What Makes a Great ABA Therapist??

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In the world of behavioral and mental health, ABA Therapy has become much more prevalent since the enactment of insurance funding. Currently, there are 75% of states that have some level of coverage for ABA Therapy. Indiana was the first in 2001 and New Jersey joined in 2010. As an ABA Therapist, over time you come up with some script of how to respond to the question “What do you do?”. Mine is “I work for an agency that provides therapy to people with autism”. I don’t even use the term “ABA” unless the conversation goes further than that. I am happy to discuss and educate people on the field that I fell in love with, but certainly would never rattle off jargon that they may not understand. Although ABA has been around for close to 50 years at this point, in my experience it is still rare to come across people who are familiar with it.


How can a family new to Applied Behavior Analysis evaluate if the person entering their home on a regular basis is providing quality service? I’ve compiled a list of things that can make up a great ABA Therapist. Keep in mind that therapists come in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the needs of each child are different. Some learners benefit from a very energetic personality, while others work well with someone who is more soothing. These are just a few ways to be able to tell that you have a fantastic therapist in the home.


A great ABA Therapist is:


  1. Educated — The required level of education to be an ABA Therapist varies by state, funding source, and employer. However, The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) has recently released a level of credentialing for direct service providers called a Registed Behavior Technician (RBT). To be eligible for the RBT credential, a therapist must complete 40 hours of coursework and an exam. RBT’s must be supervised by BCBAs as they provide direct service. We anticipate that this will become a standard for all ABA therapists, as insurance companies have relayed plans to require RBT credentialing in the future. Although there are not many RBTs yet credentialed*, this is a mark of quality to look out for in the future. More details on the RBT credential can be found at the BACB’s Website.


  1. Adaptable — There are many techniques used in ABA therapy. Discrete trial teaching, chaining, shaping, behavior momentum, script fading and response interruption redirection are just some examples. An adaptable behavior therapist works with his or her BCBA to know when to apply each strategy. The therapist takes cues from the student’s learning history and applies it to future skill acquisition programs. He or she identifies antecedents (events or environmental conditions that occur before) to problem behavior or to compliant behavior to know when to push and when to give space. An adaptable therapist will have the skill to manage maladaptive behavior as well as the ability to create a fun learning environment and reinforce desired behavior.


  1. Passionate — Here at Hybridge, we really focus on developing a relationship with our learners. For the first 2 weeks in the home, the therapist and learner spend a lot of time getting to know each other. The therapist rewards the student’s appropriate behavior and learn what is an effective reinforcer for that child. This is a process called “pairing”.  The therapist’s presence is paired with access to preferred items, and so the learner becomes more willing to work with the therapist when programming begins. I like to think that this also works the other way around. A passionate therapist has had the act of delivering ABA therapy paired with reinforcement. Therapists look forward to session each day and becomes passionate about their work.


  1. Compassionate — There are times when a therapist or supervisor can be so determined to collect the data and see progress that they forget that they are working with a person who is a member of a family and of society. There will be days that the learner is sick, not engaging in escape maintained behavior. He may not attend because Mom just came home and he does not know how to approach her for a hug and a kiss. He may be having a great day because he had an extra cookie at snack time. It is also important to realize that the learner likely wakes up very early, has a full day of school, and then comes home to 2-4 hours of therapy. That is an extremely long day for anyone, especially a young child. We must be able to understand the fact that they work hard all the time every single day, and if they occasionally have a hard day we should look at the child’s entire day to determine why the child is behaving the way he presents that day. As stated in our Hybridge Learning Group Mission Statement, “at its most basic level, we want our children to be kids and have fun while enjoying the learning process.”


  1. Professional — Of course, being professional can sometimes be the most important characteristic for a therapist to have. The therapist should practice the basics of professionalism. They should be on time and dressed appropriately. On top of the basic rules of thumb of professionalism, a therapist should remember that while they may form a relationship with the learner and family, they are still there to work and provide quality therapy. Minimal time should be spent on small talk and sharing personal information. A family and therapist can form great relationships, which is something I love about this field. However, both parties should remember that it is still a professional relationship rather than a personal one. The BACB has created Guidelines for Responsible Conduct of Behavior Analysts to really highlight what types of relationships with families are appropriate. Certain sections of the conduct code have been highlighted as relevant to RBTs as well. All service providers are obligated to operate under the regulations of HIPAA to ensure that confidentiality is maintained.


While looking over this list of the qualities of a great ABA Therapist, I realize that I only gave five characteristics! I do feel like the list is comprehensive, though. It’s important to remember that while all of these things are great qualities to have, each therapist is different and may be stronger in one area than the next. In the end, think about how your child responds to the therapist. Are they making progress? Do they enjoy spending time together? Are there noticeable changes to your child’s behavior? In the end, the happiness and success of the learner is paramount, and if you have those things, then you have a great ABA Therapist. 🙂


Share some compliments about the great therapist you have in the comments section below!




* As of 2/11/15, there are only 19 RBTs in New Jersey on the Behavior Technician Registry. Please note that professionals may choose whether to appear on the registry.


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