What Do ABA Therapists Do for Autism?

Discover what ABA therapists do, from individualized plans to tracking progress in autism therapy.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
March 22, 2024

What Do ABA Therapists Do for Autism?

Understanding ABA Therapists

ABA therapists, also known as applied behavior analysis therapists, play an integral role in the field of autism treatment. Unraveling the question 'what do ABA therapists do' provides a comprehensive understanding of their responsibilities and the path to becoming one.

ABA Therapist's Role

ABA therapists are trained professionals who specialize in applied behavior analysis therapy. They primarily work with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), helping them improve their social, communication, and behavioral skills. However, their expertise is not limited to ASD. ABA therapists can also assist individuals with traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities, among others [2].

The work of an ABA therapist involves conducting assessments, developing treatment plans, implementing therapy techniques, and monitoring progress. They work closely with the individual's family and other professionals, such as speech therapists and occupational therapists, to provide comprehensive care.

Becoming an ABA Therapist

The journey to becoming an ABA therapist requires specific education and certification. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is the main body that provides certification for ABA therapists. It offers two levels of certification: Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

To achieve these certifications, one must complete a certification program approved by the BACB. This typically involves coursework in behavior analysis and gaining supervised practical experience. After completing the program, candidates must pass a certification exam.

Continuing education is also a significant part of an ABA therapist's career. The BACB mandates the completion of continuing education units (CEUs) every two years. These CEUs ensure that therapists stay up-to-date on the latest research and techniques in ABA therapy [1].

Beyond the role of an ABA therapist, there are numerous career paths within the field. These include ABA training coordinator, clinical supervisor, university professor, and clinical director, each with different responsibilities and corresponding salary ranges.

ABA Therapists and Autism

ABA therapists play a crucial role in the lives of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and different types of developmental disabilities.

ABA Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder

ABA therapists primarily work with individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Their role extends beyond just ASD as they also apply their skills to assist individuals with traumatic brain injuries and developmental disabilities. This highlights the diverse range of conditions and individuals that ABA therapists work with.

ABA therapy is used to improve or change specific behaviors in children diagnosed with ASD. This includes developing social skills, communication patterns, fine motor skills, grooming, and academic skills. The therapy can also be used to improve job proficiency, teach simple skills like maintaining a clean and organized room.

ABA therapists help clients improve communication skills, social skills, adaptive living skills, academic skills, and reduce challenging behaviors through systematic application of interventions.

ABA Techniques for Autism Treatment

ABA therapists use a range of techniques tailored to the individual needs of each child. These techniques include positive reinforcement, prompting, shaping, chaining, and other methods to help children learn and develop new skills.

The work of ABA therapists is based on scientific principles of how humans learn and behave. They use strategies like positive reinforcement to help patients modify their behaviors. The role of an ABA therapist involves evaluating patients' habits and behavior patterns and implementing plans to bring about positive changes in personal, professional, academic, and social lives.

In summary, ABA therapists play a central role in helping individuals with ASD improve various aspects of their lives by using well-researched techniques tailored to each individual's needs. The process requires continuous monitoring and adaptation to ensure that the therapy is effective and meets the individual's unique needs.

Measuring Progress in ABA Therapy

Utilizing various tools and techniques, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists diligently track a patient's progress during therapy. The primary methods include tracking goal attainment and using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales.

Tracking Goal Attainment

ABA therapists assess a child's baseline skills at the beginning of therapy and design individualized treatment plans with long-term goals (measured every six months) and short-term objectives (measured every few days or weeks) to track skill development. Mastery of short-term objectives, like tying shoes or engaging in conversations, indicates progress towards achieving long-term goals [7].

Type of Goals Timeframe Examples
Long-term goals Every six months Improve social interaction, Increase self-care abilities
Short-term objectives Every few days or weeks Tying shoes, Engaging in conversations

This goal-based tracking mechanism enables ABA therapists and parents to monitor a child's progress in therapy by comparing the mastery of measurable goals to the developmental path the child might have followed without ABA therapy.

Use of Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales

The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, a norm-referenced assessment, is used to measure progress against typical developmental milestones. This highly objective measurement tool is employed by ABA therapists to track a child's progress in using skills learned in therapy in their daily lives, a concept known as skill generalization. The scales are age-adjusted and provide insights into a child's relative skills compared to peers at the same age.

The progress in ABA therapy is assessed using the Adaptive Behavior Composite (ABC Composite) or individual domains like communication. A notable increase in Vineland scores over time indicates that therapy is effectively changing the child's developmental trajectory.

Assessment Method Description
Adaptive Behavior Composite (ABC Composite) A composite score that measures overall progress
Individual domains Specific areas such as communication, daily living skills, and socialization

Through regular measurement of a child's progress by referencing goal attainment and Vineland achievement scores, clinicians and parents gain valuable insights into how a child is utilizing skills learned in ABA therapy, thereby enabling them to provide the best support going forward [7].

ABA Therapy Techniques

ABA therapists employ a range of techniques tailored to the individual needs of each child, aiming to help them learn and develop new skills [5]. These techniques include positive reinforcement, discrete trial training, and antecedent-based interventions.

Positive Reinforcement in ABA Therapy

ABA therapists utilize the principles of reinforcement to encourage positive behaviors and discourage negative ones. This method involves identifying what motivates the child and using those motivations to reinforce appropriate behaviors. For instance, if a child performs a desired behavior, they might receive a reward, such as praise or a favorite toy. Over time, this reinforcement can help to strengthen the desired behavior, making it more likely to occur in the future [5].

Discrete Trial Training in ABA Therapy

Discrete trial training (DTT) is another technique used by ABA therapists. This approach breaks down complex skills into smaller, teachable units, each of which is taught individually. DTT involves clear beginning and end points, and each trial is repeated several times to help the child learn the skill. For instance, if the goal is to teach a child to request a toy, the therapist may present the toy and prompt the child to ask for it. Once the child responds correctly, they receive positive reinforcement. This process is repeated until the child can request the toy independently.

Antecedent-Based Interventions in ABA Therapy

Antecedent-based interventions (ABI) involve changing the environment or circumstances that trigger challenging behavior. By understanding what precedes a behavior (the antecedent), ABA therapists can modify the environment or provide prompts to prevent challenging behavior from occurring. For instance, if a child becomes upset when asked to transition from one activity to another, the therapist may provide a warning or use a visual schedule to help the child prepare for the transition. By implementing these interventions, ABA therapists can reduce challenging behaviors and promote more adaptive responses.

These techniques, among others, are used by ABA therapists to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other conditions improve their communication skills, social skills, adaptive living skills, and academic skills. They also work to reduce challenging behaviors through the systematic application of interventions. ABA therapists work collaboratively with families, caregivers, and other professionals to ensure consistency in implementing behavior plans across different settings, maximizing the effectiveness of interventions.

ABA Therapists in Different Settings

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists are versatile professionals who work in a broad range of settings. Their services are not limited to only one environment or group of patients, but rather span various locations and patient demographics. Let's look at the roles ABA therapists play in different settings: schools, clinics, hospitals, and community settings.

ABA Therapists in Schools

Schools provide an ideal setting for ABA therapists to work with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Therapists focus on teaching new skills and reducing challenging behaviors in a structured and positive way [5]. They often collaborate with school staff and educators to create an integrated and effective learning environment for the child. Their work in schools not only targets academic performance but also promotes social skills, communication abilities, and appropriate classroom behavior.

ABA Therapists in Clinics and Hospitals

ABA therapists also play a crucial role in clinical and hospital settings. In these environments, they often work with a diverse population of patients, including individuals with ASD, traumatic brain injuries, and other developmental disabilities.

Within hospitals, ABA therapists are integral members of the healthcare team, managing team meetings to ensure consistent application of tailored programs. They collaborate with medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other healthcare professionals to manage patient care and progress. They interact with patients during hospital stays and post-release, using various methods, including the internet.

ABA Therapists in Community Settings

Beyond schools and healthcare facilities, ABA therapists also provide services within community settings. They work with individuals across various environments such as homes, autism centers, and even correctional facilities. Their work in these settings often involves implementing ABA principles to improve social behaviors, communication skills, and overall quality of life. They also emphasize on generalizing skills learned in therapy to the real-world context, enhancing the individual's ability to navigate everyday situations independently and effectively.

The diverse settings in which ABA therapists work underlines their adaptability and the broad applicability of ABA principles. Whether in schools, clinics, hospitals, or the community, ABA therapists leverage their skills and knowledge to improve the lives of individuals with autism and other related conditions.

ABA Therapy and Career Opportunities

Understanding "what do ABA therapists do" is a question that many individuals interested in the field of autism therapy might ask. Beyond the specific duties and responsibilities, it's also important to explore the various career paths and salary expectations associated with this profession.

Career Paths for ABA Therapists

ABA therapists can pursue various roles within the field of applied behavior analysis. These include positions such as ABA therapist, ABA training coordinator, clinical supervisor, university professor, and clinical director. Each role comes with different responsibilities and offers unique opportunities for growth and development within the profession.

Moreover, the work settings for ABA therapists are quite diverse, ranging from schools and autism centers to clinics, hospitals, and community settings. They also have the opportunity to work in mental health centers, residential care facilities, and correctional facilities. This diversity of workplaces provides an array of experiences that can help ABA therapists to broaden their skill set and enhance their professional growth.

Salary Expectations for ABA Therapists

The salary expectations for ABA therapists vary depending on the specific role and the setting in which they practice. As of August 2021, the median annual salary for clinical supervisors in the field of applied behavior analysis was around $59,900, providing an indication of the earnings potential for individuals in a supervisory role within the ABA sector [2].

On the other hand, the annual median salary for ABA therapists, specifically those who worked as substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or mental health counselors, was reported as $47,660 as of May 2020 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [2]. This gives an insight into the average earnings potential within this particular subset of ABA therapy.

Career Path Median Annual Salary (2020/2021)
Clinical Supervisor $59,900
Mental Health Counselor $47,660

These figures provide a snapshot of the potential income for ABA therapists. However, it's essential to remember that salaries can fluctuate based on factors such as geographic location, level of experience, and specific job duties. As with any profession, it's important for those considering a career in ABA therapy to research and understand the various factors that might influence their potential earnings.


[1]: https://www.totalcareaba.com/autism/become-an-aba-therapist

[2]: https://online.regiscollege.edu/online-masters-degrees/master-science-applied-behavior-analysis/resources/how-to-become-an-applied-behavior-analyst-aba-therapist/

[3]: https://hiddentalentsaba.com/aba-therapy-techniques/

[4]: https://www.iloveaba.com/2014/01/common-aba-work-settings.html

[5]: https://dreambigchildren.com/understanding-aba-techniques-7-strategies-you-need-to-know/

[6]: https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/where-do-therapists-work/

[7]: https://kyocare.com/measuring-applied-behavior-analysis-therapy/

[8]: https://masteraba.com/behavior-plan/