Although the major advances in behavioral analysis and behavioral therapy strategies in the past few decades have been a boon to teaching students with disabilities, one reality that hasn’t changed in special education is that it’s a manpower-intensive profession. Implementing behavioral therapy strategies takes a lot of individualized attention between professionals and their patients.
In the average American primary school classroom, there are just over 23 students to a single teacher according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That doesn’t leave much space for that teacher to provide individual attention to those kids, particularly those who are developmentally delayed and need more assistance.
That’s where the role of the behavioral aide comes in. Behavioral aides work closely under the supervision of teachers or other, more advanced behavioral therapy specialists to implement behavior intervention plans (BIPs) for students in and out of the classroom.
In some schools, the role of behavioral aide is combined with a more general role as a teacher’s aide, working in the same classroom consistently and assisting not only children with behavioral issues, but also any other students who might need extra help in a particular subject or lesson.
Being a Behavioral Aide Means Having Fun and Making a Difference in the Classroom Daily
Most behavioral aides spend the greater part of their day in a classroom, functioning as a troubleshooter and assistant as the teacher takes classes through their lesson plans. You may have a part in developing those lesson plans together with the teacher, particularly where input is required in order to provide necessary accommodations to developmentally delayed students. You’ll be intimately acquainted with the behavioral intervention plans that behavioral interventionists have developed for those students, and your job through the day will be to use the methods and techniques in the plan to help keep those kids on track and involved in the classroom activities.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is! But working as a behavioral aide can also be a lot of fun. Although you’ll be under supervision and following a general plan for behavioral therapies, it’s a role where you constantly have to think on your feet and respond in real time to the reactions displayed by the children you’re working with. It’s play-as-work, where your job is to engage kids in a way that makes learning fun for them. On the back end, though, you’ll be making that happen through advanced behavioral strategies such as graduated exposure, cognitive restructuring, and positive supports.
Behavioral aide work is typically one-to-one with individual students, but in some cases you may be asked to lead small groups of students in activities. You’ll also be asked to observe and report on the behaviors of your students, with that feedback forming an important aspect of the evolving BIP or IEP (Individualized Education Program).
You Don’t Need a Degree to Become a Behavioral Aide, But Certification May be Required
Few behavioral aide positions require any more education than a high school diploma in order to apply.
Many, however, do require some direct experience assisting in behavioral therapy, or that you earn a certification as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) or Child Development Associate (CDA).
The RBT is offered by the BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board) and requires 40 hours of prescribed training in behavioral therapy services before going on to pass an examination and competency assessment on that subject. Some schools offer focused RBT training modules specifically designed to prepare students for the RBT certification exam.
The training covers topics such as:
- Behavioral measurement processes and assessment
- Skills acquisition
- Behavior reduction
- Documentation and reporting
The CDA is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition, and requires preparation of a professional portfolio, 120 clock hours of child development education, and 480 clock hours of experience working directly with children. After completing those prerequisites, you’ll need to take and pass an assessment before being awarded the certificate.
In some cases, a state-specific credential may be required, such as the California CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test). This is often determined by the structure and nature of the position itself, rather than being a blanket state requirement, so check job advertisements for details.
Some behavioral aide positions are aimed squarely at students who are undertaking college degrees in psychology, education, or applied behavior analysis, and for whom the position will serve as an internship or practical experience. Such positions may require that you be actively enrolled in an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree program in a related field.
Salary Expectations for Behavioral Aides
Many behavioral aide positions are best viewed as entry level jobs in behavioral therapeutics or teaching. Consequently, wages tend to be at the low end of the range in both education and behavioral analytics.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, behavioral aides are most closely associated with the psychiatric technician and aide job tracking category. For 2021, the median pay for those jobs was $36,570 per year, or $17.58 per hour.
BLS also found that the top ten percent of the category could make more than $56,380 per year, however, and that job growth for the position is forecast to increase at 12 percent nationally through 2028, much faster than most positions.
Salary can also vary according by region of the country. California and Washington, D.C. top the list for salaries for this role. Florida is also the state boasting the highest employment level for such jobs overall, with California coming in number two.
But qualified, dedicated behavioral aides are in great demand all around the country, and you can start making a difference in the job almost immediately wherever you are located.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Psychiatric Technicians reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.