Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the use of behavioral and emotional interventions to help autistic children. ABA therapy degree programs train students to help children using this therapy. Completing a 4-year bachelor's degree in ABA therapy can lead to professional certification as an assistant behavior analyst, while completing a 2-year master's degree in ABA therapy can lead to behavior analyst certification.
Bachelor's Degree Programs in ABA
Applied behavior analysis therapy degree programs vary widely in their applicability due to the reluctance of some organizations to agree on a standard. The Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Psychology with an ABA concentration and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Behavior Analysis are two degree options that can prepare students for roles as therapists upon graduation.
Transfer or freshmen applicants to a bachelor's degree program offering ABA training need a high school diploma and prerequisite coursework in a number of areas, such as computers, English, social science, fine arts, foreign language and science. Most programs also require students to complete the core curriculum offered by the college or university.
The broad curriculum in programs offering bachelor-level ABA degrees prepares students for careers in other psychological and scientific fields, as well as careers specific to behavior analysis. The coursework emphasizes development of assessment skills, strategies and techniques in behavioral intervention and other areas, such as the following:
- Data collection and analysis
- Psychology statistics
- Organizational behavior management
- History of applied behavior analysis
- Behavior principles
Master's Degree Programs in ABA
At the graduate level, programs offering ABA degrees become more focused on research-based analysis of behavioral science and how it applies to specific mental ailments like autism. Courses in behavior analysis theories and applications are coupled with a clinical practicum in order to provide graduates with a solid foundation for treating autism and other disorders. Graduates of the master's degree program learn to become behavior analysts and can become certified ABA therapists through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
Applicants to a master's-level ABA program need a bachelor's degree, preferably in a relevant field, such as special education, psychology, sociology or education. Most programs also require students to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of between 2.75 to 3.00 in all undergraduate coursework.
The purpose of the master's degree program is to prepare students for the ABA therapist role in a variety of settings, such as rehabilitation, education or mental health. The following are examples of typical courses in the ABA program:
- Functional assessment
- Learning and behavior analysis
- Biological foundations of behavioral disorders
- Stimulus control
- Cognitive psychology
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
In addition to educational training, ABA therapists need the patience, understanding and communication skills necessary to work with their clients. The employment outlook for ABA therapists should be positive. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) estimates that approximately one in 68 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As the need for ABA therapists and treatment for ASD grows, employment opportunities will likely increase as well. The mean annual salary for a recreational therapist, a field related to ABA therapy, is $47,790 as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Professional Certification and Continuing Education
Certification options are available for graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree in ABA therapy or a related field. The certification, offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacd.com) includes Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, which requires a bachelor's degree and Board Certified Behavior Analyst, which requires a master's degree. Although a master's degree is the highest degree level required for ABA therapy positions, post-graduate certificate and doctoral ABA programs are also available. These programs can prepare students for advanced research, teaching and management positions in the ABA field.
Students who are interested in a career as an ABA therapist can obtain a bachelor's or master's degree. Since autism is on the rise, this career is in demand and includes certification options.