Despite the fact that West Virginia enacted autism insurance reform back in 2012, the lack of accessibility to applied behavior analysis services in the state has reached a critical point. A Mountaineer Autism Project (MAP) survey revealed that less than 2 percent of children with autism in the state receive any evidence-based treatment.
Beneath the disappointing findings, the results of the survey reveal an untapped opportunity in the state for those interested in becoming applied behavior analysts and serving West Virginia’s children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other pervasive development disorders.
ABA services, largely viewed as one of the most effective (if not the most effective) form of therapy for the treatment of ASD, has spurred many states to begin regulating the practice of applied behavior analysis, following a model similar to what has been used for psychologists and other therapists. Many states have already begun requiring ABA providers to be licensed, and still more are in the process of developing legislation that would establish licensing laws. However, as of late 2016, West Virginia does not have any laws in place requiring licensure of any kind for applied behavior analysts.
Most states with established or proposed laws have aligned their licensing requirements, at least in part, with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s (BACB) Model Act for Licensing/Regulating Behavior Analysts, which establishes model qualifications for licensed behavior analysts, as well as licensed assistant behavior analysts and direct contact technicians.
Many states require applied behavior analysts to earn the BACB’s Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®) certification, which requires candidates to meet universally recognized qualifications: A master’s or higher degree with significant coursework in ABA, a period of relevant field experience, and demonstrated competency through examination.
Although not a legal requirement to practice as an applied behavior analyst in West Virginia, the BCBA® designation is required in order for services to be eligible for coverage under the state’s autism insurance reform laws. This has effectively made it a de facto requirement and a standard expectation among West Virginia employers.
Earning a Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis with the Option to Earn BCBA® Certification
A master’s degree in behavior analysis or a master’s degree in psychology or education with a minor or concentration in behavior analysis has become the universally-recognized minimum educational requirement for practicing as a full-authority applied behavior analyst, regardless of whether BCBA® certification is pursued.
Meeting BACB Graduate Program Requirements
To qualify for BCBA® certification, you must meet BACB educational requirements. There are a number of ways to ensure you choose a degree in ABA, psychology, or education that meets BACB requirements:
- Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in behavior analysis or a similar field that is accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s (ABAI).
- Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in behavior analysis or a similar field that includes a Verified Course Sequence (VCS). (All ABAI accredited programs include the Verified Course Sequence)
- Earn a master’s or doctoral degree in behavior analysis or a similar field that meets BACB course content allocation requirements and receive approval from the BACB at the time of application.
BACB-approved post-graduate non-degree programs and independent course sequences are also available for those who hold a master’s degree but need to complete the required ABA course content to qualify for the BCBA® Certification Exam.
The BACB approves campus-based and online ABA programs as to provide students with options that best accommodate their geographic location and professional demands. Online programs offer interactive, web-based study that allows students to complete some or all of the required coursework from anywhere in the world.
Practicum and Exam Requirements
To qualify for BCBA® certification, you must complete a BACB-approved period of professional experience. To satisfy this requirement, you may either complete a practicum as part of your ABA graduate program or as a field experience, independent of your graduate program. Many institutions offering online ABA graduate programs help students locate and land a practicum at a nearby location.
Just some of the ABA providers in West Virginia where you may be able to complete your practicum/field experience include:
- Above and Beyond: ABA Therapy for Autism and More, Kenova
- Augusta Levy Learning Center, Wheeling
- Autism Services Center, Huntington
- Bright Futures Learning Services, Hurricane
- Diversified Assessment and Therapy Services, Kenova
- The West Virginia Autism Training Center, Huntington
- Wheeling’s Hospital for Pediatrics, Wheeling
- WHOLE Families WV, Morgantown
Upon completion of your graduate program and required professional experience program, you must take and pass the BCBA® examination.
Applied Behavior Analysts Needed to Meet a Growing Demand in West Virginia
West Virginia’s 2012 autism insurance reform was a welcomed relief for many West Virginia families covered by private insurance, as it covered therapies and services related to the treatment of autism spectrum disorders, including ABA.
But four years later, thousands of autistic children in West Virginia remain on long waiting lists for ABA treatment, according a 2016 West Virginia Broadcasting report. Even worse, many of the ABA treatment providers in West Virginia don’t accept Medicaid, which means that most of the state’s children on medical assistance never receive the care they need.
According to Susannah Poe, director of the intensive Autism Delivery Clinic at West Virginia University, “The ability to give these kids the best outcome is really limited by the lack of services.”
For many children in West Virginia, the problem lies with the amount of behavior analysis therapy they are receiving. ABA therapy is only effective if it’s intensive; the gold standard of ABA is 20-40 hours a week. But due to a lack of applied behavior analysts in the state, many children are only receiving a fraction of the recommended ABA therapy.
Further, due to the long wait lists, many children age out of coverage. Under the autism insurance reform bill, children must be diagnosed before they turn 8 years old to qualify for covered services.
Jill McLaury, founder of Bright Futures in Hurricane, said that although the number of BCBA®s in the West Virginia has doubled in the last five years, there are still not enough to cover the need. According to McLaury, even in the more populated cities of West Virginia, families are on waiting lists.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed West Virginia’s Autism Insurance Reform Law (HB 2693) on April 2, 2012. The law provides up to $30,000 a year for necessary treatment of eligible children for up to 3 years. After, the benefit decreases to $2,000 a year until the age of 18. The child must be diagnosed before they turn 8 years old.
Only businesses with more than 25 employees are required to extend this coverage. That means that about 23 percent of the children in West Virginia are covered by the law.