Common ABA Work Settings

This post will generalize greatly because there is so much job  variability in this field even in the same state, and especially from work setting to work setting. 

Although many people just think of ABA therapy as being home based, there are multiple work settings ABA professionals can work in. Each work setting has its own pros and cons, and unique work cultures, that will be better suited to certain individuals than others. 

Do you want to wear jeans to work, or your nice slacks with a pair of boots? Are you able to handle a work environment where telephones ring, the family is cooking dinner a few feet away, and baby siblings chew on your car keys? Do you prefer working with a team of professionals, rather than solo? Do you need office space, or are you fine having a “mobile office”?-- (that’s a really PC term for having a car that looks like an aisle at Office Depot) Do you need a salaried position with benefits? Or would you prefer a high hourly rate that may require you pay your own taxes, and deduct expenses?  Would you be uncomfortable working in a setting that may be hostile towards ABA, or where you're the only one who understands ABA? Do you need a set schedule (8-4), or are you ok working random hours that change from day to day? Do you want to supervise only, or would you prefer a mix of direct clients and supervision clients? 

All of these are important issues to consider when deciding what work setting is best for you as an ABA professional, and what work setting will bring you the greatest job satisfaction.

Many BCBAs expect to get certified and immediately become “The Boss”, complete with a FT salaried position and a nice cushy office. That may, or may not, be realistic depending upon your work setting.

Often times salaried positions come with billable hour requirements that do not take into consideration circumstances outside the ABA professionals control (clients who habitually cancel sessions, client suddenly goes out of town for 2 weeks, etc.). For this field FT is closer to 30 hrs vs the standard 40 hour work week. Kids are only available certain hours of the day, and younger clients may still nap which deducts from possible therapy hours. There are also many indirect (away from the client) activities that must happen each week, but unfortunately funders rarely recognize. In other words, you still have to complete these activities, you just can't bill for them.

 Also,  drive time must be considered to commute back and forth between clients. So working 8 hours a day in this field is unlikely, depending on the work setting.
 As you come into your own as an ABA professional you will develop your own preferences of work setting, and will learn the pros and cons of applying ABA treatment across settings. I personally have the most experience with home based treatment, but my preference would be clinic settings. 

I recommend researching actual job postings across settings, to get an idea of how pay, responsibilities, and job requirements can vary as the work setting varies.

 Here is a very general snapshot of what to expect when working in various ABA settings:

Home Based – Can work directly for families or for a company, work in the clients home, involves lots of driving around to specific clients which can be very taxing, less instructional control in this environment, low to moderate pay range, few to no benefits offered, varying hours and a jam packed schedule that will be more evening heavy, may have empty gaps in your schedule where you need to “kill time” in between clients, easiest environment for generalizing skills, parents can easily be incorporated into treatment, kind of a “lone wolf” and isolated from colleagues, can include direct therapy or supervision model, admin/paperwork time is usually unpaid and done outside of working hours, may be difficult or not possible to target social interaction goals or group instruction goals, supplies/materials may be provided by the company or you have to purchase/make them, program goals are often more adaptive in nature (skills important to the family like self help, feeding, bathing, etc.), your car is your office!

Clinic Based – May be self-employed (open your own clinic) or work for a clinic/center, much less driving as you go to the same place daily, more typical work hours (e.g. 8-4), in between clients can do admin tasks/paperwork, moderate to high pay range, some benefits may be offered, best instructional control, generalization is harder, team environment so its easier to collaborate with other BCBA’s and ABA staff,  more difficult to include parents into training/teaching, more likely to include direct therapy as well as supervision duties, supplies/materials provided by the clinic owner, program goals may lack adaptive skills, best environment for implementing behavior plans,  advantage of multiple peers for social, play, and group instruction opportunities, often have opportunities for cross collaboration with non ABA providers (SLP’s, OT’s,etc.) typically provided with a shared “office space” that all employees use....although more and more clinics are doing away with this, so see that empty spot in the hallway? Meet your new office.

School Setting –  These types of positions may be harder to find depending on where you live,  low to moderate pay range (compared to what you can make in the other settings), benefits are very likely, may be self-employed (private consultant) or a school employee, may work for 1 school (minimal driving) or several schools (tons of driving), schools often hire “Behavior Specialists” which is a position that may not require a BCBA, typical work hours (e.g. 8-4) unless you travel between multiple schools,  opportunities for cross collaboration with non ABA providers (SLP’s, teachers, OT’s, etc.), program goals are typically heavily academic, more of a consultation model and less of a direct or supervision model, may be difficult to involve parents in training/teaching, generalization is harder, interventions are more classwide than individual, minimal to moderate instructional control, can be difficult to implement behavior plans in a classroom environment, admin/paperwork time is usually unpaid and done outside of working hours, supplies/materials might be provided by the school,  advantage of multiple peers for social, play, and group instruction opportunities, usually do not have an on-site office.


  1. Thanks so much for this blog post! I'm currently doing my Masters in ECSE and I really really want to work in the ABA field but I don't know where to start! I don't want to be in a leadership position and I want to work directly with kids for the most part. I don't know if I should go for the BCBA or not.


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