There’s nothing quite like a job helping individuals with autism. We teach them life skills, and they teach us the meaning of life! If you’ve experienced this magic and are looking for a long-term career, you may be wondering how to become a BCBA that specializes in autism. It’s one of the most exciting careers available in our field, but finding a path to get there can be overwhelming and confusing. To help you on that journey, this article explains what it takes to become a licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in Arizona.
The term “BCBA” stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. BCBAs are certified nationally by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), and behavior analysts in Arizona must also be licensed by the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners (which most of us refer to as the “psych board”).
Behavior analysts are clinical professionals that specialize in analyzing how human behavior is influenced by the external environment. The science of applied behavior analysis (ABA) includes a wide range of techniques to assess behavioral patterns and develop treatment plans that lead to positive changes. Although BCBAs can work in many fields, most of the jobs right now involve helping kids with autism, both at home and in schools, or sometimes in an ABA clinic.
The BCBA’s role is typically to design a program and lead a team of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) to implement it. BCBAs use specific clinical skills, such as conducting a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and developing a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). When developing ABA programs for children with autism, BCBAs will typically conduct a skills assessment, establish program objectives, and monitor progress to make data-based decisions.
As the need for effective behavioral treatment has grown, funding for BCBA services has expanded to include health insurance plans, special education in schools, and government programs for developmental disabilities and behavioral health. As a result, BCBAs with autism expertise now have a wide range of career options in Arizona.
To become a BCBA in Arizona, you must first meet the requirements set by the BACB. These include graduate courses, supervised experience, and passing an exam. Once that is done, you can apply to the psych board to obtain your state license to practice behavior analysis in Arizona.
The BACB requires a master’s degree in an acceptable field, which includes behavior analysis, education, or psychology. In past years, any major was acceptable, but that is no longer true. The school must also be an accredited university through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. In addition, you must complete coursework in behavior analysis per the BACB’s standards. The BACB has a list of approved programs on its website. It’s a little confusing to use, so just make sure you look for a blue dot in the left column next to each program on the list. That means it offers “BCBA courses.” Click on any one that interests you to get their website or contact information. Many of these programs are available online. Arizona State University has our state’s only in-person ABA master’s program.
Once you’ve figured out the education piece, you’ll need to carefully consider how to achieve the experience standards. For most people, it involves a year of working full-time in a position that provides supervised experience and mentorship. The BACB refers to this as “Supervised Independent Fieldwork.” You may hear people talk about this as their “1500 hours” – think of it as about 30 hours per week for 50 weeks if you're working full-time. The BACB requires monthly supervisory periods during which you can work anywhere between 20 to 130 hours. If you add some administrative time and days off to your schedule, it basically equals one year of full-time work. The BACB does allow for fast-tracked practicums, but these do not meet the AZ psych board licensing requirements.
Supervised experience is extremely important, and you should take great care to make sure you find a supervisor that really understands the requirements and is going to make sure you have an excellent experience. Not only do you want to be absolutely sure that the BACB and psych board will accept it, but you should really embrace this time as your primary learning opportunity. It’s not just about meeting a requirement. Rather, it is an extremely critical time to receive hands-on training and guidance, to properly prepare you to become a highly skilled and effective behavior analyst. You only get that opportunity once! Make sure you find a supervision arrangement that nurtures your growth as a professional through a wide range of experiences. Look for a supervisor that takes great pride in this field and in you as a person, and is able to make you a top priority with their time and attention. Once you pass that exam and become a BCBA, the expectations of your skills and knowledge will be high, so seek out supervision that prepares you to not just pass the exam, but to have a fantastic career!
Finding a perfect supervisor, of course, is easier said than done. Some candidates may work in a setting, such as a classroom, where no BCBA exists. One option is to independently consult with an outside BCBA that offers supervision, but that can be very expensive and difficult to coordinate. If you have no other options, that may still work as long as the work setting is conducive to implementing ABA - which is not always the case. On the other hand, a much better setup is to work in an environment that is already infused with ABA excellence and has built-in BCBA supervision. That way, you are learning the best of ABA all day long, and you shouldn’t have to pay anything extra.
Here at Arizona Autism United, we have worked hard to create a clear path for employees to become a BCBA, transitioning smoothly from direct care to supervisory roles, to make sure you meet the requirements and experience a wide range of innovative programs and best practices. We make sure our trainees get to work with multiple BCBA supervisors to develop a broad skill set with knowledge gained from people with different backgrounds and perspectives. In addition to the task list, we have a comprehensive list of fieldwork targets to make sure trainees learn how to do critical techniques fluently, such as conducting a functional behavior assessment (FBA), writing treatment programs, and customizing individualized learning activities. Our goal is to develop great clinicians, and not just someone who can pass an exam! If you are interested in pursuing this opportunity, contact us or fill out an application for the position of ABA Behavior Technician. If you already have experience in the technician role, contact us to learn about job opportunities with BCBA supervision in the Assistant Clinical Specialist role.
Once you’ve completed your degree with ABA coursework and have finished your supervision hours, you can apply for the BCBA exam. It consists of 150 multiple choice questions, based on the Fourth Edition Task List. If you’ve completed a strong program and worked with a great supervisor, you should be in good shape to pass, but do not underestimate the importance of studying! Those who go in unprepared often fail. You can retake it, but only a certain number of times and not right away. There are some great study guides and software programs out there to help you prepare, so do your homework and start studying at least two months in advance. There’s a lot to remember!
The psych board application follows Arizona’s state statutes regulating behavior analysts. Since laws can change over time, it is important to stay up to date as you pursue licensure. The local BCBA community has worked extensively with the psych board to have their requirements match those of the BACB, so that certification is a direct path to licensure as well. It is now very close, with just a few differences. The 1500 hours of supervised experience over 12 months are required (there is no intensive practicum option). Also, all supervisors in Arizona must be licensed for the hours to count. You can always contact the psych board with questions, if you have any unusual circumstances with your education or supervision.
Check out the Arizona Association for Behavior Analysis (AzABA) to connect with colleagues and get updated information. You should also explore the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), which holds the largest annual ABA conference. Finally, the Association for Professional Behavior Analysts (APBA) is a great resource for public policy and professional practice information.
And of course, we invite you to contact AZA United anytime – we’re always hiring more BCBAs!
Stephanie Gates, BCBA, is a Senior Clinical Supervisor for AZA United. She oversees the organization's BCBA mentoring and supervision program.