Applied Behavior Analyst Careers in Social Assistance and Public Health

Community health and social assistance behavioral health services are vital to maintaining health, safety, and overall quality of life—whether on a local or global scale.

The growing recognition of ABA as an effective therapy, along with a growing number of states requiring Medicaid and private insurers to cover applied behavior analysis (ABA) as a treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder, has resulted in an increased demand for applied behavior analysts in public health settings and social assistance industries.

This increase in demand is reflected in the 2015 Burning Glass Technologies report, U.S. Behavior Analyst Workforce: Understanding the National Demand for Behavior Analysts, which revealed that nearly 85 percent of all job postings for applied behavior analysts fell into the healthcare, educational services, or social assistance industries. About 11 percent of all job postings were in social assistance settings—an increase from 9 percent just two years prior.

Though most job postings required candidates to have experience working with autism and developmental disabilities in addition to behavior-analytic experience, the job postings for applied behavior analysts in social assistance settings called for therapy skills, employee training, and treatment planning. Many of the applied behavior analysts working in the social assistance field hold titles like behavior analyst, clinical manager, and clinical supervisor.

The skills of both experimental and applied behavior analysts are valued in the social assistance and community health industries:

Experimental Behavior Analysts in Community Health

Behavior analysts in experimental ABA study the behaviors of populations and how they relate to specific environments or environmental events. These scientists also study an individual’s relationship to the communities to which they belong. Experimental behavior analysts add to the significant body of research in ABA, arguably the most evidence-based area of study in the behavioral sciences.

Most experimental behavior analysts in social assistance and public health focus their work on identifying high-risk behaviors in a population and then designing solutions that improve the overall public health levels in their communities.

Experimental behavior analysts may study everything from social policy to social environment to individual behavior change, addressing health problems like obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries, and alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, to name just a few.

The work of experimental behavior analysts advances an understanding of how behaviors within an environmental context operate—at the individual, organizational, community, and societal levels. The research of experimental behavior analysts promotes effective interventions by applied behavior analysts addressing some of the top public health issues.

Experimental behavior analysts may work in mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, and public health organizations, as well as in research and consulting firms.

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Applied Behavior Analysts in Community Health

Applied behavior analysts in social assistance and public health settings may work with any number of individuals, including those with autism, developmental disabilities (e.g., cerebral palsy, epilepsy, head trauma, etc.), ADHD, dementia, intellectual disabilities, dual diagnoses, and learning disabilities.

ABA services in social assistance and community health promote recovery and well-being through prevention, treatment, and intervention. Many providers deliver integrated services for clients who also suffer from alcohol/drug addictions.

Applied behavior analysts provide ABA services through advocacy organizations, contracted providers, and state and local agencies, such as:

  • Residential facilities
  • Early intervention centers
  • Community health clinics
  • State mental health departments
  • State department of human services
  • Schools
  • Juvenile justice system
  • Behavior health units of family court systems

In addition to providing systematic evidence-based assessments and research-based interventions, applied behavior analysts working in the social assistance and community health industry are involved in:

  • Caretaker and family training
  • Designing individualized behavior plans
  • Aiding in crisis situations

Their work often involves close collaboration with case managers, social workers, program supervisors, psychologists, and outpatient therapists, among others.

Examples of applied behavior analysts working in public health and social assistance settings include:

Community Behavioral Health Services

Applied behavior analysts in community behavioral health settings treat Medicaid recipients with deficits in behavior, social, and communication skills, often helping them acquire the skills necessary to function in their homes and communities and prevent hospitalizations or out-of-home placements. Services may be provided to increase or reduce existing behaviors and encourage behaviors under precise environmental conditions.

Community behavioral health providers also deliver mental health and alcohol/drug addiction services for the most vulnerable populations.

Early Intervention Services

Early intervention services, often funded through Medicaid, public health departments, and private insurance companies, provide intensive educational services to very young children (usually under the age of 3), in home and community settings. ABA therapies and techniques in early intervention programs are used to teach language, cognitive, social, play, self-care and/or motor skills.

The goal of early intervention services is to help families understand the unique learning needs of their child and encourage improved skill development and independence. Most early intervention ABA services are focused on children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disorders.

School-Based Services

Public health and social assistance agencies provide education, instruction, and consultation to school-aged children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, developmental disability, or other behavioral challenge. These programs are often funded by local school districts, family insurance plans, or state departments of education.

ABA services for school-aged children are performed in school, clinic, and home settings. Applied behavior analysts also often assist teachers, therapists, and administrative in establishing more effective behavior plans and making recommendations for approaches that may be more effective in the classroom.

Applied behavior analysts may also provide ABA services in extended day programs, summer school programs, and before-and-after school programs.

Transitional Services

Applied behavior analysts in transitional community services agencies help young adults with special needs transition into the community after leaving high school. These programs are usually funded through local school districts or advocacy groups. Applied behavior analysts use ABA therapies to help them achieve independent living skills, identify specific occupational skills and find a job, or develop independence in skills related to:

  • Community life (e.g., using public transportation, awareness of community safety, budgeting/banking, etc.)
  • Home life (e.g. meal planning, shopping, food preparation, cleaning skills, telephone skills, time management skills, etc.)
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