Considerations when Choosing a Behavioral Service Provider

How can I choose among behavioral service providers?

Answered by Robert LaRue, PhD, BCBA-D
Associate Director of Behavioral and Research Services, Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center, Rutgers University
Lori Bechner, MA, BCBA
Clinical Director, Educational Partnership for Instructing Children (EPIC)

Choosing a behavioral service provider can be a challenging task. Fortunately, there are some resources to guide consumers in making sound choices. Consumers should judge behavioral service providers based on the effectiveness of the interventions they use. By definition, applied behavior analysis involves meaningful changes in behavior (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968; Cooper, Heron & Heward, 2007). Providers of applied behavior analysis, therefore, should only be considered effective when they successfully bring about behavioral change for the learners with whom they are working (i.e., desired skills are acquired, and behaviors of concern are reduced in frequency or intensity).

Formal credentialing of professional behavior analysts (i.e., registration, certification, or licensure) helps consumers identify quality service providers and provides safeguards for consumers by screening potential providers and offering opportunities for recourse if incompetent or unethical practices are encountered. Currently, efforts to establish licensure or registration for behavior analysts are underway in many states. Progress in development of such qualifications — and related requirements —varies from state to state. Subscribers of Science in Autism Treatment will be kept apprised of developments as they unfold.

Behavior analysts are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc®. (BACB). The BACB credentials practitioners at two levels. Board Certified Behavior Analysts® (BCBA) must possess at least a master‘s degree, have 225 classroom hours of specific graduate-level coursework, meet supervised experience requirements, and pass the behavior analyst certification examination. Recently, the BACB added the BCBA-D credential to distinguish doctoral level behavior analysts. Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts® (BCaBA) must have at least a bachelor‘s degree, have 135 classroom hours of specific coursework, meet supervised experience requirements, and pass the assistant behavior analyst certification examination. The BACB specifies it is mandatory that BCaBAs practice under the supervision of a BCBA. All BACB certificants (whether BCBA, BCBA-D, or BCaBA) must accumulate continuing education credits to maintain their credentials.

The BACB maintains a Task List, which outlines content areas in which behavior analysts should be well qualified. These content areas are applicable to all behavior analysts, and include:

  • Ethical Considerations
  • Definition And Characteristics
  • Principles, Processes And Concepts
  • Behavioral Assessment
  • Experimental Evaluation Of Interventions
  • Measurement of Behavior
  • Displaying And Interpreting Behavioral Data
  • Selecting Intervention Outcomes And Strategies
  • Behavior Change Procedures
  • Systems Support

More recently, the BACB developed a Task List for Board Certified Behavior Analysts Working with Persons with Autism, to highlight a more specific skill set. Please click here