How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Washington

Washington State passed legislation to provide for the licensure of Applied Behavior Analysts (ABAs), Assistant Applied Behavior Analysts (AABAs), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT®s) in 2015 when the governor signed Senate Bill 5488 into law.

Despite the bill becoming law in 2015, its provisions will not take effect until July of 2017.

In general, states that license ABAs follow one of two different models:

  • Licenses are issued by a state licensing department according to a set of specific criteria laid down by legislation

Or

  • Licenses are issued by a licensing board of professionals and community stakeholders, which issues guidelines for acceptance but retains latitude to make individual judgments about each applicant’s qualifications

Washington, however, has elected to take a hybrid approach. The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) will issue licenses, but an applied behavior analysis advisory committee will be formed to determine the rules and qualifications required for licensure.

The initial version of these rules will become section 246-805 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) in July 2017. It is expected that future revisions will provide more detail about the educational, testing, and experiential requirements for each level of licensing or certification, as well as fees and renewal requirements.

Senate Bill 5488 Outlines Two Paths to ABA Licensure in Washington

SB 5488 outlines two paths to licensure, but many of the details will not be fleshed out until WAC 246-805 is released. In general, you will be able to earn a license by:

  • Earning a graduate degree in an approved field, accumulating 1,500 hours of supervised practice as part of your graduate program and/or independent fieldwork, and passing an exam.

Or

  • Earning certification through an approved nationally recognized professional credentialing entity (the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) credential, which also requires a master’s or higher degree and similar experience requirements)

Licenses will be good for two years and there will be a requirement for maintaining continuing education hours as part of the renewal process. The state will offer temporary licensure to applicants who are currently licensed in other jurisdictions, provided the qualifications in that jurisdiction are acceptable to the DOH.

Preparing for Washington State ABA Licensing with a Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in applied behavior analysis or a related field with substantial coursework in ABA is the standard qualification for entering the field.

Washington State RCW concerning applied behavior analysis licensing states that candidates for the state’s Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) designation must earn a master’s or doctorate degree in one of the following subjects:

  • Behavior Analysis
  • Education
  • Human Services
  • Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Natural Science
  • Others as approved by the Department of Health

The candidate’s graduate-level education must include a minimum of 250 classroom hours specific to behavior analysis topics.

Increasingly, students are choosing accredited online programs. The ability to time-shift class work makes it easier to complete a degree while still working, and the variety of online options assures you have access to a program that is a good fit for your personal goals, whether that means earning a degree in behavior analysis specifically, or earning a degree in psychology or education with a minor or concentration in applied behavior analysis.

The Role of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board in Establishing State Licensing Laws and Qualifications

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a national non-profit entity that provides credentialing services and sets qualification standards for applied behavior analysts.

The BACB’s Model Act for Licensing and Regulating Behavior Analysts has been used as the basis for licensing laws in virtually all states that have already established licensing processes and requirements, and Washington is likely to follow suit.

BACB certifications that are likely to eventually be acceptable for Washington State ABA licensure at the various levels are:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate (BCBA®-D)
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®)
  • Registered Behavior Technician (RBT®)

The BCBA® represents the standard credential used to qualify for state licensing in states where laws exist. Even in the absence of licensing laws, earning the credential is a universally-recognized way to meet accepted standards and demonstrate mastery of specialized knowledge in applied behavior analysis.

Earning the credential is also a practical matter since it is a standard qualification for employment and often required for ABA services to be covered by insurance.

The BCBA®-D for doctorate-prepared ABAs is only available after first earning the BCBA® and is not considered a separate credential, nor does it denote a greater scope of authority.

Education, Experience and Exam Requirements for BCBA® Certification

The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) certification requires a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology that meets board-specified curriculum requirements. Qualifying degrees in education or psychology typically have a focus or minor in applied behavior analysis.

You can also qualify with a doctoral degree or educational specialist (Ed.S.) degree with a concentration in applied behavior analysis.

Graduate programs with a BACB approved course sequence have a pre-approved curriculum that meets board requirements. Some schools offer an approved course sequence as part of a non-degree post-graduate program for candidates who already hold a graduate degree but still need to complete coursework in applied behavior analysis in preparation for the certification exam.

Another easy way to assure you meet BACB requirements and widely accepted standards is to select a program from the ABAI (Association for Behavior Analysis International) accredited program list, all of which have the necessary course sequences included.

It’s still possible to qualify for the BCBA® Exam even without taking a pre-approved course sequence, so long as your program or institution has been accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and your program meets course content allocation guidelines The BACB would need to evaluate your course syllabus during the application process to ensure you meet the qualifications to take the certification exam.

Either as part of your degree program or as independent fieldwork after graduation, you will have to complete up to 1500 hours of supervised practical experience before you will be eligible to sit the BCBA® exam. This is consistent with the experience requirement described in the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) concerning Washington State licensure.

The 1500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork are typically completed at clinics or other service providers under a current BCBA® holder qualified to supervise and evaluate your work. You are responsible for lining up your own fieldwork opportunities with local providers, some of which include:

  • Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Tacoma
  • The Madrone School, Redmond
  • Applied Behavior Health, Seattle
  • Imagine Behavioral and Development, Bellevue

You can also satisfy the experience requirements as a part of your degree program, if the program includes the option to undertake practicum or intensive practicum. Practicum is conducted as a regular course in your program, during which you provide legitimate ABA services under supervision. You must achieve a C or higher for the experience to count. You’ll have to accumulate 1000 hours of regular practicum or 750 hours of intensive practicum to qualify.

A combination of each of these types of experiences is also accepted.

After attaining your master’s degree and fulfilling all the necessary experience requirements, you will be eligible to take the National Behavior Analyst Exam from the BACB. The exam is administered by Pearson VUE and offered in exam centers located in:

  • Renton
  • Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Yakima

The exam is a 150 question, multiple choice test covering a variety of practical, professional, and ethical questions on the practice of applied behavior analysis.

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

The Current State of ABA Practice in Washington State

Washington has no provisions in the state code requiring insurers to cover applied behavior analysis services, so ABAs practicing in the state have had to adopt a variety of strategies in order to receive compensation for their services.

Applied behavior analysts in private practice or those working with various larger providers or state agencies (such as school systems) that do not specifically require practitioners to be credentialed have been able to provide services without having to worry about licensure or certification.

Some government agencies, such as the Department of Social and Health Services, do have certification standards already in place, requiring ABA practitioners to hold the nationally-recognized BCBA® certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

A number of insurers operating in Washington State have also independently adopted a non-uniform variety of requirements for practitioners seeking to provide compensated services. Practitioners of applied behavior analysis operating in these networks are often required to be licensed psychologists, counselors, or other licensed health care professionals in order for their services to qualify for reimbursement. In many cases, a BCBA® is at least one component of the required qualifications.

Tracking Developments in the Washington State ABA Licensing Process

As the Department of Health, advised by the applied behavior analysis advisory committee, works through the process of developing the administrative rules around ABA licensing, you can track their progress through public information services like email updates, public presentations, and workshops.

DOH maintains a website where these options will be listed when available. Public participation is encouraged in the rule-making process, particularly from professionals who will be practicing in the field.

Another venue for remaining informed and contributing input to the rule-making process is through membership in the Washington Association for Behavior Analysis (WABA). WABA was instrumental in pushing forward SB5488 into law, and the organization remains poised to help inform the implementation process by providing feedback from its members.

WABA is an affiliate of ABAI and provides other membership benefits such as:

  • Access to ABAI job listings
  • Annual conferences
  • Continuing education opportunities

A student membership is available at a reduced rate if you would like to become a member before completing your degree program.

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