First you will need some tights…
Oops, wrong post.
So you want to be an ABA Therapist! It’s almost like being a superhero, except we have better hours, better super- powers, and working on weekends is optional.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently from people interested in entering the field of ABA, but not sure exactly how to do so. I’m excited to be waving the flag for ABA, and hopefully motivating people to enter the field. The main reason I started this blog was to reveal to people what ABA really is (because there are many myths out there) and if that causes people to want to become an ABA Therapist, I think that’s great!
I talked briefly in my FAQ post about how to get started in this field, but this post will go much more in depth and provide details.
I can’t give a specific "How To" guide, because much of this information will vary from state to state. Also, for my international readers I don’t have much information about how people outside of the US can get into the field of ABA. This post is more of a guideline of general tips. To anyone with an interest in pursuing ABA as a career I recommend doing research for your particular area and networking with people currently in the field.
- What exactly is an ABA Therapist?:
It's important to distinguish between an ABA Therapist and a Behavior Analyst. BA’s supervise, manage, and run ABA programs as Consultants. ABA Therapists are the lifeblood of the ABA program, as they are the ones who work with the child day after day to teach skills. As an ABA Therapist you are usually responsible for teaching very specific skills, and implementing a behavior plan. ABA therapists can also work with a variety of clients, not just kids with Autism. There’s a growing demand from schools who want ABA services for typically developing children who have behavioral issues. So ABA Therapists really can work with anyone who is in need of behavioral services.
- What’s it like being an ABA Therapist:
The clients you work with will take you from joy to frustration in 0.2 seconds. On Monday your client could be excited to see you and give you a huge hug, and then on Thursday they might try to bite you. Even if you only work with one client, every day won't be the same. That's whats so great about this job: if you have a bad session you get to hit "reset" and start over again the next day. If you are a person who loves sameness, routine, and predictability, you might not enjoy this type of work. The field changes all of the time, parent expectations can change, the behavior plan can change, the programs change....did I mention you must like change??
- What kind of person would be a good fit for this job?:
Anyone who is PASSIONATE about special needs, detail oriented, energetic, and loves to learn. Parents often feed off of the enthusiasm of the ABA Therapist, and feel encouraged by it. It’s important that as an ABA professional you enjoy learning, because you never stop learning and growing when this is your job. Research and technology change all the time and so does this field. You have to be open to receiving supervision and correction, even if you have been doing this for years. If you aren’t a person who can take constructive criticism then this likely isn’t the job for you!
- I’ve heard some horror stories; do ABA Therapists really get bruised and injured at work?:
Short answer? Yes. :-) Here's the scoop: as an ABA professional you usually have control over who you work with. You could choose to only work with cognitively impaired adults, or only work with high functioning teens. The majority of my work experience has been skill acquisition with young children. So I haven't been in situations where big, strong teens or adults have attacked me, thrown desks at me, groped me, shoved me against a wall, bent my fingers back, etc. Do all of those things actually happen? YES. That would be called a severe behavior client. The good news is you shouldn't be thrown into situations like that unprepared. Your employer should provide physical management training, there should be a behavior plan in place, and if applicable a crisis plan. So I suppose my answer is, it is possible you could really get injured depending on the clientele you work with and the training you are given.
- What are the hours like? :
There’s a lot of variability as far as scheduling, but if you work inside homes with young children then you'll probably have early morning hours. If you work with school age children you'll have evening hours unless you see the child at school. If you work for an agency, you will likely have a jam packed schedule of various days and times, sometimes with really unpleasant huge gaps in your schedule. You know the kind...not enough time to go home, but too much time to just sit in your car. Working weekends should not be mandatory. If you burn yourself out with a hectic caseload then what do you have left to give to your clients?
- Where can I find ABA jobs? :
This can be a bit tricky. It’s always easier to find an ABA job when you already have one, because families will refer you to other families. If you are looking to break into the field I’d recommend working for an agency first. You will get more clients and supervision than you would with an individual family. Research the ABA providers in your area, and contact them to see if they need ABA Therapists. If they don’t hire inexperienced therapists, see if they have volunteer positions so you can gain experience. You can also try your local or state organizations for ABA, as they often allow members to post job openings on their website. If you are currently a college student, often the heads of the Education or Psychology departments will have leads on ABA jobs/practicum sites.
If you are interested in becoming an ABA Therapist, here are some resources to locating work. Its pretty easy to gain Autism experience due to the steadily increasing diagnosis rates. I'd recommend taking an intern or volunteer position first to make sure this is something you want to do before committing to a paid job. This field isn't for everyone, and thats okay. This is high energy, stressful work, often with frustrating or aggressive individuals....it may not be your cup of tea.
GA Parent to Parent Network -Georgia statewide agency for parent support, has a database of companies and providers.
This article has some really creative suggestions for locating ABA work.
www.Google.com- Google “Autism treatment” or "ABA therapy" and the name of your city, and see what comes up.
AIBA- Association of International Behavior Analysts (has a job directory).
Autism Link- Autism information website, has a provider database.
Autism Speaks- Leading Autism information website, has a provider database.