How to Become an Applied Behavior Analyst in Washington

Washington State passed legislation to enact licensing requirements for three classifications of ABA professional: Applied Behavior Analysts (ABAs), Licensed Assistant Behavior Analysts (LABAs), and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs®) when the governor signed Senate Bill 5488 into law in 2015.

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The law added a new chapter to the Washington Administrative Code, WAC 246-805, which took effect in July of 2017 to define licensing and regulation for the practice of applied behavior analysis.

The code authorizes the Washington State Department of Health to oversee the licensing process.

The DOH Offers Two Paths to ABA Licensure in Washington

Although there are technically two paths to becoming a licensed ABA in Washington, both require eventual certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. The only significant difference is the amount of detail you must provide with your application and whether or not your BCBA® is current.

  • If you do not currently hold BCBA® certification at time of application, you must have a graduate degree in an approved field, accumulating 1,500 hours of supervised practice as part of your graduate program and/or independent fieldwork, provide proof of completion off a minimum of 225 classroom hours on ABA topics, and pass the BCBA® exam.

OR

  • If you already have your Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) credential, which also requires a master’s or higher degree and similar experience requirements, you may apply by providing your certificate number, which the DOH will verify with the BACB and accept as proof of qualification.

Licenses are good for two years and there will be a requirement for maintaining continuing education hours as part of the renewal process. The state also offers temporary licensure to applicants who are currently licensed in other jurisdictions, provided the qualifications in that jurisdiction are acceptable to the DOH.

The requirements for LABA and RBT licensing are similar but have different education and experience requirements.

  • LABA – 1,000 hours of supervised experience and 135 hours of classroom instruction
  • RBT – 40 hours of classroom instruction

Preparing for Washington State ABA Licensing with a Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in applied behavior analysis specifically, or in a related field (usually education or psychology) along with substantial coursework in ABA is the standard qualification for entering the field.

The Washington State code concerning applied behavior analysis licensing states that candidates for the state’s Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA) designation must earn a master’s or doctorate degree in one of the following subjects:

  • Behavior Analysis
  • Education
  • Human Services
  • Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Natural Science
  • Others as approved by the Department of Health

The candidate’s graduate-level education must include a minimum of 225 classroom hours specific to behavior analysis topics.

Increasingly, students are choosing accredited online programs. The ability to time-shift class work makes it easier to complete a degree while still working, and the variety of online options assures you have access to a program that is a good fit for your personal goals, whether that means earning a degree in behavior analysis specifically, or earning a degree in psychology or education with a minor or concentration in applied behavior analysis.

The Role of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board in Establishing State Licensing Laws and Qualifications

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a national non-profit entity that provides credentialing services and sets qualification standards for applied behavior analysts.

The BACB’s Model Act for Licensing and Regulating Behavior Analysts has been used as the basis for licensing laws in virtually all states that have already established licensing processes and requirements, and Washington is no exception.

BACB certifications that are acceptable for Washington State ABA licensure at the various levels are:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctorate (BCBA®-D)
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA®)
  • Registered Behavior Technician (RBT®)

The BCBA® represents the standard credential used to qualify for state licensing in states where laws exist. Even in the absence of licensing laws, earning the credential is a universally-recognized way to meet accepted standards and demonstrate mastery of specialized knowledge in applied behavior analysis.

Earning the credential is also a practical matter since it is a standard qualification for employment and often required for ABA services to be covered by insurance.

The BCBA®-D for doctorate-prepared ABAs is only available after first earning the BCBA® and is not considered a separate credential, nor does it denote a greater scope of authority.

Education, Experience and Exam Requirements for BCBA® Certification

The Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) certification requires a master’s degree in behavior analysis, education, or psychology that meets board-specified curriculum requirements. Qualifying degrees in education or psychology typically have a focus or minor in applied behavior analysis.

You can also qualify with a doctoral degree or educational specialist (Ed.S.) degree with a concentration in applied behavior analysis.

Graduate programs with a BACB approved course sequence have a pre-approved curriculum that meets board requirements. Some schools offer an approved course sequence as part of a non-degree post-graduate program for candidates who already hold a graduate degree but still need to complete coursework in applied behavior analysis in preparation for the certification exam.

Another easy way to assure you meet BACB requirements and widely accepted standards is to select a program from the ABAI (Association for Behavior Analysis International) accredited program list, all of which have the necessary course sequences included.

It’s still possible to qualify for the BCBA® Exam even without taking a pre-approved course sequence, so long as your program or institution has been accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and your program meets course content allocation guidelines The BACB would need to evaluate your course syllabus during the application process to ensure you meet the qualifications to take the certification exam.

Either as part of your degree program or as independent fieldwork after graduation, you will have to complete up to 1500 hours of supervised practical experience before you will be eligible to sit the BCBA® exam. This is also consistent with the Washington DOH requirements.

The 1500 hours of supervised independent fieldwork are typically completed at clinics or other service providers under a current BCBA® holder qualified to supervise and evaluate your work. You are responsible for lining up your own fieldwork opportunities with local providers, some of which include:

  • Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Tacoma
  • The Madrone School, Redmond
  • Applied Behavior Health, Seattle
  • Imagine Behavioral and Development, Bellevue

You can also satisfy the experience requirements as a part of your degree program, if the program includes the option to undertake practicum or intensive practicum. Practicum is conducted as a regular course in your program, during which you provide legitimate ABA services under supervision. You must achieve a C or higher for the experience to count. You’ll have to accumulate 1000 hours of regular practicum or 750 hours of intensive practicum to qualify.

A combination of each of these types of experiences is also accepted.

After attaining your master’s degree and fulfilling all the necessary experience requirements, you will be eligible to take the National Behavior Analyst Exam from the BACB. The exam is administered by Pearson VUE and offered in exam centers located in:

  • Renton
  • Seattle
  • Spokane
  • Yakima

The exam is a 150 question, multiple choice test covering a variety of practical, professional, and ethical questions on the practice of applied behavior analysis.

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

Obtaining an ABA License in Washington State

You can obtain an application form from the Department of Health website, along with supplementary forms you may need as part of your application process including:

  • Out-of-State credential verification
  • Supervised experience forms
  • AIDS Education and Training Attestation forms

If you already have your BCBA®, the application process is as simple as filling out the form with the required personal information and your BCBA® certificate number and submitting it with a $250 fee. The fee covers both the application cost and your initial license.

For LABAs, the fee is $160 and for CBTs only $95.

All applicants have to provide proof of 4 hours of AIDS education and training.

If you do not have a current BCBA®, you will also have to provide transcripts proving that you meet the educational requirements, and supervised experience forms attesting that you meet the required amounts of experience.

Maintaining and Renewing Your Washington ABA License

Licenses are good for two years, dating from your birthday in the year you receive the license, and cost $350 to renew for an additional two years.

Because licensure only began in 2017, the details of renewal and any potential continuing education requirements have not been established.

The DOH publishes information about proposed and in-process rule making on their website here.

Applying for a Temporary ABA License

The state code provides for issuing temporary practice license to qualified ABAs, but agency rules have not yet been established to formalize this process. Currently, temporary licenses are issued at the discretion of the secretary of health to individuals who are licensed in another state or province. Temporary license only allow practice for a limited period, but those restrictions have also not been established.

Keeping Up With Developments in Washington State ABA Licensing

As the state continues to implement the licensing law, new rules and changes are likely to come into effect. As an ABA in the state, you will need to pay attention and may possibly want to participate in the process so you understand what tweaks and changes may be coming along.

DOH maintains a website where these options will be listed when available. Public participation is encouraged in the rule-making process, particularly from professionals who will be practicing in the field.

Another venue for remaining informed and contributing input to the rule-making process is through membership in the Washington Association for Behavior Analysis (WABA). WABA was instrumental in pushing forward SB5488 into law, and the organization remains poised to help inform the implementation process by providing feedback from its members.

WABA is an affiliate of ABAI and provides other membership benefits such as:

  • Access to ABAI job listings
  • Annual conferences
  • Continuing education opportunities

A student membership is available at a reduced rate if you would like to become a member before completing your degree program.

Insurance Reimbursement for ABA Services in Washington

Across the country, states have begun implementing autism mandate laws that ensure families have affordable access to ABA services. In virtually all states where these laws have been enacted, practitioners must hold the BCBA® certification to be eligible for reimbursement.

As of late 2017, Washington has not yet added any provisions in the state code requiring insurers to cover applied behavior analysis services. It is likely that with the recent implementation of legislation that clearly outlines licensing requirements in July 2017 that insurance mandate laws aren’t far behind. In the meantime, ABAs practicing in the state have had to adopt a variety of strategies in order to receive compensation for their services, often practicing under a licensed psychologist.

Even in the absence of legal mandates, a number of insurers operating in Washington State have independently adopted a non-uniform variety of requirements for practitioners seeking to provide compensated services. Practitioners of applied behavior analysis operating in these networks are often required to be licensed psychologists, counselors, or other licensed health care professionals in order for their services to qualify for reimbursement. In many cases, a BCBA® is at least one component of the required qualifications.

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