July 1, 2015 proved to be an historic date for Georgia’s children with autism, their families, and providers of applied behavior analysis (ABA).
On this date, the Georgia Constitution House Bill 429—best known as Ava’s Law—took effect, requiring private insurance companies to provide coverage for therapeutic treatments for children with autism, ages six and under. Ava’s Law, which was unanimously passed by the Georgia General Assembly, requires insurance companies to cover applied behavior analysis therapy for the first time in the state’s history.
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The passage of Ava’s Law made Georgia the 41st state in the nation to require access to appropriate therapeutic treatments for children with autism through meaningful insurance legislation. It was named after Ava Bullard, whose early autism treatment helped restore her speech.
While many states have established licensing laws for applied behavioral analysts —or have otherwise passed legislation that would enact such laws — Georgia does not currently have a designated ABA licensing body in place. The state did, however, take a meaningful step toward formal regulation with the passage of House Bill 429, which clearly states that those qualified to perform ABA therapy eligible for insurance reimbursement must be professionally certified or supervised by someone who is.
To Meet Insurance Eligibility Requirements, BCBA® Certification Becomes the Standard Credential
In the absence of a state regulatory body, Georgia’s applied behavioral analysts pursue nationally-recognized credentials through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) in the form of:
- Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) – master’s level credential for full scope practitioners authorized to perform assessments and implement treatment plans without oversight (a doctorate-level credential (BCBA®-D) is also available but does not come with expanded authority and is only granted after first earning the BCBA®)
- Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®) – bachelor’s level credential for assistants that must work under the supervision of a BCBA® or BCBA®-D; not appropriate for ABAs that will be working independent of oversight
To earn the full authority BCBA® certification, you must successfully earn a qualifying graduate degree (master’s or higher), complete a period of supervised experience, and pass the national BCBA® examination.
You must first earn a master’s degree or higher in behavior analysis, education, or psychology that meets the board’s curriculum standards. Programs with a qualifying curriculum are those that:
- Are listed among programs with a BACB pre-approved course sequence (pre-approved courses are also available as stand-alone course sequences outside of graduate program curriculum for those that already hold a graduate degree but that just need to meet course requirements before taking the certification exam)
- Are listed among those accredited by the Association of Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) (all ABAI-accredited programs include a pre-approved course sequence)
- Meet Course Content Allocation requirements (since these programs are not pre-approved, they need to be evaluated by the board before you can take the certification exam)
BACB-approved online graduate programs offer the flexibility necessary to earn a degree on your own time and the convenience of being able to schedule your practicum at a hospital or clinic near your home. Online programs are particularly beneficial for individuals residing in Georgia, where there are just two institutions offering BACB-approved graduate programs.
Either during or after your master’s degree program, you must participate in a practicum or field experience that meets BACB Experience Standards.
Practicums offered through BACB-approved programs are structured in one of two ways:
- Practicum: 1,000 hours (with at least one week of supervision)
- Intensive practicum: 750 hours (with at least one week of supervision)
If you complete a program that doesn’t include a practicum, or if you choose to gain experience in another setting, your period of experience must include at least 1,500 hours of independent fieldwork, with at least two weeks of supervision.
Some of the ABA providers in Georgia where you may be able to complete your field experience include:
- ABA Therapy Atlanta, Atlanta
- Agency for Behavioral Services, Valdosta
- Beyond Expectations, Inc., Atlanta
- Holistic Therapies and Consulting, Athens
- Milestones ABA, Columbus
- Peach Autism Center, Alpharetta
- Sterling Learning, Decatur
- Universal Learning Organization, Kennesaw
After you completed the required practicum, you must apply to and receive authorization from the BACB to take the BCBA® national exam.
The BCBA® exam is administered by Pearson VUE. You must take the exam at one of the Pearson VUE testing centers located throughout the U.S.
Pearson VUE testing centers in Georgia include:
- Warner Robins
Increasing Applied Behavior Analysis Services to Georgia’s Children with Autism
Recent statistics by the Easter Seals reflect what many Georgia parents, educators, and therapists have known for years: There is a great need for access to appropriate services for children with autism. In 2000, just slightly more than 1 percent of children (ages 3-21) in Georgia who received special education services had autism. By 2013-14, the percentage had risen to nearly 8 percent.
The inclusion of ABA therapy is significant, as research has shown that access to appropriate treatment can reduce or even negate the effects of autism, said Faye Montgomery, advocacy director of the Matthew Reardon School for Autism in Chatham County. She was one of the major players in getting Ava’s Law passed. ABA therapy is “incredibly critical for anyone with autism,” said Montgomery.
ABA is a systematic approach that involves applying the scientific study of principles of learning and behavior by identifying environmental variables and introducing behavior change techniques. Applied behavioral analysts are equipped to implement therapies that reduce problem behavior as to improve socially significant behavior.
Center for Leadership in Disability and the Georgia Autism Planning Grant
In 2011, the Center for Leadership in Disability at Georgia State University received the Georgia Autism Planning Grant. The goal of the grant is to implement programs and services that provide high-quality, family, person-centered, coordinated support to all children, youth, and adults with autism and related disorders in Georgia.
The Georgia Autism Planning Grant addresses ten areas of activity, all of which are designed to ensure Georgia’s individuals with autism receive the best services and support:
- Early identification and screening
- Referral and diagnosis
- Medical, behavioral health and dental services
- Family support
- Early intervention and preschool services
- Elementary and secondary education
- Community services and supports
- Transition from youth to adult systems
- Adult services and supports
- Emergency preparedness and first responders
It also includes the Autism Advisory Council, which represents key stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels. Some of the state organizations represented include:
- American Academy of Pediatrics – Georgia Chapter
- Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
- Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
- Georgia Department of Community Health
- Maternal and Child Health Program, Georgia Department of Public Health
- Parent to Parent of Georgia
ABA Providers in Georgia Making a Difference
According to Autism Speaks, there are 106 ABA providers in Georgia. Just a few of the ABA providers making a difference in the lives of those with autism and their families include:
Innovative Behavior Options, Atlanta
The applied behavior analysts of Innovative Behavior Options work to increase the adaptive skills of children, attain functional behavior outcomes, and decrease potential maladaptive behaviors. They serve individuals with autism and developmental disabilities, from infants to adults, using the following methods:
- Verbal behavior training
- Pivotal response training
- Natural environment training
Prime Behavior Analysts, Marietta
Prime Behavior Analysts offers clinic-based, home-based, and outbound care. They offer the following services:
- Early intervention services address the skills and deficits of at-risk or diagnosed children, ages 18 months to 6 years. The applied behavioral analysts create individually tailored environments directed at promoting skill growth in the areas of language and social development.
- Bridge services address individuals who have exceeded early intervention targets but still require direct instruction in select skill and learning areas.
- Explorers Club is a program for individuals who have mastered all early intervention skills and can care for themselves. Services here are designed to increase mastery of more complicated social and learning skills.
Pathways Behavioral Consulting, Dunwoody
Pathways Behavioral Consulting provides ABA services to enhance the education and lives of individuals with autism, from early childhood to adult, and in the home, school, and community.
Just some of the services provided here include:
- Behavior reduction and replacement programs
- Vocational skills training
- Social skills development
- Collaboration with school and community services