Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy was created in the United States by Ivar Louvaas. It is a new field of therapy that uses the principles of behaviour analysis. It has been scientifically scrutinised and tested, but as yet there is not a universal set of standards. It is one of the few therapeutic treatments for autism and is strongly recommended by the National Autistic Society as a method to help improve the quality of life for children with autism. The first step in becoming an ABA therapist is obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology or a related field. After you have received your master's degree, you can apply for certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
The primary hypothesis of ABA therapy is that children with autism have learning "blockages" that prevent them from developing everyday skills. The role of the therapist is to understand and intervene in the child's behaviour by applying the principles of behaviour analysis. The goal is to help children develop linguistic, cognitive, social and self-help skills. This is done by engaging in large amounts of play tailored to the child's behaviour. Repetition and reinforcement are used to encourage desired behaviour and to discourage inappropriate behaviour. The therapy involves the parent and is usually done at the child's home.
ABA therapy is a new scientific field and, as of 2010, there are no college programs that offer a bachelor's degree in ABA therapy. Some universities and colleges do offer degrees in behaviour analysis. If you are considering becoming an ABA therapist, the most beneficial degrees are a bachelor of arts in psychology or a bachelor of science in behavioural analysis. Other fields to consider are sociology, special education and education. A degree in any of these fields will provide a good preparation for becoming a therapist and make you an attractive candidate for ABA training programs.
ABA therapists are usually required to have graduate school credentials. This may be a master's degree or a Ph.D. The graduate degree should be in psychology with an emphasis on the principles of behaviour analysis. Education at the graduate level is more research-oriented and will include clinical work as well coursework. Typical coursework will focus on learning and behavioural analysis, cognitive psychology and behavioural disorders.
Once you have received a master's degree, you can apply to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. There are three recognised credentials: BcaBA, or board certified assistant behaviour analyst; BCBA, or board certified behaviour analyst; and BCBA D, or board certified analyst with doctorate.
Beyond the educational and certification requirements, certain personality traits are necessary to be a successful therapist. Prospective employers will search for evidence of these in the job interview and on your resume. Employers will look for candidates who are patient, have good communication skills, can exercise discretion and who enjoy working with children who have autism.