How to Become a Behavioral Therapist for Autism?

Explore how to become a behavioral therapist for autism, opening doors to positive change and understanding.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 17, 2024
9 min read
min read

Becoming an ABA Therapist

Becoming an Autism Behavioral Therapist, or ABA Therapist, is a fulfilling journey that combines education and hands-on experience. This path involves understanding the nuances of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to provide effective therapy for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Education Requirements

The first step to becoming an ABA therapist is obtaining a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Ideal fields of study include psychology or education, as they provide a solid foundation in the principles of behaviorism, which is the basis of ABA therapy [1].

Degree Field of Study
Bachelor's Degree Psychology, Education

After acquiring a bachelor's degree, the next step is to complete a certification program approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). The BACB offers two levels of certification: Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

BACB Certification Education Requirements
RBT High School Diploma or equivalent, completion of a 40-hour training program
BCBA Master's Degree in Psychology or related field, completion of a BACB-approved course sequence

Gaining Experience

In addition to the educational requirements, aspiring ABA therapists need to gain practical experience by working as a behavior technician under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). This hands-on experience provides valuable insights into implementing ABA therapy techniques with individuals with ASD.

This experience is not only instrumental in understanding the application of ABA principles but also a requirement for BCBA certification. Following this, there is an examination to test your understanding and skills before you can become a certified ABA therapist.

In summary, to embark on the rewarding journey of becoming an Autism Behavioral Therapist, you need to follow a path of relevant education, gain supervised experience, and achieve certification. The process might be challenging, but the impact you can make in the lives of individuals with ASD is significant.

Certification as an ABA Therapist

Pursuing a career as an autism behavioral therapist requires certain credentials. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) offers certifications that are widely recognized in the field. In this section, we will discuss the different BACB certification levels and compare the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certifications.

BACB Certification Levels

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) was established in 1998 to provide professional credentialing needs for behavior analysts, standardizing professional qualifications within the field.

There are two levels of certification offered by the BACB:

  1. Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)
  2. Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

These certifications are designed to validate your skills and knowledge in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and are essential for those looking to work as a behavioral therapist for autism.

RBT vs. BCBA Certification

The RBT and BCBA certifications have different requirements and lead to different roles within the field of ABA therapy.

The RBT certification requires a high school diploma or equivalent, completion of a 40-hour training program, and passing an exam. This certification provides a foundation for working directly with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) under the supervision of a BCBA.

On the other hand, the BCBA certification requires a master's degree in psychology or a related field, completion of a BACB-approved course sequence, supervised experience, and passing an exam. With a BCBA certification, you can develop and implement individualized treatment plans for clients with ASD and supervise RBTs.

Certification Education Additional Requirements Roles
RBT High School Diploma or equivalent 40-hour training program, passing an exam Work directly with individuals with ASD under the supervision of a BCBA
BCBA Master's Degree in psychology or related field BACB-approved course sequence, supervised experience, passing an exam Develop and implement treatment plans for clients with ASD, supervise RBTs

Most states require a master's degree as the standard minimum qualification to become a licensed behavior analyst, with many closely following the guidelines set by the BACB Model Act. BCBA® certification is often a requirement in states adopting these standards.

In conclusion, the choice between RBT and BCBA certification depends on your career goals, educational background, and the level of responsibility you wish to have in your role as a behavioral therapist for autism.

Maintaining Certification

Once an individual has achieved certification as an ABA therapist, it's important to maintain that certification to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest research and techniques in ABA therapy. This section will cover the requirements for Continuing Education Units and the advantages of becoming a Certified Autism Specialist.

Continuing Education Units

To maintain certification as an ABA therapist, therapists are required to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs) every two years. These units help professionals stay informed about the latest developments in ABA therapy and ensure they are providing the most effective and current treatments to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The number of CEUs required can vary depending on the specific certification level. However, continuing education is a vital aspect of maintaining professional standards and ensuring the highest level of care for individuals with ASD.

Certified Autism Specialist

Becoming a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) can open up additional opportunities for ABA therapists. This credential is recognized in many educational and clinical settings, and can increase receptiveness from parents and peers when working with individuals with ASD [3].

Earning a CAS credential indicates a high level of professional development, as it requires additional training in the field of autism. This credential is seen as a mark of credibility, demonstrating a therapist's competence and dedication to providing high-quality services to individuals with ASD.

Professional Role Benefit of Certification
Special Education Teacher, M.S.Ed., C.A.S. Providing specialized instruction for students with special needs Enhanced credibility and professional development (Source)
Director of Special Education Overseeing special education programs and services in a school district Ability to provide support to teachers and accommodate the needs of a growing number of students with ASD (Source)

As a Certified Autism Specialist, a professional can better meet the increasing standards of accountability for highly qualified service providers. This equips ABA therapists to better meet the spectrum of needs of individuals with autism, providing them with the best possible care.

In conclusion, maintaining certification and considering additional credentials such as a Certified Autism Specialist, are crucial steps for ABA therapists. These steps ensure they are providing the most effective, up-to-date, and specialized care for individuals with ASD.

ABA Therapist's Role

In the journey of understanding how to become a behavioral therapist for autism, it's crucial to comprehend the role and responsibilities of an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapist. In addition, the specific skills needed to effectively perform this role are equally important.


As an ABA therapist, the role is pivotal in implementing ABA interventions and supporting individuals with developmental disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. Work occurs closely with clients, their families, and a multidisciplinary team to design and implement individualized treatment plans. ABA therapists conduct assessments to identify target behaviors and develop measurable goals, and they collect data on behavior to evaluate progress and make necessary adjustments to the intervention strategies.

One study found that therapists working with autistic clients often had to adapt their cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) practice to meet the unique needs of this population. Key challenges identified included rigidity in thinking, pacing sessions appropriately, and dealing with sensory issues, among others [5].

Skills Needed

To be an effective ABA therapist, it's essential to develop specific skills. These include understanding behavior analysis principles, having effective communication skills, and demonstrating patience and empathy. ABA therapists must be knowledgeable about concepts such as reinforcement, prompting, shaping, and functional behavior assessment. Effective communication skills are vital for building rapport with clients and collaborating with parents, caregivers, and other professionals. Patience and empathy are essential qualities for working with individuals with behavioral challenges.

To address the barriers and challenges mentioned above, therapists employed various adaptations to their therapy approach when working with autistic clients. These included a structured and concrete approach, behavioral strategies, use of plain English, discussing hobbies, psychoeducation about emotions, and using written and visual information. Less used strategies were cognitive strategies, involvement of a family member, avoidance of metaphors, and shorter or longer sessions.

Essential Skills for ABA Therapists Techniques Used
Understanding behavior analysis principles Structured and concrete approach
Effective Communication Skills Use of plain English
Patience Discussing hobbies
Empathy Psychoeducation about emotions
Knowledge about reinforcement, prompting, shaping, and functional behavior assessment Using written and visual information

Becoming an effective ABA therapist requires a combination of proper education, taking on relevant responsibilities, and developing the necessary skills. With the right approach and dedication, it can be a rewarding career path for those interested in making a significant difference in the lives of individuals with autism.

ABA Program Selection

Selecting the right Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program is a critical step for those who want to learn how to become a behavioral therapist for autism. To ensure that the selected program provides quality education and training, one should consider factors such as program accreditation and the specific needs and career goals of the individual.

Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is a process through which an external organization evaluates and approves a program's curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Programs that have been accredited have demonstrated that they meet established standards of quality and excellence. This serves as a mark of assurance that the program provides a high level of education and training [4].

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) was established in 1998 and introduced the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) series of certifications. This move standardized professional qualifications within the field.

Choosing the Right Program

When choosing an ABA program, one must consider the licensing requirements of the state where they plan to practice. Licensing departments in each state are responsible for setting the requirements for issuing behavior analyst licenses, with some states utilizing existing medical or psychological licensing boards for evaluation. The absence of a national licensing scheme means that each state determines its own qualifications for licensure.

Most states require a master's degree as the standard minimum qualification to become a licensed behavior analyst. Many closely follow the guidelines set by the BACB Model Act, where BCBA® certification is often a requirement in states adopting these standards.

The demand for professionally-qualified analysts has grown due to an increased understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder and the insistence of insurance companies for regulation within the profession. As a result, more states have begun implementing licensing laws for behavior analysts [2].

Choosing the right ABA program also involves considering personal career goals and interests. Some programs may offer a more generalized curriculum, while others may focus on specific areas of ABA. Understanding the various options and how they align with individual career goals can help one make an informed decision.

In conclusion, selecting the right ABA program involves careful consideration of program accreditation, state licensing requirements, and personal career goals. By taking these factors into account, one can choose a program that provides the necessary education and training to become a successful ABA therapist.

Impactful ABA Therapy Programs

Within the field of Autism Behavioral Analysis (ABA), there are several therapy programs that can have a significantly positive impact on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Two such impactful programs are Floortime Therapy and Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER) Therapy.

Floortime Therapy

Floortime Therapy is a play-based therapy designed to improve social and emotional skills, enhance language and communication abilities, and foster connections with others for children with ASD. This therapy is structured in a way that children spend approximately 25 hours a week for 2 years or longer in the program. Over time, children who have participated in Floortime Therapy have shown improvement in various developmental areas.

Another effective approach within Floortime Therapy is the use of Integrated Play Groups (IPGs). These groups bring together children with and without ASD to help those with the disorder observe their peers and learn how to engage in play. This method leads to enhancements in social skills and play quality. Studies have indicated that children with ASD participating in IPGs for 2 sessions of 30 minutes a week over 4 months displayed improved social interactions and play skills [6].

Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER) Therapy

JASPER therapy is another impactful program aimed at children with ASD. This therapy focuses on enhancing a child's ability to focus on objects and people simultaneously, a skill that can facilitate play with other children. Through JASPER therapy, children can expand their pretend play, improve their social skills, and encourage more interactions with their peers.

In conclusion, both Floortime Therapy and JASPER Therapy provide structured and well-researched methods for improving the social and communication skills of children with ASD. By exploring these and other ABA therapy programs, parents and caregivers can help children with ASD make significant developmental strides.








steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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