self manage and any skills that would be helpful to the individual at home, in school, at work or out in the community.
For example, something as simple as making eye contact with someone while having a conversation could be a monumental task for someone with autism. This is a skill that a BCBA may identify and include as a goal in this client’s treatment plan. The RBT would follow the procedures that the BCBA describes in the program and works on that skill with the client at each session. During each session, the RBT will take data on how the child responds to the treatment and after enough data has been recorded, there should be enough information to show progress with the goal.
It might take some time, but if all goes well the child will begin to learn to make eye contact while speaking to another person. Over time, it becomes a natural response and eventually this person will have better communication with peers and people in the community which will enhance the quality of life for this person with autism.
What Activities Does an ABA Therapist Perform?
These are the types of goals and activities that an autism therapist (RBT) is in the home or the clinic setting to provide. RBTs need to be patient and energetic because these activities are repetitious for a reason. Children with autism often need the repetition to learn a new skill. The repetition can get boring unless the RBT can somehow make it playful and fun. This is usually accomplished by high energy, using a happy and excited tone of voice when the child responds correctly and making use of the right motivators for the child.
Let’s face it- after a couple of weeks or months of the same routine with a therapist, most children know that they are “working” and they start to lose their enthusiasm. When this happens, it is up to the RBT to keep the child interested and motivated to complete whatever tasks they are given. This is where ABA gets fun! A good RBT will know how to wrap the programming into playtime to keep the momentum with a child. The goal of ABA therapy is to teach within a natural environment – the environment that the child is accustomed to on a daily basis. This is the reason that the majority of the therapy sessions take place in the home setting.
What if My Child Doesn’t Like Their ABA Therapist?
It is often said in the field of ABA that the children should look forward to their ABA therapist’s visits; if a child with autism doesn’t look forward to these visits and they cry or they try to avoid their sessions after the RBT arrives, then it might be ideal to try a different RBT and find a more appropriate match for your child. It isn’t uncommon for occasional mismatches between RBTs and clients to happen. It might be hard for the RBT to avoid taking it personally, but it can also happen the other way around as well. There are times when an RBT does not feel comfortable in a particular home and sometimes it is best to request a switch.
At Circle Care Services, all feedback is welcome to better benefit the child with autism, and we respect when parents advocate for their child with autism. ABA works best when everyone is happy and working well together.
The Difference Between ABA Therapists and BCBAs
There is a big difference between ABAs and BCBAs. An ABA Therapist, or Registered Behavior Tech (RBT), is an entry level position that anyone with a high school diploma can apply to after the completion of a 40 hour training course in behavior. In this 40 hour training course, the student learns basic principles of ABA, principles of behavior, ethics, working with parents and children and some state relevant information including what it means to be a mandated reporter.
Board Certified Behavior Analysts are required to complete a Masters degree in Applied Behavior Analysis or a related area like psychology or education. In addition to a Masters degree, a BCBA candidate needs 1500 hours of supervision by a licensed and registered BCBA. This usually happens while working as an RBT for an ABA agency and asking one of the BCBAs at the agency to oversee their supervision hours. Half of the hours are direct hours that are spent working with the client and the other 750 hours are indirect hours that are spent on tasks that are related to the field. The BACB (the National Board overseeing certifications) has a list of approved tasks, plus each agency and supervising BCBA has opportunities for indirect hours to help candidates accomplish these hours. It is not an easy process and it can take two or three years to complete the supervision hours depending on how much a candidate works each week in the field.
Once a candidate has their degree and their supervision hours are complete, the next step is the exam. The BCBA exam is a four hour exam and it has often been referred to as the psychology equivalent of the bar exam for aspiring lawyers. The passing rate for first time test takers is less than half. It is not unusual for a candidate to take the exam three or four times before passing. Once that is complete, that is the most difficult part of the certification.
Some states require an additional step by requiring a BCBA to test and license to practice psychology in that state.
All of these certifications require renewals and continuing education and because ABA therapists work primarily with children it is mandatory to have updated first aid and CPR at all times.
Is the ABA Therapist Qualified to Work With My Child?
When you see the enormous difference between the educational background of the RBT versus the BCBA, it isn’t unreasonable to raise questions about how qualified the person is who spends the most working hours with your child. How is it that a young adult that just finished high school the previous year is qualified as a therapist for my child with autism?
RBTs are a valuable part of your child’s ABA therapy sessions, but they are there to carry out the instructions of the BCBAs. The qualifications of the BCBAs are put to good use when they evaluate your child, develop specific programs for them and monitor progress. In addition to that, they are monitoring each client, writing reports, reporting to insurances, reporting to their supervisors and always keeping up with newest practices and continuing education. They meet with parents, school administrators and state agencies. They work tirelessly as advocates for families and children with autism. With all of these responsibilities, it would be impossible to provide direct treatment for one child with 20 hours of approved therapy. This is why the role of the ABA Therapist is so important.
The RBT is assigned to a client after all of the initial assessments are finished and the treatment plan is written. Once the RBT starts working with the client, the BCBA can supervise in person once every couple of weeks and monitor the notes and data the RBT keeps at each session. The two roles work perfectly together.
ABA Therapist or Registered Behavior Tech?
The next time someone asks you about your ABA therapist, you can explain to them that they are actually Registered Behavior Techs. They might not have a higher degree (yet), but it does take an investment of time and an official exam taken with a proctor to get registered with the BACB as an RBT.
You can rest assured that whoever is assigned to work with your child is invested in their work, invested in the growth of your child’s development, and enjoys what they do for a living. Many RBTs are also on their way toward becoming BCBAs in the future and they are determined to do a great job, getting the best results when they work with your child.
Work with them, communicate with them and encourage them.
At Circle Care Services, parents, caregivers, BCBAs, RBTs and the child with autism are all part of a unified team!