Florida is just one of countless states witnessing skyrocketing autism rates. In 2000, just 1.22 percent of the children in Florida receiving special education services were diagnosed with autism. Fast-forward to 2014, and this percentage had grown to 7.8 percent. At the same time autism was becoming more prevalent, applied behavior analysis (ABA) emerged as one of the most effective ways to help those with autism spectrum disorder participate in the classroom along side the general student population.
While many states either license applied behavior analysts, or are otherwise in the process of enacting such legislation, Florida does not, instead deferring the credentialing process for ABA professionals to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), which offers the nationally recognized BCBA® (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification.
The Florida Behavior Analysis Certification Program was originally developed and operated by the State of Florida and transferred to the BACB under a special agreement. But as of 2003, the BACB assumed all credentialing responsibilities for applied behavior analysts in Florida.
At that time, the Florida Behavior Analysis Certification Program of the Florida Department of Children and Families closed and the formerly recognized FL-CBA credential was retired. Previously credentialed FL-CBAs may maintain the credential under the auspices of the Florida Behavior Analyst Certification Committee, but it is only recognized within state borders and no new FL-CBAs have been issued since 2003.
Holding the widely respected BCBA® (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) designation allows you to demonstrate to your colleagues, clients, and employers that have met national standards for the profession and have demonstrated your skills and competency through national examination.
Earning a Master’s Degree and Qualifying for the BCBA® Credential in Florida
Without a state licensing board in place for applied behavior analysts in Florida, the nationally recognized Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) certification offered through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) has become the standard qualification for those entering the field.
The first step in the credentialing process is to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in education or psychology with a focus or minor in behavior analysis or in behavior analysis specifically.
To ensure your program meets the BACB’s curriculum standards, select from online or campus-based programs accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) or those that otherwise include a Verified Course Sequence.
Your program may meet the board’s curriculum requirements even if it doesn’t specify having a a pre-verified course sequence or as holding ABAI accreditation, but would need to be evaluated by the board to ensure course content allocation requirements are met.
Along with the completion of a qualifying graduate degree, you must meet BACB Experience Standards:
Some BACB-approved programs include practicums as part of their programs. If you complete a practicum through the school where you earned your ABA degree, it will consist of 1,000 hours. Some schools also offer intensive practicums that consist of 750 hours.
If you graduate from a BACB-approved program that does not offer a practicum, or if you want to complete a practicum in a different setting, you must complete an independent field experience of at least 1,500 hours.
Just some of the Florida ABA providers where you may be able to complete your independent field experience include:
- ABC Interventions, St. Petersburg
- Applied Behavior Innovations, Jupiter
- Behavior Dynamics, Miami Lakes
- Behavior Builders, LLC, Jacksonville
- Behavior Consulting of Tampa Bay, Tampa
- Breaking Barriers, Ft. Lauderdale
- Creative Behavior Solutions, Miami
- Development and Behavior Therapy, Boca Raton
- Florida Autism Center, Tallahassee, Doral, Palm Coast
- Heal the World Behavioral Services, Miami
You must apply to and receive authorization from the BACB before you can take the BCBA® exam, which includes 150 questions based on the following topics:
- 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.
In Florida, there are Pearson VUE testing sites located in:
- Avon Park
- Port Charlotte
- Fort Myers
- Port St. Lucie
Florida’s Efforts to Improve the Lives of Individuals with Autism and Other Developmental Disorders
Florida has made significant, meaningful strides in recent years for children and adults with autism and other developmental disorders, which has resulted in an increase in the availability of ABA services. Autism Speaks, which maintains a directory of ABA service providers throughout the U.S., lists 322 providers in Florida alone.
One of the biggest game changers for ABA services in Florida occurred in 2008, when Governor Charlie Crist established the Task Force on Autism Spectrum Disorders. The goal of the task force was to establish a unified agenda so the state could better address the needs of individuals with autism.
Today, the task force consists of 18-22 members that includes parents, representatives of state and local government agencies, healthcare providers and advocates for the autistic.
Florida is also home to no less than seven regional Centers for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) sites, which are housed at state universities. CARD sites provide information, training, and resources for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. They also support state agencies when developing training for early childcare providers and educators of children with developmental disabilities.
Some of the state agencies collaborating with CARD include:
- Florida Early Steps
- Florida Department of Education
- Florida Network on Disabilities
- Florida Inclusion Network
- Florida Independent Living Council
- Whole Child Florida
The most recent surge in the availability of ABA services in Florida occurred on April 14, 2016, when Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 221, which requires HMOs and other insurance policies to cover ABA services for the treatment of Down Syndrome. Previously, Florida statutes covered ABA services only for the treatment of autism. This change significantly expands the law to help many other Florida citizens qualify for ABA services.
Governor Scott and the Florida House and Senate continue to bridge the resource gap for individuals with special needs in Florida.
ABA Providers Making a Difference in Florida
Applied behavioral analysts in Florida are leading the charge and improving the lives of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. These professionals work in schools, hospitals, colleges/universities, non-profit agencies, and mental health practices, among others.
Just a sampling of some of the ABA providers in Florida making a difference include:
Applied Behavior Center (ABC) for Autism: Winter Garden, DeLand, Oviedo
The Applied Behavior Center (ABC) for Autism focuses on a child-guided, positive, and effective therapeutic environment for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Through the implementation of ABA, the applied behavioral analysts of ABC are able to address behavior excesses and deficits.
ABC assesses and observes all children, regardless of age, diagnosis, or level of disability. Disabilities treated by the applied behavior therapists here include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Down’s Syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
- Genetic abnormalities
- Social Communication Disorders (SCD)
Angels Therapy Center, Miami
Angels Therapy Center provides a wide array of individualized ABA programs and services designed to support children with autism and their families. This ABA-based center specializes in providing intervention for children with autism using the verbal behavior branch of ABA through age-appropriate play.
The applied behavior analysts of the Angels Therapy Center work with children in areas such as:
- Social skills
- Life skills
- Visual and performing arts
Alpine Academy, Orlando
The Alpine Academy provides opportunities for students with autism, ADHD, specific learning disabilities, and other behavioral or emotional needs.
The behavior analysts of the Alpine Academy work alongside educators to provide individualized instruction and careful monitoring of their progress. They implement ABA therapies and techniques to improve academic skills, as well as communication, social, self-care, and self-management skills to help students lead successful, productive lives.
The Language and Learning Skills Program here utilizes intensive ABA instruction in the areas of language and critical learning skills for children with autism or other developmental disabilities.
Better Life Behavioral Services of Central Florida, Leesburg
Better Life Behavioral Services of Central Florida provides ABA services in Lake and Sumter Counties, focusing on the development of a plan to treat behavioral excesses and deficits using an ABA approach.
The behavioral analysts of Better Life Behavioral Services provide a focused and comprehensive treatment approach for children and adults with autism, developmental disabilities, developmental delays, and disabled adults that exhibit dangerous behavior.