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What is a Behavior Analyst and How Do You Become One?

Behavior analyst observing child playing with blocks

Behavior analysis is a rewarding field that offers professionals the opportunity to make profound changes in people's lives. A Behavior Analyst often works with individuals with developmental disabilities—particularly those with Autism Spectrum Disorder—and uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to help improve their lives. We'll help you understand the path to becoming a Behavior Analyst, including how an advanced degree in behavior analysis can help elevate your career.

What is ABA Treatment for Autism?

At its core, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses the science of learning and the basic principles of behavior to help us understand how behavior works, how the environment impacts behavior, and how learning takes place. ABA is all about taking a close look at behaviors, measuring them in a way that's both fair and reliable, and then putting strategies into place that can make real, trackable changes.

In the context of autism treatment, ABA is a highly effective treatment that brings about meaningful and positive changes in behavior. Its techniques can be applied in structured situations such as a classroom, as well as in everyday activities, to promote a target behavior and reduce negative behaviors.

ABA therapy for autism concentrates on improving specific behaviors and skills. These include:

  1. Social Skills: Behavior therapy encourages skills needed for interaction with others, including sharing, taking turns, and engaging in conversations.
  2. Communication: ABA treatment aids in developing language and communication skills. This includes understanding and use of non-verbal communication, expressing needs and emotions, and understanding and responding to the communication attempts of others.
  3. Adaptive Learning Skills: These are the day-to-day tasks required for personal self-care and independence. ABA techniques can help develop skills such as grooming, hygiene, fine motor dexterity, domestic capabilities, punctuality, and job competence.

Behavior analysis strategies help increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning. It's important to note that while the approach is widely used for children with autism, ABA techniques can be used for autism treatment from childhood through adulthood.

What Does a Behavior Analyst Do?

Conducting ABA treatment requires a high level of expertise, which is where Behavior Analysts come into play. These professionals are trained in the practice of behavior analysis principles and techniques. They assess an individual’s skills and needs, then design and implement treatment plans tailored to each individual. They continually monitor progress to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment and make necessary modifications.

Behavior Analysts also collaborate with family members and other professionals who work with people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They offer coaching to parents and caregivers, providing them with strategies to facilitate ongoing development and learning outside of structured treatment sessions.

Understanding and Assessing Behavior

A central part of a Behavior Analyst's role is to understand and assess behavior. They employ a variety of assessment methods to measure a person's abilities and identify behavioral challenges. These assessments may include direct observation, interviews, standardized tests, and data analysis. The aim is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the individual's behavior in different environments and situations.

Developing Intervention Plans

Using the information gleaned from assessments, Behavior Analysts design personalized intervention plans. These plans aim to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative behaviors, improving the individual's overall quality of life. The plans are tailored to the individual's specific needs and are usually developed in collaboration with other professionals and family members.

Implementing and Adjusting Interventions

Once an intervention plan is in place, the Behavior Analyst is responsible for overseeing its implementation. This can involve training other staff, caregivers, or family members to carry out certain interventions, or the Behavior Analyst might implement the interventions directly.

As the intervention is carried out, the Behavior Analyst continues to monitor the individual's behavior and collects data to determine the effectiveness of the plan. Based on these data, the Behavior Analyst might adjust the intervention strategies to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Specialized Roles in Autism Treatment

Behavior Analysts play a vital role in ABA treatment for autism and adult autism treatment. They use a range of ABA techniques to teach social, motor, and verbal behaviors, as well as reasoning skills. They also work on reducing target behaviors that may be harmful or disrupt learning.

Working with individuals with autism often involves collaborating with a multidisciplinary team, including speech therapists, occupational therapists, and educators, to ensure the individual receives a holistic treatment approach.

Educating Others

A Behavior Analyst also plays an essential role in educating others about the practice of behavior analysis. They may provide training to parents, teachers, caregivers, mental health counselors, and other professionals to help them understand and effectively manage behavior.

Whether they're helping a child with autism to develop social skills, assisting an adult in managing challenging behaviors, or working with organizations to improve performance, Behavior Analysts make a significant and tangible difference in the lives of the individuals they work with. Their roles are numerous and diverse, making the field of behavior analysis an engaging and rewarding profession.

Behavior analyst observing child

How Do You Become a Behavior Analyst?

To become a Behavior Analyst, you must start with a solid educational foundation. Many aspiring Behavior Analysts begin by obtaining an undergraduate degree in a related field, such as psychology or education. They then move on to earn a master's degree, such as aan MS in Applied Behavior Analysis.

Once you've obtained your master's degree, you will need to take the national certification exam to become certified. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification is the most recognized and sought-after certification in the field. The process includes completing a specified amount of supervised field experience hours and passing a comprehensive exam.

Degree Requirements for Becoming a Behavior Analyst

The minimum education requirement for becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst is a master’s degree in the field. Programs like the MS in Applied Behavior Analysis degree program at Pepperdine University offer comprehensive curriculums that include coursework in behavior psychology, principles of ABA, ethics, and research methods.

What Can You Do With an MS in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Earning an MS in Applied Behavior Analysis opens a variety of potential career paths in many different settings. With this advanced degree, you will be well-equipped to positively influence lives and make a difference in various sectors. Here's an in-depth look at some of the career opportunities you can pursue.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

A Master's in Applied Behavior Analysis is a significant stepping stone toward becoming a BCBA. Board Certified Behavior Analysts conduct behavioral assessments, create and implement intervention plans for behavior-related issues, and provide direct supervision for Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs). BCBAs may provide therapy services in various settings, including health care clinics, schools, homes, businesses, and research institutions.

Behavior Consultant

With a Master's in Applied Behavior Analysis, you can also become a behavior consultant. These professionals provide behavior analysis services to organizations and individuals to help manage and improve behavior. They may work with businesses to improve employee performance, with schools to create more effective learning environments, or with healthcare providers to develop treatment plans for individuals with behavioral disorders.

Academic and Research Careers

For those with a passion for research and academia, an MS in Applied Behavior Analysis can lead to a career as a university lecturer or researcher. These roles involve conducting research to advance the field of behavior analysis, teaching behavior analysis courses, and mentoring the next generation of behavior analysts.

Woman helping child paint

Where Can a Behavior Analyst Work?

In addition to numerous options for the types of careers you can choose from, there are also a wide range of settings where a Behavior Analyst may choose to work.

Educational Institutions

Many Behavior Analysts find employment in school settings, ranging from early childhood education settings to universities. Here, they work directly with students who have behavioral challenges, collaborate with teachers to develop behavior intervention plans, and provide training to school staff on implementing these plans. They can also consult on broader issues, such as school-wide behavior management strategies.

Homes and Community Centers

Behavior Analysts often provide in-home services, delivering direct ABA treatment to individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. They also work in community centers, helping diverse populations improve their behaviors and achieve their goals.

Mental Health Clinics and Healthcare Facilities

In clinical settings, Behavior Analysts provide therapeutic services, create behavior modification plans, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. This work can occur in outpatient clinics, hospitals, residential care facilities, and health and wellness centers. They also play a significant role in adult autism treatment, assisting individuals in managing daily life skills and social interactions.

Business and Industry

In the world of business, Behavior Analysts use their expertise to improve employee performance, increase productivity, and enhance overall workplace efficiency. They can work as consultants or full-time employees, providing services like employee training, performance management, and organizational behavior management.

Academia and Research Institutions

Behavior Analysts can also contribute to the field through research and teaching. In universities, they conduct research, teach courses on behavior analysis, and mentor the next generation of Behavior Analysts. They can also work in research institutions, conducting studies to advance our understanding of human behavior and to develop more effective behavior intervention strategies.

Each of these settings offers unique opportunities and challenges, allowing Behavior Analysts to choose a path that aligns with their interests and career goals. Whether they are working directly with individuals to improve their lives or researching new strategies to advance the field, Behavior Analysts play a crucial role in many sectors of society.

Enroll in a Master's in Applied Behavior Analysis Program at Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University offers a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis designed to prepare students for a rewarding career in the field of behavior analysis. If you are passionate about making a difference in the lives of others and ready to take the next step towards becoming a Behavior Analyst, we invite you to learn more about our program.