Applied behavior analysis is the study of behavior and how learning takes place. But it’s also about action – using the information gleaned to apply techniques designed to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behavior. Therefore, the work of applied behavioral analysts involves identifying, measuring and analyzing behavior while developing and applying any number of intervention strategies.
While applied behavior analysis (ABA) is used to treat those with any number of learning difficulties and brain injuries, autism represents the primary domain of ABA, largely because of the climbing rates of diagnoses in recent years.
Colorado’s Autism Insurance Mandate Laws
When Senate Bill 09-244 was passed in 2009 to ensure treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was covered by insurers operating in the state, it included language describing the qualifications ABA providers had to meet for their services to be eligible for reimbursement:
- Doctoral degree in medicine, psychology or psychiatry and experience performing behavioral therapy (effectively, licensed physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists)
- Doctoral degree in behavioral health science and one year of experience performing behavioral therapy
- Master’s or higher degree in behavioral science and holds the BCBA® (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification
- Master’s or higher degree in behavior or health sciences; credentialed as an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech therapist; and one year of supervised experience performing behavioral therapy
- Bachelor’s or higher degree in behavioral science and holds the BCaBA® (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) certification (requires oversight and not appropriate for those who wish to practice independently with full authority)
Colorado Mental Health Practice Act States that a Psychology License is Required to Practice ABA
However, the latest version of the Colorado Mental Health Practice Act revised in 2017 clearly states that the practice of behavior analysis falls within a psychologist’s scope of practice, defining the “practice of psychology” as including behavior analysis and therapy (12-43-303; (2),(b)).
Colorado licensing law states that anybody practicing ABA needs to hold a psychology license. This requirement would trump the lesser requirements described in SB 09-244 since the senate bill itself does not legislate licensing laws enforced by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) for the protection of the public.
Being eligible for the psychology license required to practice ABA in Colorado would require you to be at least 21 years of age and to have no history of crime involving moral turpitude. You would initiate the licensing process by submitting the required Applications and Forms to DORA and completing four primary steps:
- Earning a doctorate degree with a major in psychology or a related field accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association, OR that is otherwise recognized by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) or the National Register of Health Service Psychologists.
- One year of post-doctoral experience in the practice of psychology under the supervision of a licensed practitioner.
- A demonstration of professional competency by passing a written exam on the practice of psychology that covers General Psychology, Clinical and Counseling Psychology, and the Application of the Practice of Psychology, including statutes and professional ethics.
- A demonstration of knowledge of relevant state law by passing a state jurisprudence exam administered by DORA’s Division of Psychologist Examiners.
If you are working exclusively under supervision in a residential child care facility, you may qualify for a Provisional License.
We advise anybody interested in practicing ABA therapy in Colorado to start by contacting the Colorado State Board of Psychologist Examiners.
How to Become a Board-Certified Applied Behavior Analyst in Colorado: BCBA® Certification
The most well established path to entering the profession, and the one that best aligns with national standards, is to meet the qualifications for national certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
Earning this nationally recognized credential does not supersede Colorado state licensing requirements.
To qualify for the BCBA® credential, you must meet education and experience requirements and pass the BCBA® examination.
To qualify for BCBA® certification, you must earn a master’s degree or higher in Behavior Analysis, Education, or Psychology from an accredited college or university that includes a qualifying curriculum consisting of substantial coursework in applied behavior analysis.
Programs that specifically state that the Verified Course Sequence (VCS) is included have been pre-approved as meeting the curriculum requirements. All programs accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) include a VCS. Programs that are not ABAI-accredited or that do not include a pre-approved VCS may still meet curriculum requirements, but would need to be evaluated prior to taking the BCBA® Exam.
Accredited online programs are beneficial for busy professionals with demanding schedules, as well as those not residing near an institution offering a BACB-approved graduate program. Online programs also offer the convenience of placing you with a local hospital or ABA practice for the practicum component of the program.
You must also meet the BACB’s Experience Standards, which require completing a BACB-approved practicum of 1,000 hours or an intensive practicum of 750 hours, both of which follow a BACB-approved program.
The University of Colorado Denver offers a practicum as part of their BACB graduate certificate program. However, not all BACB-approved programs include a practicum.
If you complete a master’s degree program without a BACB-approved practicum, you can still qualify for BCBA® certification if you complete at least 1,500 hours of independent field experience.
Just some of the Colorado ABA providers where you may be able to complete your practicum include:
- ABA Enhanced Respite Care, Glenwood Springs
- ABA Behavioral Services, Eagle
- Art of Behavior, Louisville
- Autism Behavior Associates, Inc., Pueblo, Denver, Colorado Springs
- Autism Concepts Incorporated (ACI) Learning Centers, Colorado Springs
- Autism Home Support Services, Denver
- Behavior Frontiers, Denver
- Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), Aurora
- Imagine! Behavioral Health Services, Lafayette
(Alternately, candidates that hold an acceptable doctorate for at least ten years and have been working in the field since earning the degree would also qualify.)
You must apply to and receive authorization from the BACB before you can take the BCBA® exam. The exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions based on the following content:
- Basic Behavior Analytic Skills
- Experimental design
- Behavior change considerations
- Fundamental elements of behavior change
- Specific behavior change procedures
- Behavior change systems
- Client-Centered Responsibilities
- Identification of the problem
- Implementation, management, and supervision
The BCBA® exam is administered by Pearson VUE. You can take the exam at one of the Pearson VUE testing sites throughout the U.S. Just a few of the testing centers in Colorado include Pueblo, Greeley, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Denver, and Littleton.
Autism Insurance Coverage Expansion Bill Increases Access to ABA Services in Colorado
In Colorado, ABA and the work of applied behavior analysts has become particularly significant since Governor John Hickenlooper signed an autism insurance coverage expansion bill in 2015.
The bill (SB15-015) eliminates all dollar and visit limits on coverage for health-related expenses associated with autism. Largely considered a landmark achievement for Colorado’s autism community, this state bill clarifies autism as a mental health condition, which therefore entitles it to the protections of state and federal mental health parity law.
What does the passage of SB15-015 mean? It means that children with autism in Colorado will no longer be denied medically necessary treatments such as ABA therapy and that the demand for healthcare providers, such as applied behavioral analysts, will be stronger than ever.
How Colorado’s Work in Autism is Expanding the ABA Profession
A great deal of insight into the prevalence of autism in Colorado has been achieved in recent years, thanks to the Colorado monitoring project, a collaborative effort between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and JFK Partners/Developmental Pediatrics at the University of Colorado.
The monitoring project revealed that one in 92 eight-year-olds in the seven-county Denver metropolitan area (or 10.8 per 1,000 children) had an autism spectrum disorder in 2012, compared to one in 101 (or 9.9 per 1,000) in 2010.
Colorado was also one of six states participating in the CDC’s Study to Explore Early Development, which examined the climbing rates of autism. The purpose of the study included identifying factors that cause autism, as well as the common health conditions of children with the condition. The research revealed that the earlier a child is identified and begins receiving services, the better the outcome. However, just 41 percent of children with autism in Colorado in 2012 received an in-depth developmental evaluation before they were three years old.
Today, thanks to the information gathered from research efforts and the increases in insurance coverage, Colorado children with autism are receiving appropriate interventions more often and earlier than ever. These changes have also produced a strong network of ABA facilities committed to making a difference in the lives of those with autism and other learning difficulties.
Just a few of the leaders in ABA in Colorado include:
Behavior Services of the Rockies (BSOTR), Lafayette
Behavior Services of the Rockies is a group of BCBA®-certified practitioners that deliver behavior supports designed to improve inclusion, independence, and an overall quality of life through evidence-based, pragmatic treatment, consultation, and teaching based on ABA. The goal of BSOTR is to teach skills to clients and caregivers and to develop applied behavior analysts as to expand the availability of high-quality services throughout the region.
BSOTR offers adult services as to help support independence and address difficult behavior and children services, including early intervention and help at school.
Alpine Autism Center, Colorado Springs
The Alpine Autism Center is a private, non-profit treatment facility that focuses on evidence-based, data-driven, individualized therapy utilizing the principles of ABA. The BCBA®-certified behavioral analysts here specialize in ABA, discrete trial teaching, natural environment teaching, small and large group direct instruction, and verbal behavior.
The staff of the Alpine Autism Center has varied backgrounds in early childhood education, special education, and psychology. They work on all areas of development, including motor, language, academic, behavior, social skills, and daily living. The Center also provides home therapy, consultation services, and ongoing support and training for teachers, schools, therapists, and families.
Northstar Achievements, Colorado Springs and Monument
Northstar Achievements provides effective research-based behavior analytic services to children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Treatment methods include a variety of ABA principles, such as discrete trials training, incidental training, and verbal behavior.
Northstar Achievement’s Early Intervention Program include several areas of emphasis, including:
- Motor skills
- Social skills
- Executive Functioning skills
- Adaptive skills