How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Iowa

It takes a special kind of therapy to garner the attention of state government, and that’s exactly what applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy did in Iowa in 2013.

Today, Iowa’s children with autism enjoy access to what has been described as one of the most promising therapies for children with autism, thanks to the Autism Support Program (ASP), created through the Iowa Legislature to provide funding for ABA therapy for children under the age of nine who meet certain diagnostic and financial eligibility criteria.

Even with laws in place for a number of years that assure families in Iowa with autistic children have access to ABA therapy, Iowa has yet to develop comprehensive, universal legislation aimed at regulating and licensing applied behavioral therapists separate from licensed psychologists and therapists as is done in many other states. Still, Iowa has taken a significant step towards establishing minimum state requirements for ABAs with the creation of the Autism Support Program, which requires ABA therapy to be supervised by BCBA®s (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) and performed by BCaBA®s (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts).

Earning a Master’s Degree and Qualifying for the BCBA® Credential

Earning a master’s degree and qualifying for the BCBA® is the most widely accepted process for gaining the specialized knowledge necessary to enter the field as a full scope practitioner, in addition to being a practical matter for meeting employment and insurance reimbursement requirements. The BCaBA® credential only requires a bachelor’s degree, but limits practitioners to a support role.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) not only offers the credentials that applied behavior analysts need to enter the field as competent practitioners, it also has written the model regulation for licensing that most states use for the basis of their licensing laws. Should Iowa enact a licensing process, it is likely to align with the BACB’s Model Act for Licensing/Regulating Behavior Analysts.

The BACB approves both online and campus-based graduate programs, making the process of earning a graduate degree in ABA easier and more convenient than ever. Online programs allow students to complete some or all their coursework requirements through distance-based study, making them a great option for busy professionals and those looking for a greater variety of options that align with career goals, which may mean earning a master’s in education or psychology with a focus in applied behavior analysis.

Qualifying for BCBA® certification requires a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology that meets BACB curriculum requirements by:



Either during or after your graduate program, you would complete a practicum that meets BACB Experience Standards. If your ABA graduate program offers a practicum, it will be organized as one of the following:

  • Practicum: 1,000 hours
  • Intensive practicum: 750 hours

If your ABA program does not offer a practicum, you will need to complete a field experience of at least 1,500 hours to meet BACB experience standards.

Just some of the ABA providers in Iowa where you may be able to complete the required practicum/field experience include:

  • ABA of Iowa, Bellevue
  • KMK Consulting Inc., Bettendorf
  • Mental Health Associates, Sioux City
  • Regional Autism Assistance Program, Iowa City
  • Tanager Place Mental Health Clinic, Cedar Rapids
  • Balance Autism, Pleasant Hill

As the final step to qualifying for the BCBA® credential, you would demonstrate competency by passing the BCBA® National Examination. Apply to and receive authorization from the BACB before scheduling to take the exam through a Pearson VUE testing centers located near you:

  • Urbandale
  • Waterloo
  • Ottumwa
  • Fort Dodge
  • Hiawatha
  • Burlington
  • Harlan
  • Mason City
  • Creston
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Davenport
  • Dubuque

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

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Grants Program Aimed at Increasing BCBA®s in Iowa

In 2015, the Iowa Department of Public Health adopted the BCBA®/BCaBA® (Board-Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) Grants Program, part of Chapter 107 of the Iowa Administrative Code.

This new chapter of the Iowa Administrative Code established rules for a grants program that provides funds to Iowa residents and nonresident applicants who have been accepted for admission or who are attending an accredited institution, who are enrolled in a program leading to board certification, and who demonstrate financial need.

The purpose of the program is to increase the number of BCBA®s in Iowa. Both the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services’ Autism Support Program have long recognized a lack of available BCBA®s to provide services to clients in the Autism Support Program and the public.

You can learn more about the Grants Program here.

Iowa’s Autism Support Program Ensures Autistic Children Have Access to ABA Therapy

Since its inception, the Autism Support Program (ASP) program has showed such promise that the Legislature continues to increase funding. In its first year, the Legislature approved $2 million to fund the ASP for FY2014. By FY2015, the total increased to $3 million, and a year later it increased again to $5 million.

Most private insurance plans don’t cover ABA, which can cost more than $30,000 a year. While Iowa’ Medicaid programs have long covered ABA services for disadvantaged children or for those with severe intellectual disabilities, mildly autistic children in Iowa with average intelligence were previously excluded from receiving this beneficial therapy.

Legislators almost never set aside millions of dollars for treatment for a specific illness or disorder, but the chance to get autistic kids in Iowa back on track was too important to pass up, said State Rep. Dave Heaton (R), who spearheaded the proposal to provide ABA services to Iowa’s autistic children.

ABA has received endorsements from many well-respected groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General.

According to Heaton, requiring health insurers to pay for ABA therapy would have been a “tough sell,” and adding a special Medicaid program to include autism therapies would have been too expensive. Paying directly for ABA was the best course of action, said Heaton, who referred to ABA as the “most successful approach” to treating Iowa’s children with autism.

Applied behavior analysts, using four decades of research as a foundation, implement teaching strategies that encourage useful behaviors and discourage those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. The goal of applied behavior analysts is to bring about meaningful and positive change in the behavior of patients with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Professional Opportunities in Telehealth for Behavior Analysts in Iowa

Applied behavior analysts in Iowa may find professional opportunities in a wide array of settings, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Private clinics
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Home care
  • Telehealth

The large rural population in Iowa has made telehealth a quickly growing setting for applied behavior therapists.

According to a report by Scott Lindgren, PhD, of the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital, a pervasive disparity exists in access to ABA therapy for Iowa’s rural and underserved areas. Telehealth is a practical strategy that can help overcome this rural disparity and provide proper ABA services to children and adults with autism and other developmental disorders.

According to Lindgren, telehealth—using telecommunication technologies to support long-distance clinical health care—has been shown to be an “innovative and effective” method for solving access problems resulting from a shortage of rural providers.

One of the unique ways Iowa is making strides in telehealth is the Virtual Parent Training (VPT), which connects behavior analysts with parents to provide services via webcam and Bluetooth technology. Parents of VPT can provide direct care while measuring their child’s behavioral progress with real-time guidance from behavior analysts.

The VPT program is a pilot program provided by Balance Autism, a leading provider of autism services in Iowa.

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ABA Providers in Iowa

The following is a sampling of some of Iowa’s ABA providers:

Balance Autism: Altoona

Balance Autism provides campus and community services to enrich the lives of people with tautism through work, play, and community. The work of Balance Autism helps people with autism adapt to mainstream society, and helps society better adapt to people with autism.

Seasons – Center for Behavioral Health: Rock Rapids, Spencer, Spirit Lake, Paullina, Estherville, Sioux Center

Seasons is a non-profit, comprehensive behavioral health center that offers a range of psychiatric and behavioral health services. The behavioral health intervention services include skill-based programs for children and youth. They are provided in an individual, family, or group setting.

ChildServe: Johnston, Aimes, and Iowa City

ChildServe offers an autism diagnostic clinic, outpatient therapy, autism day health, autism intensives, behavioral support, social group programming, a life skills program, supported community living, medical nutrition therapy, and family education support. The autism program is ABA-based, meeting the needs of children at various developmental levels.

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