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Certified ABA Therapist:
Is there such a thing?

Recently we have been asked several times about "Certified ABA Therapists" or "Certified Verbal Behavior Therapists" by parents and school administrators.  Additionally, we have had several people apply for consultant positions with us who have claimed to be a "Certified VBA Therapist".  We believe that knowledge is power and all too often the layperson does not have the knowledge, or access to essential information, to make informed decisions on critical issues like selecting a therapist for their child.  These issues are why this article, and all the other articles on this website, has been written. 

There is an easy, unequivocal, and direct answer to the question "Is there such a thing as a nationally recognized 'Certified ABA/VBA Therapist?"  The answer is - No.  

There is, sadly, a significant need for trained therapists to work with children with Autism.  Because ABA is the single best research supported treatment for Autism there is a proportionately higher demand for trained ABA therapists today.  However, there are no established standards for what training and experience a person needs to say that they are a "trained ABA therapist".  The Lovaas Institute has a very rigid set of standards for their employees and the job titles that they use.  However, the Lovaas Institute employs a very small percentage of all the "ABA Therapists" working in the US and elsewhere.

There is no certification body or board that certifies direct therapists in Applied Behavior Analysis or Verbal Behavior Analysis.  There are many, like Reinforcement Unlimited, LLC, that offer training in these skill sets through workshops, supervision, mentoring, etc.  There are also University-based programs in ABA.  However, unlike the Behavior Analysis Certification Board for consultants at the Doctoral, Masters, and Bachelors level there is no board that applies criteria to measuring skills for those working as therapists in these areas.  There are three recognized credentials in Applied Behavior Analysis that involve approved training (University based now but years ago many got the BCaBA credential by taking weekend workshops with a single  "Nationally-Known ABA Expert"), mentoring during an extended period of practical application (working in the field under the supervision of an established person), and passing of an internationally administered examination on Applied Behavior Analysis.  These credentials are the BCBA-D = Board Certified Behavior Analyst - Doctorate which indicates that the person is trained at the Doctoral level in behavior analysis, BCBA = Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Masters degree or higher required) which is the independent credential to work as a consultant, and the BCaBA = Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (Bachelors degree or higher required) who MUST work under the direct supervision of a BCBA in order to comply with board requirements.

So, what does it mean when someone tells you that they are a "Certified ABA Therapist"?  Good question.  I have absolutely no idea because there is no such thing recognized in the field.  What this generally tells me is that someone took several days of workshops, maybe has worked for someone else, and has used ABA/VBA with children.  If this came up occasionally then one might conclude that it was merely the therapist either not understanding or using marketing language to convince possible customers of their value as a therapist.  However, these terms are being used more and more by a greater variety of people.  Why is this happening?

We tend to see one source for many of these claims.  We recently had several parents report that a school district was claiming that their staff were "ABA-Certified".  When asked directly by one skeptical parent the answer was that they had "been trained by Dr. X, a "Nationally-known" ABA/VBA Expert".  When pressed further the school Autism consultant reportedly became evasive.  Finally, the Autism Consultant admitted that the staff had taken a 3-Day workshop from the "Nationally-Known Expert".  Does that qualify someone to work as a therapist?  Well, everyone has to start somewhere and getting meaningful training from a genuine expert ("Nationally-Known" or otherwise) is a good place to start.  However, that is certainly not a great stopping place either.

Disclaimer:  Reinforcement Unlimited, LLC offers In-Home, Clinic-Based, and School Consultation services for ABA/VBA therapy.  We also offer training to parents, professionals, and novices in these techniques through our Workshop Program, our Parent Verbal Therapist Program, and our School Consultation Program.  We do not "Certify" people in VBA/ABA - we train and supervise them in these techniques.  We are proud to be the first Behavior Analysis Certification Board Approved Continuing Education provider in Georgia!


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