How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Pennsylvania

The PA Autism Insurance Act (Act 62) was signed into law on July 9, 2008, in an effort to protect individuals with autism and allow them to access affordable ABA therapy.

Prior to the passage of Act 62, nearly all children in Pennsylvania with autism received coverage for autism services exclusively through PA’s Medical Assistance Program. Private insurers typically did not cover autism services. The goal of Act 62 was to require certain private insurance companies to provide a basic level of coverage for autism services for children. Act 62 also introduced the Behavior Specialist License.

Thanks to Act 62, applied behavior analysis (ABA), the process of applying interventions designed to improve socially significant behaviors, is more accessible than ever.

Autism insurance laws like PA’s Act 62 are taking shape throughout the nation, thereby increasing access to ABA, which is recognized as the leading therapy for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. New reforms in autism insurance coverage have also increased the number of states that have enacted—or are in the process of enacting—legislation aimed at the regulation and licensure of applied behavior analysts.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine oversees the regulation and licensure for behavior analysts in the state through the behavior specialist license.

Pennsylvania’s licensing law does not currently align with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) Model Act or require Board Certificated Behavior Analyst (BCBA®), although the ABA in PA, a non-profit advocacy organization and strong voice in the autism community in Pennsylvania, is urging the state to adopt the BACB’s minimum education and training requirements for applied behavior analysts in the state.

Many practitioners of ABA make the decision to earn the certification on their own volition in keeping with widely accepted national standards. BCBA® certification requires earning an approved graduate degree in ABA or a similar field and taking and passing a national examination. Click here for detailed step-by-step instructions on the BCBA® credentialing process.

At this time, the following steps satisfy the minimum requirements for licensure in Pennsylvania.

Steps to Become a Licensed Behavior Specialist in Pennsylvania

Earn a Master’s or Higher Degree in an Approved Area of Study
Complete Experience in Functional Behavior Assessments
Apply for a Behavior Specialist License with the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine

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Step 1. Earn a Master’s or Higher Degree in an Approved Area of Study

To earn a behavior specialist license in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine requires that you earn a master’s degree or higher or a post-master’s certificate from an accredited college or university with a major course of study in one of the following fields:

  • School psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Special education
  • Social work
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Occupational therapy
  • Professional counseling
  • Behavior analysis
  • Nursing
  • A related field (The Board of Medicine may request additional information to make a final determination of whether the degree qualifies.)

The program you choose must be in a major course of study that bears “substantial relationship” to your behavior specialist practice.

You must also complete at least 90 hours of evidence-based coursework, which may be completed as part of your graduate program, BAS-approved virtual training, or as BACB continuing education. The coursework must include:

  • Ethics approved by the Bureau of Autism Services (3hrs)
  • Autism-specific coursework or training (18 hrs)
  • Assessment coursework or training (16 hrs)
  • Instructional strategies and best practices (16 hrs)
  • Crisis intervention (8 hrs)
  • Co-morbidity and medications (8 hrs)
  • Family collaboration (5 hrs)
  • Specific-skill deficit training (16 hrs)

You can find BAS-approved training by visiting the BAS Virtual Training Center. There is no cost for BAS Virtual Trainings.

You can find BACB continuing education opportunities here.

Step 2. Complete Experience in Functional Behavior Assessments

You must complete at least one year of experience in functional behavior assessments for children under the age of 21. This includes the development and implementation of behavioral support plans or treatment plans.

You must also complete at least 1,000 hours of experience in a related field with individuals with behavioral challenges or autism spectrum disorders. Any experience obtained beyond your bachelor’s degree can be counted towards meeting this requirement. Experience can be satisfied through either employment or verified volunteer work and can include working with children or adults.

Step 3. Apply for a Behavior Specialist License with the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine

Once you have satisfied the requirements for licensure, you must complete the Application for a Behavior Specialist License with the Board of Medicine, along with a $75 check or money order made payable to the Commonwealth of PA. Your application must include the following completed forms:

  • Verification of Master’s Degree or Higher or Post-Master’s Certificate (Form 2): Complete Section 1 and forward it to your college/university for its completion. The school will send the completed Section 2 and the official school transcript to the Board.
  • Verification of Functional Behavior Assessment Experience (Form 3): Complete Section 1 and forward to the previous/current employer or clinical supervisor for the completion of Section 2.
  • Verification of Clinical/In-Person Experience (Form 4): Complete Section and forward to your previous/current employer or clinical supervisor for completion of Section 2.
  • Verification of 90 hours of Evidence-Based Coursework (Form 5): Complete Section 1 and forward t to the school for completion of Section 2A, if applicable.
  • Verification that Master’s Degree/Post-Master’s Certificate Awarded is in a Related Field: if applicable

Your application must also include a current curriculum vitae/resume listing all periods of employment or unemployment, from undergraduate to the present. The list must be in chronological order and must include the state/territory in which the employment occurred.

You must also contact the FBI to obtain an FBI Criminal Background Check.

Upon receipt of your application, the Board of Medicine will send a letter of receipt, which will include an individual identification number that you can use to track the status of your application online. Most applications are processed within a 30-60-day timeframe.

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Behavior specialist licenses expire on December 31 of even-numbered years. Renewal notices are mailed about 120 days before the expiration date. No additional training hours or forms are needed for the online renewal.

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