The Importance of Training Before Entering the World of ABA

While those currently in the field will attest that nothing can fully prepare you with what to expect until you’re seated with a client, it’s essential to provide ample training, both prior to working with a client, as well as ongoing training and supervision.


When it comes to lines of work, the realm of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) practitioner, specifically when helping people with special needs, is unlike any other. It often entails working with children, teens and adults in a variety of settings, from their homes to their classrooms to residential facilities to the community, with sessions lasting anywhere from an hour to full days. Depending on the type of individual being worked with and the nature of their program or intervention, skills and behaviors that are being targeted may range from teaching play and leisure skills to shaping independent living to reducing severe problem behaviors such as aggression or self-injury, all while attempting to collaborate with their caregivers, including parents, teachers and other service providers.

The standards for the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) training and credential created and implemented by the BACB seeks to ameliorate the history of inconsistent training and supervision pervading the field of ABA by requiring that prospective and current RBTs receive ongoing supervision by BCBAs. While the RBT credential is required by some funding sources prior to allowing staff members to work with clients, this hasn’t become a consistent standard across the board, nor is the training supported by all ABA agencies.

In a 2012 study in the Behavior Analysis in Practice journal, Parsons, Rollyson, and Reid provide clear and succinct guidelines for providing initial and ongoing staff training, which implement similar, ABA-based teaching strategies utilized in the field. In summary, they contend that staff training must be based on performance and competency, requiring staff members to proficiently exhibit a target skill or behavior in a training setting that best mimics what they will be expected to enact with a client and that they are able to maintain those skills as monitored by ongoing supervision by their assigned BCBA.

According to Benjamin Heimann, Regional Clinical Director at the Center for Applied Behavior Analysis (CABA), this methodology is an effective training tool, but it is only one component required to shape an effective clinician. “The instruct, model, role play system, generally considered best practice, is great at teaching specific protocols or procedures, but may not sufficiently prepare budding behaviorists with the critical thinking skills to apply behavioral strategies to the complex and nuanced situations they will face in the field.”

This parallel holds true for numerous domains of practice which require classroom training in addition to supervised fieldwork prior to granting those individuals regular clients, from medicine to education.

In short, there is no “one size fits all” methodology to training new clinicians. However, what does remain true, and must become standard practice, is:

1) Providing clinicians classroom-style training prior to entering the field;

2) Having new clinicians overlap with experienced clinicians in the field; and

3) Providing consistent, ongoing, in-field supervision.

While the world of the behavior analyst can be volatile and constantly shifting on a daily basis, if a clinician isn’t provided with adequate and thorough training and priming of what to expect prior to entering this unpredictable field, it doesn’t set the staff member up for success, nor the client they are tasked with working with and helping.


Article written by:

Pasha Bahsoun, M.A., BCBA, earned a Bachelor's of Science in Psychobiology from UCLA and a Master of Arts in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, where he researched and implemented various approaches to educating children diagnosed with autism, including through social skills training and the use of educational media. Pasha’s thesis was titled, “The Use of Educational Media with Children Diagnosed with Autism,” in which he worked with the PBS television show “Super Why!” to develop games and programs catering to the developmentally disabled. Pasha currently serves as the Director of Social Skills, BCBA Supervisor at the Center for Applied Behavior Analysis.


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