Hiring ABA Therapists: The Interview

I've discussed on my blog how to find ABA therapists for your in-home therapy program, and recommended a great resource for exactly how to do this ("Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism" by Catherine Maurice).

 This post is for parents who have already found a pool of potential therapists and are ready to begin interviewing. If your child receives ABA services at school or through an agency then you typically don't get much say in who will be working with your child. The agency or school makes this decision and its probably based on availability of the therapists.
  However, even if you are dealing with a school or agency you can still ask to interview the ABA staff and to meet the therapist before they begin working with your child. 

I hope this information serves as a minimum standard of how to interview an ABA therapist.

 I've helped families locate and hire ABA staff and I've observed staff interviews. I have noticed many parents are uncomfortable being placed in the position of "Manager". As the parent, that is what you are. Even if you have a Lead Therapist supervising the ABA program, the parents are the ones who make hiring and firing decisions.

 It's important to treat the hiring process seriously. If you want competent and dedicated therapists then take the time to recruit carefully before hiring anyone. Avoid spending the interview laughing and chatting; the therapist isn't interviewing for a position as your buddy. Project the level of professionalism that you expect.

Here are a few tips regarding the interview process:

  1.  Decide before you meet with any potential therapist the job expectations, schedule, minimum and maximum pay rate, and create a short summary of daily job responsibilities. You may be hiring someone with little ABA therapy experience. This person may assume that if their last client paid $20 per hour then so will you.  On the other hand, you may find yourself interviewing a therapist that has many years of experience. Just because someone has worked with many families doesn't mean they are competent. Make all of the information about the position clear -put it in writing- and discuss it with the potential therapist. Explain what you expect regarding job performance (such as stating you will video record sessions). Dont let the ABA therapist be surprised when they begin working for you. If you expect them to stay 30 minutes after each session to go over notes and data with you, tell them that upfront.
  2. Parents often have the misconception that an ABA therapist is an all-in-one job title.....it's not. Most ABA therapists are only qualified to implement programs and run a session with your child. They may not be qualified to write programs, do assessments, or train teachers. I talk to so many parents who hire an ABA therapist and quickly realize the person has a limited skill set. The person who manages or supervises an ABA program is the Consultant. The person that implements programs is the ABA therapist.
  3. Schedule the interview for a time when your child will be home. Observe interaction between the potential therapist and your child. If you cant observe actual interaction, let the therapist view video clips of your child. Even experienced therapists may not be comfortable with ALL behaviors. Maybe your child has a saliva play stim, and the potential therapist seems disgusted by that. That would be something you want to find out before hiring that person. It is important that any potential therapist be comfortable working with your child on their best and worst days. Be honest during the interview. If your child becomes aggressive at times, say that upfront. Its better to scare someone off during an interview than to have a therapist abruptly quit on you after a bad session.
  4. I believe the most important characteristics when hiring anyone are: Attitude, Willingness to learn, and Energy. Any therapist you hire will need some training, even if its just learning about your child's personality. If the potential therapist doesn't respond well to feedback and doesn't seem passionate about their work then that shows a minimal willingness to learn. Regarding attitude, as anyone who works with special needs children knows there are great days and horrible days. If a potential therapist is cranky, argumentative, or rude during the interview process, imagine how that person will act after a bad session with your child. A positive and upbeat attitude is essential for anyone who wants to teach children with Autism. Moving on to energy,  I'm not saying that the person should arrive at your home and be bouncing off the walls. What you are looking for is a lack of energy. Does the person seem tired, overly quiet, or very soft spoken? Anyone working with young children should be able to "turn on" an upbeat, animated persona and leave their troubles at the door. If you are interviewing someone and cant picture them smiling, clapping, making goofy faces, or shouting "Hooray", then that is not an ideal ABA therapist.
  5. Most families tend to hire high school or college students with minimal experience as ABA therapists. This is usually due to low cost. When working with students you may want to consider including an employment clause where the individual agrees to a minimum length of employment, such as one year. There's a few reasons families choose to do this- 1) As stressful as high staff turnover is on the parents, imagine how stressful and confusing it is for the child to constantly have to get used to new people, 2) Students tend be transitory, so by placing an employment length commitment on them you are sending a message about the seriousness of committing to the job, and 3)Think of all the time and money you will spend on training a new therapist. You dont want a situation where you spend thousands of dollars training a new therapist, and he/she quits on you after 2 months of employment.
  6. Ask questions! So many times I have observed interviews and the parents just summarized the position and listed the pay. At no point did those families find out any information about the person they were interviewing, that wasn't clearly listed on a resume. Beyond the basic information  you need to get to know your potential staff. Here are a few questions to ask:  
  • Motivation for doing this kind of work?
  • What do you know about Autism? What do you know about ABA?
  • Do you believe a child with Autism can recover fully? Why or why not?
  •  What would you do if our child bites or hits you?
  • Describe your strengths.
  • Why should we hire you?
  •   What is your personal philosophy about special education?
  •   What was the last book you read about Autism?
  •   How do you feel about being videotaped?
  •   Have you changed a diaper? Have you changed a diaper on a child over the age of 5?
  •   How do you feel about bodily fluids getting on you, such as spit, vomit, urine, blood, etc?
  •   Willing to train new therapists in the future?
  •   Willing to attend training sessions, conferences etc.?
  •   What do you think the primary responsibilities of a therapist are?
  •   What type of activities would you do with a child of X age? 
  •  What do you do when a child totally frustrates you? 
  •   How do you handle temper tantrums? How do you handle meltdowns?
  •  What are your favorite children's books?
  •  What kind of relationship do you want with our family?
  •   What kind of boss do you work best with?
  •   What  important traits do you think a therapist should have?
  •    How would you describe your temperament?
  •    Do you plan to pursue Board Certification one day? Why or why not?

5.  You may have noticed I haven't listed requirements for experience, salary, or education. If you do a quick search online, you'll find tons of recommendations about education and experience requirements that ABA therapists should have. In my experience most families cannot find or afford a therapist who actually meets these standards. Sadly, the demand for experienced ABA professionals far exceeds the supply. You may need to recruit inexperienced individuals and spend time training them if you can't locate quality professionals in your area. In no way am I saying families should lower their expectations when hiring ABA staff. If you want an ABA therapist with 15 years experience and a Masters degree, then stick to what you want. However, know that it might be very difficult to find such an individual who has availability and is affordable. Most professionals who are degreed and experienced are in very high demand, or charge upwards of $40/hr. That is why I stress to parents to look beyond a potential therapists' experience and education and find out who the person is, how passionate they are about learning, and if they truly enjoy working with children. Those factors, along with time and training, can turn an inexperienced babysitter or family friend into an amazing ABA therapist.

*See below for a sample "Help Wanted" advertisement, to use when locating ABA therapists. Feel free to use it!:

Private family seeking fun and energetic behavior tutors!  No experience is needed. We are happy to train the right individual.

Position: We are seeking 1-3 behavior tutors to provide ABA therapy to our adorable 5 year old daughter, who has Autism. ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis, and is a behavioral treatment that has been successful for children with Autism. Your job will be to play with our daughter and to help her learn!

Availability: Afternoon (3:00 pm- 6:30 pm) and weekend availability is especially needed.

You Provide:
§        4 year degree in Psychology or Education is preferred
§        Must be willing to submit to a criminal background check, and/or fingerprinting
§        Ability to commit to a weekly schedule, and to show up for work on time
§        Reliable transportation is a must
§        Positive, can-do attitude!

We Provide:
§        A relaxed and caring work environment
§        Great starting salary ($11.50 per hr) with possibility for a raise after 6 mo. of employment
§        We will supply all necessary therapy materials and supplies
§        We work with a Consultant who will provide all training
§        An adorable and happy student for you to teach!

If interested, please send your resume along with a short introduction. Tell us about any related experience, what you know about Autism, and why you think you are a good candidate.


  1. Wonderful post Tameika !!! Great tips on hiring ABA therapist and yes interaction with child is an important thing to observe.Tamieka,I am also in Atlanta GA,how can I hire a trained therapist. My child needs at least 20-25 hour of ABA per week and we can't afford it. Do you know any one who can take ($10-$15)to do my daughter's ABA. or where to go fine behavioral therapist.


  2. Thanks so much! Im going to reply to your question privately.

  3. Hi Tameika,

    I have been working with children and a variety of Developmental Disabilities since 2004 however, I always been interested in ABA but most places I know that offer training is expensive. Is there a possibility to find something affordable or teach myself?

    Thanks very much.


    1. Hi there,

      "Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism" by Catherine Maurice is a great resource for learning the applied side of ABA, as well as understanding the background of the science. I would recommend you seek employment with any agencies/companies in your area who provide ABA because they typically train staff. That's usually how ABA therapists gain knowledge because as you state, it can be quite expensive to attend conferences or seminars. There are online web training courses, such as Autism Training Solutions, that you can join and receive training via reading, video content, and online seminars.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Wow! Thanks for replying. Your reply is appreciative and very helpful. I was wondering in order to do ABA do you have to have a BA in Psychology? My background studies is a community college diploma in Developmental Services Worker.

    Thanks again :)

    1. You are welcome!
      You dont necessarily need a certain degree or background in order to do ABA. If you wanted to become certified (a BCaBA) then yes there are tight requirements for that. However, when working in the field your employer will determine the education and experience you need. That will vary greatly depending on the area you are in, and if you are working for an agency or directly for a family. I started out working directly for families in a rural area, and they tended to hire high school or college students with no experience, because that is all they could afford.
      I recommend you read my post called "So You Want to be A Superhero". It gives detailed info about how to get into this field. Good luck!

  5. Great post!

    I agree with point n.4!


  6. Meeting two ABA canidates tomorrow, and this is so helpful. Thank you so much for the time you put into this!


    1. You're quite welcome, good luck with staffing your ABA team!

  7. Do you have any resources to locate ABA therapist in the Downey, CA area? Our insurance does not cover it and we don't qualify for medical.

  8. Hello,

    The Behavior Analysis Certification Board keeps an online directory of credentialed or certified individuals at www.bacb.com. This would include RBT's, BCaBA's, BCBA's, and BCBA-D's.
    I am not aware of a unified location to locate non- credentialed/certified individuals, you may need to just look in a variety of places such as college campuses, posting ads on job sites, etc.

  9. Hello Tameika, so happy to have found your blog. You are a true professional at what you do. I commend you on your knowledge and hard work. Great job!

    I have a question for you, we just started ABA therapy. I'm unsure about our therapist.
    We are currently doing "pairing" she said they it will take 30 day of pairing, before they out a plan together. So, but instead of it being a positive experience the ABA therapist is letting my son do as he pleases. She is letting him run a muck, until he wears himself out.

    I am finding myself running after him for the "entire" therapy session. Trying to keep my son safe, and using positive reinforcement and redirecting

    Examples of our therapy session,

    -He kept turning on the water hose and spraying water everywhere. No redirection, on her behalf.

    -Non stop climbing, running all over the house like a little mad man. She just stood there. Staring into outer space.

    - Kept playing with things that he normally doesn't play with. Resulting in dangerous activity.

    -Opening a wheelchair (which is dangerous as he can get hurt), playing on it/ with it. She never told him to stop. She even offered to push him on it. Not cool, a wheelchair is not a toy.

    She just let him do whatever his heart desired. I kept asking for pointers. She said oh I don't know, we have to ask the program manager tomorrow ��
    When I calmly redirected him, she had the nerve to say "oh he knows how to push your buttons" ��

    Therapist is young 24. Has only 1 yr experience. I cannot fathom paying for such service. We are using Easter Seals.

    1. Hi & thank you for commenting!

      Pairing, or rapport building, is definitely an important part of the therapy process. It helps with establishing instructional control, getting to know the client, and learning what motivates the client (which is SUPER useful information). It is hard for me to say if your current situation is right or wrong, as I don't know the staff/specific details of the case.
      What I can tell you is how I typically approach pairing when it comes to my cases: I explain the pairing process upfront to the family so they know what to expect, I explain how it is determined when pairing should transition to instruction, I explain that we collect data during pairing (it isn't just "free play"), and I explain how we handle problem behaviors during pairing.
      If you have concerns about the clinical expertise of the staff, or how pairing is being implemented, absolutely speak up. Talk with the BCBA on the case, and seek out resolution. Your best bet when it comes to clinical issues is always to talk with the BCBA, because usually the direct staff have no authority to modify or change the treatment plan. So you want to talk with the person who can make changes.

      Good luck to you!


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