How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in South Dakota

In early 2016, the South Dakota state legislature passed a new law, HB 1141, which requires that applied behavior analysts in the state become licensed in order to retain the right to legally practice. The governor recently signed HB 1141 into law, but as of late 2016 the licensing provisions that it mandates have not yet been enacted.

So, technically, ABAs will be required to be licensed, but no mechanism is in place yet to acquire that license. Currently practicing behavior analysts in the state have not been affected.

The outlines of the law, however, are clear. Based largely on the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Model Act, HB 1141 provides for the creation of an applied behavior analyst advisory committee composed of three members. The committee will act as advisors to the existing South Dakota Social Work Licensing Board, which will assume ultimate responsibility for issuing behavior analyst licenses in the state.

Meeting Graduate Education Requirements for Licensure

The South Dakota Board will be responsible for delineating the specific process and mechanisms for acquiring a license. The legislation provides two basic avenues to qualifying:

  • Hold a master’s or doctoral degree


  • Hold a current certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) from the BACB

Additionally, candidates must have a clean criminal record (not having been convicted of a felony or any misdemeanor involving moral turpitude) and not be subject to disciplinary investigation or sanction by any other state in which they may hold a license.

It’s likely that additional requirements will be imposed by the licensing board when the full set of rules are implemented, but it’s clear that ABAs hoping to practice in South Dakota will need at least a master’s degree in behavior analysis, since earning an advanced degree is also required of BCBA® certification candidates.

Acquiring a BCBA® Certification for ABA Practice in South Dakota

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a non-profit organization that was established, in part, to meet the demand for consistent national certification standards for the field of behavior analysis.

In addition to creating the model legislation on which the South Dakota licensure act is based and working with state legislatures to implement workable licensure regimes, the board issues the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) credential that serves as a de facto national qualification for ABAs.

In South Dakota, as in other states with licensing legislation based on the BACB Model Act, a BCBA® is one option for meeting the testing and educational requirements to obtain a behavior analyst license.

The BCBA® recognizes three options for candidates applying for the certificate:

  • An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university, including coursework in behavior analysis
  • A period of supervised practical experience
  • Passing score on the BCBA® exam


  • An acceptable graduate degree from an accredited university
  • A full-time faculty position teaching behavior analysis
  • Passing score on the BCBA® exam


  • An acceptable doctoral degree conferred at least ten years ago
  • Ten years of practical experience
  • Passing score on the BCBA® exam

Because the BCBA® remains the most commonly accepted credential accepted by both employers and clients for behavior analysts in South Dakota, candidates for ABA positions will want to examine the credentialing process in detail.

Click here for step-by-step instructions on the BCBA® credentialing process.

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Earning a Master’s Degree in Behavior Analysis Online

Although licensing legislation has been passed only recently and not yet put into effect, most South Dakota behavior analysts are already required to have advanced degrees in the field. A state law passed in 2015, SB 191, mandated that insurance providers cover behavior analysis treatment for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses. Part of that law required that practitioners providing behavior analysis treatment possess a BCBA® certification or a degree in psychology.

There are no colleges or universities in South Dakota that offer advanced degrees in applied behavior analysis specifically, making online programs the go-to option for all aspiring applied behavior analysts in South Dakota.

Online programs are increasingly the choice of students who enjoy the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of performing their coursework on their own time and from the convenience of their own home. This flexibility can allow students to complete their studies much more quickly than with a traditional program. Online master’s programs that have been accredited by agencies recognized by the UD Department of Education are just as rigorous and respected in the community as any other graduate degree in the field.

Particularly in states such as South Dakota, where there are no in-state options for behavior analyst master’s degree programs, online options can also be much less expensive, since many universities that house conventional campus-based programs charge higher tuition fees to non-residents.

Applied Behavior Analysts in South Dakota’s Schools and Private Practices

As in most of the country, ABAs in South Dakota most often find themselves working with kids.

The sharp increase in ASD diagnoses in the school-age population across the nation in recent years has created a massive demand for applied behavior analysts in the schools and in private practice treating students with behavioral issues severe enough to affect educational outcomes.

Whether directly employed by school districts or working for private employers who contract services to schools, ABAs find themselves performing functional behavior analyses on students and helping to construct Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIPs), working in concert with educators and parents.

ABAs are not only employed in schools or in working with children, however. They may also find work in hospitals or long-term care facilities. ABAs are also frequently employed by a variety of community service and counseling organizations to work with at-risk communities.

ABAs working with either children or adults commonly help treat disorders that include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • ASD
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Learning Disorders
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Analysts also spend time working directly with parents, teachers, and other caregivers to help them develop and implement strategies for managing behavioral issues themselves.

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Although the field of behavior analysis in South Dakota is in a state of flux, there are likely to be many terrific opportunities for master’s-qualified ABAs in the state as the licensing rules become settled and codified.

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