A Day in the Life.

Lately I've been getting lots of inquiries and questions from people new to the field who aren't quite sure what BCBA's do all day.

It's not an unusual question, I don't even know if the families I work with know what I do all day. Obviously they see me in action during a session, but once I leave I don't think they have a good grasp of the typical BCBA workload.

So this post could actually be helpful for ABA peeps and families/parents.

**Upfront disclaimer: I could not possibly detail what every BCBA on earth does on a day-to-day basis. For one, I don't know every BCBA on earth. For two, many BCBA's work in unique settings or with unique populations outside of the developmental disabilities domain. For those non-typical work settings, I'm sure the day-to-day responsibilities are very different from what I do everyday. Possibly more exciting, but possibly more stressful too. Either way, individuals in those kinds of settings would be the best person to talk to if you do NOT plan to enter the developmental disabilities domain.  

The main question I keep getting from people is some variation of:
"Once I'm a BCBA, does that mean I will be stuck behind a desk/a supervisor only/can't work 1:1 with clients/students anymore?"

It's a great question.

It isn't a question I had pre-certification because I knew pretty early in my career that I wanted to be the one designing treatment and being a strong support system for the staff and family. Yes, I LOVED working day after day with the kids and seeing them learn and grow, and watching them gain more independence right in front of my eyes. But the person who fascinated me even more than my client was always the Consultant/Supervisor. I wanted to know how they knew what they knew. How did they know what skills to teach next? How did they know how to reduce challenging behaviors? When they looked at the raw data, how did they know what decisions to make next?
I saw that in the typical ABA therapist position, no one was interested in having me help with those kinds of duties. So I knew I needed to pursue certification if I wanted to do more than implement a treatment plan.

As far as the typical day in the life of a BCBA, on an average day my responsibilities could include the following:

  • On-site supervision of staff/program implementers, which typically includes parent meetings (if in-home), administrative contact or follow up (if at a school), or consultation with your direct supervisor (if in a clinic)
  • Ongoing and on-the-job training and support for program implementers, which often necessitates treatment plan revision, program writing, and/or creating staff training materials
  • Research/Literature review/Colleague or Mentor contact to generate treatment planning ideas, problem solve, or create potential hypotheses about client issues 
  • Data collection, data review, data analysis, data based decision making, pulling out your hair because they "forgot" to collect data, crying because you pulled out your hair, etc....
  • Creating and/or purchasing therapy materials, helping teach program implementers how to appropriately select therapy materials and reinforcers
  • Carefully assessing the overall quality of the ABA program (Is the learner progressing? Are the staff energetic in their role and receiving enough support? Is everyone practicing ethically? Are the parents involved and participating? Do related providers know what is being targeted in ABA therapy? Could any current systems be revised, edited, or tweaked to be more effective or more efficient?)
  • Maintaining compliance with various company policies and procedures, client confidentiality, funding source requirements, etc.
  • Be available for contact by program implementers/parents/stakeholders who may have questions, request meetings, ask for you to attend IEP's, ask for copies of documents/reports, report new behavioral issues, report new skill regressions, etc. All of the above can necessitate treatment plan revision, program writing/revision, creating training materials, updating/revising the progress report, etc.

Yup. All in a day's work.

After reading the typical responsibilities of a BCBA, it may already be apparent that there are a few barriers to being able to work 1:1 with clients. Such as? Glad you asked:
  • Umm, time. Did you see that list above?? When exactly did you plan to have time for seeing clients 1:1?? In a typical BCBA position, you will have a full caseload of clients that could be served at settings spread all over town (at school, in the community, in-home), and there will be a team attached to each client. That team will depend on you and regularly need your assistance or support outside of work hours. This particular barrier is why many BCBA's choose not to accept full-time positions (that often come with billable hour requirements), and instead to contract their services or work independently.
  • $$$. If you are working for a company, they often would prefer to staff a case with non-BCBA's because it is cheaper. The BCBA hours allowed by insurance are often far less than what we need to do our jobs. So money plays a big role in where your employer decides to use you, as your hourly rate is much higher than what direct staff get paid. If you work directly for a consumer, it's not uncommon for parents to contact BCBA's because they want the most credentialed person to work with their child directly. However, these parents are often unprepared for the higher hourly rate a BCBA charges. Which means consumers may not be able to afford to hire you as direct staff.
  • Opportunities available. In this field, a tiered-delivery model is super common. What this means is unlike other therapy models, with ABA treatment there are 2 main roles: program implementer and program supervisor. Many funding sources set up their ABA therapy reimbursement based on this delivery model, which means many organizations and employers hire staff based on this delivery model. If you do a quick search for BCBA positions in your area, you will probably find that most of them are hiring at the supervisor or director level. I rarely see BCBA job postings that mention providing direct services.

Am I saying that no BCBA does any direct, and you have to kiss this dream goodbye in order to pursue certification? Of course not. 
As a BCBA you will be a trained and competent professional, in a high-demand role. Go do what you want!

However, just know that there may be barriers to continuing to do direct/work 1:1, and it can be difficult to locate an employer who wants that/can afford that.

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