The trend toward state licensing for applied behavior analysts is undoubtedly driven by the rise in ABA as an evidence-based, results-driven treatment for autism spectrum disorders. While many states have either adopted—or are in the process of adopting—legislation aimed at licensing behavior analysts, as of 2016, New Jersey has no state laws governing their practice.
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A lack of state licensing hasn’t stopped a push toward credentialing these professionals in the Garden State. The New Jersey Association for Behavior Analysis, an affiliated chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) and the state’s leading advocacy network for research and treatment of autism spectrum disorder, has long supported and encouraged ABA practitioners to demonstrate their qualifications by earning the Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) designation through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).
On August 13, 2009, New Jersey became the 15th state to pass autism insurance coverage and the first state to expand its protections to children with other developmental disabilities. Chapter 115 requires health plan benefit providers in New Jersey to cover expenses related to:
- The screening and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disability
- Medically necessary physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy
- Medically necessary behavioral interventions based on the principles of ABA for individuals up to the age of 21 with an autism spectrum disorder
Autism New Jersey worked with the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) during this time to include language regarding the qualifications of ABA providers.
As a result, the DOBI released Bulletin 10-02, which requires eligible ABA services to be administered either directly by a BCBA® or BCBA®-D (doctoral-level) or under the direct supervision of a BCBA® or BCBA®-D.
Although holding the BCBA® credential is not technically a legal requirement to practice ABA in New Jersey, the implementation of the 2009 insurance reform law effectively makes certification necessary for employment and independent practice.
Though New Jersey has yet to enact a formal state licensing process, many other states have aligned their state licensing requirements with the BACB’s Model Act for Licensing/Regulating Behavior Analysts, and it is reasonable to expect New Jersey will do the same at some point.
Becoming an Applied Behavior Analyst in New Jersey: Earning a Master’s Degree with the Option to Earn BCBA® Certification
The minimum educational requirement to become an applied behavior analyst is a master’s degree in ABA, or in psychology or education with a specialization or focus in applied behavior analysis. Earning a master’s or higher degree is also the first step to earning BCBA® certification.
Here’s what you need to know about choosing a master’s degree that meet’s BACB requirements:
Earning a Master’s Degree in ABA
All master’s and doctoral degree programs that hold accreditation from the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) include a Verified Course Sequence (VCS) that meets the curriculum requirements necessary to take the BCBA® exam.
Other programs may also satisfy educational requirements for BCBA® certification if they meet the BACB’s course content allocation requirements and receive approval from the BACB at the time of application.
The BACB approves master’s and doctoral degrees, along with post-master’s certificate programs and non-degree ABA course sequences for students who already have a master’s degree but need to complete the required ABA courses to be eligible for the certification exam.
Fully accredited qualifying ABA master’s programs are available online, providing a variety of convenient options for students with demanding professional obligations.
BCBA® Practicum and Exam Requirements
A supervised professional experience must accompany a graduate program for BCBA® certification. Many institutions offer a BACB-approved practicum as part of their graduate program. However, if the program you complete doesn’t offer a practicum, you can still qualify for certification if you complete an independent field experience meeting BACB requirements.
Many colleges and universities offering online ABA programs help match students with a nearby practicum.
You must also take and pass the BCBA® exam to qualify for certification. You can read more about the requirements to become a BCBA®, including step-by-step instructions on completing the required practicum and taking the exam, here:
Autism New Jersey’s Efforts to Bring Recognition to the Practice of Behavior Analysis
Following its mission to bring recognition to the practice of behavior analysis as a “distinct and specialized profession,” Autism New Jersey strongly recommends that all behavior analysts meet the standards of the BACB.
Their efforts include recommending the recognition of the BCBA® across all state agencies, including with the Department of Education, Office of Special Education. Given the substantial educational and clinical responsibilities of BCBA®s when delivering IEP-mandated services, Autism New Jersey supports the creation of a DOE job code for the various levels of BACB certification. In August 2014, the DOE’s Office of Special Education Programs announced the creation of a job code for BCBA®s.
The job code allows public, private, and charter schools in New Jersey to hire BCBA®s who may not be DOE-certified, thereby increasing access to ABA services in New Jersey schools.