How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Washington DC

Washington, D.C. represents a unique case in American health care and professional services in at least two different respects:

  • First, all professional licensing and regulation are handled at the level of the city government, since the District is not governed by any state.
  • Second, that most health care providers serving Washington D.C. are not actually in the District, but instead located in one of the surrounding states, and governed by their respective regulation and licensing regimes.
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Washington, D.C. does not currently require licensing to practice as an applied behavior analyst within the city and there are no efforts being made to enact licensing regulations there, despite a larger national trend toward certification and licensing for ABA professionals. The two states that border Washington DC, where most health care providers serving the city practice, both have laws requiring the licensure of applied behavior analysts:

  • Maryland – Maryland has required licensure of ABAs since 2014. Many details of the licensing process are still being ironed out, but possession of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) credential is one acceptable path to obtaining a license.
  • Virginia – Virginia has licensed ABAs since 2012 and requires practitioners to hold BCBA® certification in order to acquire a license.

Due to the influence of the Virginia and Maryland legal requirements, to satisfy billing requirements for some insurance companies, and following a national trend toward certification, even in the absence of District licensing laws, obtaining a BCBA® is still the primary route to becoming an applied behavior analyst in Washington, D.C.

The BCBA® Becomes a Generally Accepted Credential for Applied Behavior Analysts

Insurance coverage for autism services has spurred the drive to license applied behavior analysts in many states, but Washington DC’s insurance regulations do not specifically cover autism or explicitly require ABA services to be covered, so insurers must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

As a general rule, however, those insurers that do cover ABA services require or prefer to see those services delivered by a provider who has acquired professional certification in the field. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) master’s-level credential and Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®) bachelor’s-level credential through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) are the de facto standard.

The BACB is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 to meet the need for professional credentialing in the ABA community. BACB provides professional standards, input on legislative language, and standards of practice that help define the parameters of ABA services nationwide.

To obtain a BCBA® or BCaBA®, you will have to meet exacting standards for:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Examination

BCBA® Degree Requirements

The BACB standards for BCBA® certification include a requirement that you complete an advanced degree, either master’s or doctorate, in either education, psychology or applied behavior analysis that meets specific curriculum requirements.

The degree and curriculum requirements can be most easily satisfied by attending a program that is listed in the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) accredited programs list. All such programs have been verified as including a BACB-approved course sequence.

It is possible to qualify to sit for the BCBA® Exam even if your degree program was not on the approved list, as long as it meets the Course Content Allocation requirements and the institution has been accredited by an accreditation body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). However, the course content will need to be reviewed and independently verified by the BACB prior to allowing you to take the BCBA® Examination.

Although there are no degree programs available in Washington DC that have pre-approved as meeting BACB requirements, online master’s degree programs are increasingly becoming popular with ABA students. Entering an online master’s program avoids having to physically relocate for two or more years while earning your degree. Courses can be time-shifted to work around jobs or other commitments and most classwork can be completed with more flexibility than in conventional programs.

If you are interested in working as an assistant applied behavior analyst and wish to sit for the BCaBA® exam you need an undergraduate degree in Behavior Analysis, Psychology, Teaching, or anther closely related field that adheres to the BACB’s coursework requirements.

BCBA® Experience Requirements

Applied behavior analysis degree programs frequently include a practicum component, which allows you to gain hands-on experience with patients in ABA therapies under the supervision of professors as a graded course.

The BACB recognizes two sorts of practicum which can qualify you for certification:

Practicum – At least 1000 hours (670 for BCaBA®) with 7.5 percent of those hours under direct supervision

Intensive Practicum – At least 750 hours (500 for BCaBA®) with 10 percent of those hours under direct supervision

In both cases, the associated courses have to be passed with at least a C grade.

If your program does not offer practicum, or does not offer sufficient practicum hours to qualify for certification, you will have to line up independent supervised fieldwork instead, for a total of 1500 hours (1000 for BCaBA®). This fieldwork will typically occur at a hospital, clinic, or school that is willing to provide you with the opportunity to practice there.

Because there are relatively few providers in Washington, D.C., you might have to look elsewhere in the metro area for supervised fieldwork experience, including at providers such as:

  • Behavior Basic, Alexandria, VA
  • Attentive Behavior Care, Baltimore, MD
  • Avail Outreach, Fairfax, VA

The supervision must be performed by a current BCBA® holder, who will be expected to turn in a supervision form evaluating you on items such as:

  • Conducting behavior assessments
  • Designing, implementing, and monitoring behavior analysis programs
  • Overseeing implementation of behavior analysis programs
  • Research, oversight, and supervision of behavior management programs

Passing the BCBA® Exam

The final step to acquiring your BCBA® will be in passing the National Behavior Analyst Exam from the BACB. The exam is administered by Pearson VUE and offered in exam centers around the nation.

The only approved exam center in Washington, D.C. is located on L Street.

The exam itself consists of 150 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within four hours.

The BCaBA® exam has only 130 questions, on the same general subjects, but focused more the level of knowledge expected of assistants.

For more detailed information on the BCBA® process, see the following page:

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

Working as an ABA in Washington, D.C.

As with the rest of the country, most ABA positions in Washington DC revolve around treating children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As one of the few scientifically proven treatments for ASD, behavior analysis is increasingly used in public schools, private clinical practice, and in private residential education programs.

Examples of these positions include:

  • Autism Teacher (no BCBA® required) at DC Public Schools
  • BCBA® Supervisor at Bridges Public Charter School
  • Staff BCBA® at HSC Healthcare Systems
  • ABA Therapist at Learning Together

ABAs may also find work in residential care facilities and hospitals, working with patients as varied as geriatric stroke victims and wounded soldiers with traumatic brain injury.

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