How to Become a Behavior Intervention Specialist

Behavior interventionists, sometimes called behavior intervention specialists (BIS) are the commandos of the applied behavior analysis world, parachuting into classrooms to apply their unique skillset to assist with the development and implementation of Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIP) or Individual Education Programs (IEP) for individual students with behavioral issues that are inhibiting their ability to learn and advance with their class.

As a BIS, you might find yourself dealing with kids one-on-one, or in small groups. The typical day might see you in one classroom helping a disruptive child diagnosed with ADHD through a subject that they are having difficulty concentrating on… before moving to a special education class to work with a child with autism and severe learning deficits prepare to transition to a mainstream classroom… and then finally leading a small group session to help children with a variety of different developmental delays improve their reading skills.

Every Day As a Behavior Interventionist Brings Something Fun and Challenging

Many BIS positions with public school districts involve not only working in different classrooms, but also traveling between different schools. You can expect to spend time on the road to attend case review meetings, assist individual students, and meet with teachers who require assistance or advice for managing problems in their classrooms.

The position also involves frequent consultation with both other medical and psychological professionals as well as more mainstream teaching staff as the team works to develop and implement BIPs. You’ll also have to interact with parents, often helping them understand how their child is behaving during the school day and developing appropriate responses that are in-line with the BIP.

If it sounds like a challenging and wide-ranging set of responsibilities, it is. It’s also one of the most rewarding jobs you will ever have. And it’s going to take the right education to land a position as a behavior interventionist.

Getting the Right Education and Certification To Become a Behavior Interventionist

Any experienced teacher or behavioral specialist can tell you that it’s really easy to tip a bad classroom situation to worse with one wrong move with a problematic student. Successful interventions take careful planning, and good planning comes only after detailed observation and in-depth understanding of the underlying issues involved.

All of those subjects require training in order to achieve the high level of skill necessary to be an effective behavior interventionist. Behavior interventionists require keen observational skills and a firm understanding of psychological issues that may drive problematic behaviors.

But that’s not to say that all BIS positions necessitate a great deal of college experience. Behavioral interventionists require relatively little formal education. For many positions, a high school education is all that is necessary to apply. For others, either a bachelor’s degree in psychology, behavior analysis, or a related field, or near completion of such a degree, may be required. Direct professional experience working with individuals with developmental or mental health disorders may also be necessary.

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You’ve probably already come to realize that communication skills are one of the keys to success for behavior interventionists; whether it’s working with non-verbal kids with severe deficits or talking to doctors or school principals in the course of conducting assessments and planning, you’ll need a range of written, oral, and kinesthetic techniques to communicate effectively.

Formal certification in behavioral therapeutic techniques may not always be required, but it is always respected. For behavior interventionists, this could mean earning one of three certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board:

  • RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) – requires 40 hours of formal Board-approved training; RBTs can only work under supervision
  • BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) – requires a bachelor’s degree in ABA, psychology or education at minimum with the right combination of courses (Verified Course Sequence)
  • BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) – requires a master’s in ABA, psychology or education at minimum with the right combination of courses (Verified Course Sequence)

Earning one of these certifications is an intensive process that requires field experience and a direct examination in addition to the degrees described above.

If you plan to get a specialized degree leading to one of these certifications, be sure to select one that incorporates the appropriate Verified Course Sequence (VCS) into the curriculum. Schools that offer a program with the VCS will make every effort to promote it, so you’ll easily be able to identify qualifying programs.

There is no general national certification available or required for behavior interventionists specifically, but any of the BACB certifications will improve your chances of getting a BIS position.

Becoming Licensed to Work as a Behavior Interventionist

At the very top level, some behavior interventionist positions are reserved only for psychologists, who must have a doctoral degree in the field along with years of carefully supervised field experience. States often license psychologists working in schools separately from other psychologists; consult your state licensing board for details on their requirements.

Some states may also require specialized credentials for working within the education systems, such as the Pupil Personnel Services license in Virginia or the State Board Education Certificate in Texas.

You should also note the difference between holding a certificate and being certified. Some colleges offer Behavior Intervention Specialist Certificate programs, which deliver somewhat curtailed series of courses in applied behavior analysis and classroom intervention techniques, usually lasting a semester or less. While some BIS jobs accept these programs as qualifications, they are not the same as achieving state certification/licensure to operate as a BIS in states where special credentials are required.

Salary Expectations for Behavior Interventionists

Behavior interventionists today primarily work for individual school districts, with pay based on teaching salary schedules and benefits, but an accelerating trend is for schools to contract out their behavioral intervention services to private contractors. That means the direct employer of the BIS is a private company, with varying levels of benefit and salary available.

Salaries can vary considerably based on the credentials required for the position and the responsibilities the role entails… jobs that require a master’s degree and BCBA certification, for example, will pay much higher rates than those open to high school graduates with only a basic certificate in the field.

Location can also drive salary, with urban areas generally paying more than rural areas. State-by-state pay can vary based on the educational mandate school districts have for supporting students with disabilities.

Many Behavior Intervention Specialists also fall into the Bureau of Labor Statistics category of Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors. According to 2021 statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Behavior Interventionists earned a median salary of $48,520 annually.

  • 25th percentile: $38,520
  • 50th percentile: $48,520
  • 75th percentile: $61,660
  • 90th percentile: $77,980

Behavior Intervention Specialists earned the highest mean salaries in the following states:

  • Utah: $66,190
  • Alaska: $65,090
  • District of Columbia: $64,920
  • Rhode Island: $64,640
  • New Jersey: $63,430

The top-paying metropolitan areas for Behavior Intervention Specialists, according to mean salary, were:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $74,560
  • Carson City, NV: $73,200
  • Reno, NV: $71,690
  • George, UT: $70,630
  • Salt Lake City, UT: $68,370

Although becoming a BIS isn’t always an easy path, it’s definitely a rewarding one. Going home at the end of the day after making a genuine difference in the lives of students is a kind of compensation that most jobs can’t match.

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2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.