How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Illinois

Illinois is one of four states that do not currently require licensing for behavior analysts, but that have legislation in progress that would mandate licensing once passed. As of late 2016, an applied behavior analyst (ABA) can offer services in Illinois without worrying about credentialing.

Senate Bill 1895, introduced in 2015, will change that when passed, adding Illinois to the list of states that currently implement licensing laws for ABAs based on the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Model Act.

Aligning ABA Licensing Laws with the Model Act

The BACB is a national non-profit established in 1998 to act as a certifying body for applied behavior analysts. The Model Act is a blueprint set of legislation designed to give state legislators a basic outline for legislation enabling the licensing of behavior analysts, establishing minimum qualifications for education and training, and providing for state-level oversight of the field.

The Board offers a certificate called the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) to establish a national set of requirements for qualifying behavior analysts. According to the provisions of the Model Act and most legislation based on it, including SB 1895, possession of a BCBA® meets the licensing requirements for education and testing, though it is not expressly required since minimum requirements can still be met without earning the credential.

Special Education Provision Requiring BCBA® Certification

Although it is not a mandate for licensing, Illinois does have a law on the books that recognizes and requires the possession of a BCBA® for one particular practice area: Illinois Public Act 094-0948, concerning the provision of special education services in public schools, defines a behavior analyst as someone holding a BCBA®. This means that ABAs without board certification would not be allowed to work in Illinois schools.

Earning a Master’s Degree and Acquiring BCBA® Certification for ABA Practice in Illinois

Despite the lack of official licensing requirements, BCBA® credentialing remains important to behavior analysts practicing in Illinois. Most employers hiring ABAs require a BCBA®, or strongly prefer candidates who hold one. All ABAs planning to practice in Illinois schools will need to hold the BCBA® credential.

The BCBA® recognizes three options for meeting eligibility requirements for the certificate:

  • An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university including coursework in behavior analysis
  • A defined period of supervised practical experience
  • Passing the BCBA® exam

OR

  • An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university
  • A full-time faculty position teaching behavior analysis
  • Passing the BCBA® exam

OR

  • An acceptable doctoral degree conferred at least ten years ago
  • Ten years of practical experience
  • Passing the BCBA® exam

Because the BCBA® remains the most commonly accepted credential that both employers and clients recognize, those entering or advancing in the field of applied behavior analysis would want to consider earning the credential.

Although as of late 2016 there is no requirement to obtain a master’s degree (or the EdS, Educational Specialist, degree that some universities offer in the field) in order to practice in Illinois, there are still many strong incentives to do so.

Since most Illinois employers require a BCBA®, candidates will have to obtain a master’s degree as part of that certification process. Clients also prefer to work with ABAs who have received advanced degrees.

Many students today choose to acquire their master’s degree via online programs. The flexibility of distance learning for students who work part-time or would have difficulty relocating is unparalleled. The ability to time-shift certain coursework makes it easier to acquire a degree while still working part-time.

Click here for step-by-step instructions on the BCBA® credentialing process.

Practicing Applied Behavior Analysis in Illinois

As in most other states, ABAs in Illinois are largely employed to work with adults and children suffering from a variety of behavioral issues, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Learning disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Developmental disorders

Services they are expected to offer include:

  • Early intervention
  • Family support
  • Group therapy
  • Staff training
  • Structured programming
  • Behavior modification

Because of the recent explosion in ASD diagnoses among school age children, many ABAs in Illinois work primarily with that age group. This requires a special touch, both in handling younger patients, and in coordinating care with their parents, teachers, and other care providers.

When working in schools, ABAs will have direct participation in evaluating special needs students and helping to develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to cover their requirements in and out of class.

When they are not hired directly by school districts, ABAs usually work for private contractors, such as Applied Behavior Analysis of Illinois or Trinity Services. Those contractors work directly with families but also contract out to schools, community organizations, and various healthcare companies that use behavior analysis services.

Meeting Job Requirements

As a practical matter, most organizations hiring behavior analysts in Illinois require a BACB. Any public school or contractor that works in public schools must hire only BACB-holders. Some other employers will hire behavior analysts without a BACB or advanced degree in the field, but even those will encourage new hires to begin the process of becoming certified.

Among the employers that do hire applied behavior analysts without advanced degrees or official certification is CARD, the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, in Ottawa. However, even CARD encourages new hires to undergo the necessary training and to obtain an advanced degree to qualify for a BCBA® after being hired.

The vast majority of Illinois employers of ABAs require a BCBA® as a condition of hire. Additionally, most patients and client organizations in the state use the national certification as a yardstick to measure the qualification of potential ABAs in the absence of an official licensing process. And, of course, the public school system, always a major employer of behavior analysts, requires a BCBA® for anyone hired into that role.

There is a strong demand for behavior analysts in Illinois today, but anyone hoping to work in the field there should be sure to keep a close eye on the progress of SB 1895 or ensure that they have a master’s degree to comply with the licensing requirements that the bill will implement.

Professional Resources for ABAs in Illinois

The Illinois Association for Behavior Analysis (ILABA) is the professional association in the state representing behavior analysts and provides job listings for members only. ILABA is the Illinois chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). Membership costs $75 per year. Members have access to professional magazine subscriptions, the ability to attend an annual conference, and input on organization activities.

One of those activities is advocating for SB 1895 and working with state legislators to shape the law to work effectively for the good of the profession and the community. ILABA members have been helping define ABA roles and practices to ensure that the legislation will allow appropriate insurance billing for behavior analysis services.

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