Thanks to recent efforts by Montana’s Legislature, which include an expanded Medicaid law that provides autism-related services to all eligible children, and Senate Bill 234, better known as Brandon’s Bill, which requires insurance companies to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary autism therapies for qualifying children up to the age of 18, applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy in Montana is more readily available and accessible than ever before.
Despite the fact that many states have made the decision to license applied behavior analysts, much the same way they would state-licensed counselors and psychologists, Montana has not yet established a centralized licensing body. Still, with the passage of Brandon’s Bill came the state’s first legal description of how the state defines a qualified provider of applied behavior analysis. Only ABA services provided by qualified professionals are eligible to be covered by insurance:
- State-certified Family Support Specialists (FSS), who must be licensed or certified as psychologists, RNs, social workers, special education teachers, early intervention specialists, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists or nutritionists to qualify for the FSS certification
- Nationally-certified ABA professionals that hold certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) (Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®); Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate (BCBA®-D); or Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®))
The Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) designation is the master’s level, full-authority credential that is widely recognized as granting authority to provide behavioral assessments and develop and implement treatment plans.
The BCBA®-D is considered the same credential as the BCBA® and does not come with a greater level of authority; it is only granted after first earning the BCBA®. The BCaBA® is a bachelor’s level credential strictly for those working in a support capacity under the supervision of a BCBA® or BCBA®-D.
Earning a Master’s Degree and BCBA® Certification
The minimum educational requirement for the BCBA® certification is a master’s degree, either in behavior analysis, or in psychology or education that meets specific curriculum requirements by offering a concentration or minor in behavior analysis.
Programs that have been accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s (ABAI) have been pre-qualified as meeting curriculum requirements by including a Verified Course Sequence (VCS).
If the graduate program you choose is not ABAI-accredited or does not include a BACB-approved VCS, you may still qualify for BCBA® certification, provided the program meets course content allocation requirements and receives approval from the BACB at the time of application.
Accredited online programs are ideal for working students. Many institutions offering online programs assist students in finding a nearby hospital or clinic where they can participate in a practicum as part of their graduate program curriculum.
Practicum is designed to provide students with a period of supervised professional experience that allows them to more easily transition into the profession after graduation. Participating in a qualifying practicum (1000 hours) or intensive practicum (750 hours) also ensures that students meet the experience requirements for BCBA® certification. If the school where you complete your ABA program does not offer a qualifying practicum, you can complete the required experience through a period (1500 hours) of independent fieldwork.
Just some of the ABA providers in Montana where you may complete this required period of training include:
- Exceptional Family Connections, Bozeman
- Full Circle Autism and Developmental Services, Missoula
- Pediatric Therapy Clinic, Inc., Billings
- Positive ABA, East Helena
- Special Learning 1-ON-1 LLC, Bozeman
- STEP, Inc., Billings
- The Child Development Center, Missoula
Upon completion, you will be required to take and pass a national exam as the final step to qualifying for the BCBA® designation.
Montana Insurance Reform Helping Children with Autism Receive Necessary Services
Children with autism under the state’s Medicaid program no longer need to win the lottery to receive the care they need. This is good news for children with autism, their families, and the applied behavior analysts who treat them.
Although Montana began this Medicaid program for these children back in 2009, it was limited to just 55 children statewide; therefore, only the lucky ones received intensive services. But in 2015, the Legislature authorized the state to provide autism-related services to all eligible children.
The change in Medicaid law was undoubtedly brought about by the successes achieved since 2009. Independent researchers studied the program and found that 65 percent of children in the program were able to transition to regular public school classrooms instead of special education.
In 2013, the estimated lifetime cost of one individual with autism spectrum disorder was $3.2 million. Millions of dollars in future savings could be realized if children could function well in regular classrooms—a huge payoff from an initial Medicaid investment of $45,000 per year in preschool services.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services estimates that as many as 1,200 children may be eligible. Of those, about 30 percent will seek services over the next two years.
Montana’s Medicaid program joins Senate Bill 234 – better known as Brandon’s Bill—, which requires insurance companies to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary autism therapies of up to $50,000 annually for a child with autism 8 years of age and younger and $20,000 annually for a child between the ages of 9 and 18.
Expanding ABA Services to Meet a Growing Need in Montana
There is a flurry of recent activity in Montana as ABA providers focus their efforts on increasing services for the state’s children and adults with autism and other developmental disorders.
For example, in 2015, the Creative Consultants Group, a longtime provider of ABA services for children with autism (based in North Carolina), announced its plans to expand their services into Montana.
The new facility—the Montana Center for Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Treatment—opened in 2016 and is now accepting new clients. The Center offers a wide range of services that include:
- Diagnostic evaluations
- In-home ABA services
- Clinic-based ABA services
This expansion into Montana is in response to an overwhelming demand for BCBA®s to provide services to Montana’s growing number of children with autism spectrum disorder.
Denise DeCandia, founder of the Creative Consultants Group Inc., said this Montana provider will “meet the growing demand for access to qualified providers across the state.” According to DeCandia, the people of Montana, up until now, “have only had access to a limited number of qualified ABA providers.”
Improving Educational Programs in Montana’s Rural Schools
The Montana Autism Education Project addresses the needs for schools to increase training and support to implement evidence-base practices for students with autism, particularly in rural areas and Indian reservations
The Montana Autism Education Project (MEAP) seeks to increase district-level knowledge using video training, providing on-site assistance and peer-to-peer collaboration, developing sustainable groups of educators, and developing inter-agency collaborations.
During the 2012-13 school year, 26 schools participated in MEAP.