If Senate Bill 135 passes, South Carolina will be among a growing number of states to strengthen their original laws mandating state-regulated health plans to cover therapies and behavioral health treatment, including applied behavior analysis (ABA), for children with autism spectrum disorder. Senate Bill 135 aims to eliminate the $50,000 cap on ABA services, among other things.
Although ABA therapy has long been recognized as an effective treatment for children with autism and other developmental disorders, it has also earned a reputation in recent years as an evidence-based, medically necessary treatment, therefore becoming an approved autism insurance service under many states’ group insurance and Medicaid laws.
Many states have also implemented licensing laws for applied behavior analysts, and more are in the process of introducing or approving legislation aimed at the licensure of ABA practitioners, similar to licensing laws for counsellors and psychologists. However, as of late 2016, there are no state licensing laws in place for applied behavior analysts in South Carolina.
The majority of states with licensing laws have modeled their regulations in part after the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) Model Act for Licensing/Regulating Behavior Analysts, which outlines standardized education, experience and exam qualifications for entering practice. Meeting these standards would lead to the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) certification; the most widely recognized credential in the field and the basis for licensing in many states.
Even without education or certification requirements mandated by South Carolina law, a master’s degree at minimum and the BCBA® designation are qualifications employers in the state routinely require.
Becoming an Applied Behavior Analyst: Master’s Degree Requirements and Optional BCBA® Certification
A master’s degree in applied behavior analysis specifically, or in psychology or education with a focus in behavior analysis, has become the universally recognized minimum educational standard to enter the field, regardless of whether BCBA® certification is pursued.
All master’s or doctoral degrees in behavior analysis or a related field that include a Verified Course Sequence (VCS) meet the BACB standards for certification (All programs accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) include the qualifying VCS).
Other programs may also meet BACB standards if they meet course content allocation requirements and receive approval from the BACB at the time of application.
Institutions also offer the VCS as part of a graduate certificate program, or as an independent course sequence for candidates who already hold a graduate degree but need to satisfy ABA course requirements to qualify to take the BCBA® certification exam.
In addition to traditional graduate programs, including master’s and doctoral degrees, the BACB also recognizes ABAI-accredited Ed.S. programs or those that may not hold ABAI-accreditation but that have a pre-verified course sequence.
Both campus-based and online programs may hold ABAI-accreditation and/or a pre-verified course sequence. Online programs, which allow students to complete all or some of the required coursework through distance-based study, have become a convenient option for students who require the flexibility these programs provide.
Experience and Exam Requirements for BCBA® Certification
If you choose to pursue the BCBA®, you must participate in a period of supervised experience, either as part of your graduate program practicum or through an independent field experience. Many institutions offering online ABA programs help students complete this required experience by coordinating a practicum at a nearby location.
Just some of the ABA providers in South Carolina where you may complete your practicum/independent field experience include:
- Autism Academy of South Carolina, Columbia
- Autism, Inc., Bluffton, Greenville, and Charleston
- Blooming Kids Learning Center, Rock Hill
- Butterfly Effects, Charleston and Greenville
- Charleston Autism Academy, Mount Pleasant
- Charleston Pediatric Rehabilitation, North Charleston
- SOS Healthcare, Inc., Myrtle Beach
Following the professional experience period and completion of your ABA graduate program, you must take and pass the BCBA® examination.
The Push to Strengthen Ryan’s Law in South Carolina
A bill to improve coverage under the landmark 2007 Ryan’s Law in South Carolina was introduced to the state Senate in January 2016. The bill has been referred to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
If Senate Bill 135 passes, South Carolina will be among a growing number of states updating and expanding their current autism insurance reform laws. SB 135 will remove the $50,000 annual cap on autism treatment and require small group and individual health plans to cover autism treatments. The current law is limited to large group plans (companies with 50 or more employees).
SB 135 also aims to eliminate the clauses that autism diagnosis must occur by age 8 and that coverage ends at age 16.
Professional Opportunities for Behavior Analysts in South Carolina
Applied behavior analysts in South Carolina enjoy opportunities in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, non-profit organizations, and private ABA therapy providers. A sampling of some of the practices in South Carolina that offer ABA therapy include:
The Autism Academy of South Carolina (AASC), Columbia
The Autism Society of South Carolina offers individualized ABA therapy for clients with autism spectrum disorder. This not-for-profit organization provides one-on-one and small group ABA therapy for children ages 2-21 in a center-based setting. ABA therapy is individualized to each child based on an initial assessment and is continually modified based on the child’s progress.
Greenville Children’s Hospital, Greenville
The Greenville Health System established the multidisciplinary Autism Wonders program for families of children with autism spectrum disorder in Upstate South Carolina.
The program includes diagnostic and follow-up services and routinely collaborate with specialists to provide comprehensive patient care.
Aspire, Goose Creek
Aspire provides ABA therapy in the clinic or the home, based on each patient’s individual needs. In the clinic setting, children have opportunities for socialization with the help and support of their therapist, while in the home setting, therapists can help children foster independence with daily living and self-help skills.