If you are like me, the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” is a difficult question. When I was a kid, my answer was always, “I want to be Jack Hanna (America’s famous zookeeper).”  I love animals of all kinds and could think of nothing better than spending my days with them. In my teenage years, I found more things that interested me, such as teaching, psychology, making fancy coffee, travel and exploration, cooking, interior design, and the list goes on and on.

Picking just one thing that I wanted to be forever was an impossible task. In college and graduate school, I changed my program of study multiple times. And then, I found Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). I started off as a behavior rehabilitator (what we call a Registered Behavior Technician or RBT© today) working with kids with autism, and I was hooked! I loved kids with autism, and I loved ABA.

But, in graduate school, I learned that ABA has been used with so many different populations (e.g., kids, adults, military personnel, medical personnel, the general public) to solve so many different world problems (e.g., educational challenges, pedestrian safety, driver safety, effective nurse training programs, pollution, and waste reduction). My mind was blown. There was finally a field I could work in where I didn’t have to pick one thing.

ABA also appealed to my practical worldview – it’s based on science, data, and individual needs and produced viable solutions to many of the problems we face in our communities today. While I could go on about the limitless potential of ABA, I am going to focus on careers related to autism since that has been my life’s work. But ABA is effective for WAY MORE than just individuals affected by autism.

If you are just getting into the field or unsure what adventures could await you, you might consider starting as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). This is an entry-level credential requiring a high school diploma or equivalent, 40 hours of approved training and skill demonstration, and a written exam. As an RBT, you would be directly responsible for implementing a treatment plan written by a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) with your clients.

In training, you will learn the basics of ABA and how we use the science to change behavior in meaningful and significant ways, and you get ongoing supervision, support, and training from a BCBA for at least 5% of your work time. How cool is that? In this role, you get to teach skills to help individuals lead more independent and fulfilling lives!

If you already know you love ABA and want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in ABA, you can become a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). In this role, you serve as the intermediary between the BCBA and the RBT. This certification requires a more intense board exam, and additionally, it requires extensive college coursework in ABA and over 1,000 supervised fieldwork hours. With all that knowledge and experience, as a BCaBA, you get to help with assessing client skills, writing treatment plans, training RBTs, and ensuring your clients are making progress in socially significant ways.

Still can’t get enough ABA…time for graduate school! BCBAs have master’s degrees with an intense focus on learning the concepts and principles of behavior analysis, applying those techniques to address client needs, and teaching others to implement procedures effectively. In addition to coursework, BCBAs accrue 2000 hours of supervised experience and must pass an intense board exam.

As a BCBA in the field of autism, you typically get assigned a caseload of clients that desperately need your expertise to develop treatment programs to help them reach their goals and overcome obstacles. You also get a team of RBTs to train and support in implementing your treatment programs, and sometimes you get support from a BCaBA. You might work in homes, schools, clinics, hospitals, or the community to help your clients where they need it most.

ABA is a lifelong career for many people, and everyone’s path into and through ABA looks different. Some folks come in knowing they want to become a BCBA. Others have never heard of ABA and “fall” into the field just wanting to help people. However or wherever you start, each position can be lifelong as you hone your skills and adapt to the ever-changing needs of your clients and community.

You can also expand your skillset, gain more experience and education, and work your way up to leadership roles. After the master’s level BCBA, you can pursue a doctorate degree in ABA and become a BCBA-D (doctoral level). Many people with BCBA-D credentials are leading large organizations, teaching in universities, or actively researching more effective and efficient ways to apply the science of ABA to the needs of the world. So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

In the field of ABA, you don’t have to choose. You can try out lots of different roles, populations, or locations, and you can open yourself up to new opportunities as they present themselves. As we say in ABA, “All data is good data, even if it tells you that you need to do something different.”

If you’d like to learn more about our career opportunities, please click here.

More information

Click here to be directed to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB).

At the Children’s Autism Center, we often talk about the need for family involvement in therapy. Some might wonder why we focus so much of our efforts on families when much of the early research in Applied Behavior Analysis with children with ASD focused on intensive center-based early intervention. When parents and caregivers of children with ASD are already struggling to balance so many other things, why do we insist they also be heavily involved in ABA therapy?

There are several reasons why we do this, and some may surprise you.

1. Parents and caregivers know their child’s needs.

Sometimes when a clinician is trying to select goals for social significance, we end up missing the mark for what is important and meaningful in that child’s home, community, and school. As clinicians, we come with our own biases and learning histories.

Things that may be important to us, might not be as big of a priority for our clients in their everyday lives. By looking at skills the family prioritizes, we can address barriers to other activities that might ease the burden of caring for a child with ASD.

For example, if a caregiver is stressed about taking their child to large family events, we would want to work on helping our client be more successful at family events. Doing this simple thing could open many avenues of support for that caregiver. Further, parents who have more involved social support networks tend to experience less stress, which directly relates to health outcomes for children (Ozbey et al., 2007).

We need to work with parents and caregivers to identify goals that are socially significant and meaningful for them. By focusing on these skills in the short run, we can achieve more in the long run.

2. The research on child outcomes supports parent and family involvement.

In those early studies that recommended 40+ hours of therapy per week, many of those hours were delivered by parents in their homes, in addition to the hours spent in the clinic (Smith & Eikeseth, 2011). When parents are involved in teaching their children the skills worked on in therapy, not only do the kids master more skills, but they are also able to apply those skills in new ways and in new environments.

In ABA, we call this “generative instruction,” meaning that our kids are able to generate new responses in varying environments with different levels of difficulty and effort (Johnson, et al., 2021). Our goal in ABA therapy is to get our clients to the point where they no longer rely on us for learning new things, but rather the environment they live in provides all of the lessons and reinforcement to learn new things and grow in new ways. We can’t do that without parental involvement.

3. Self-advocates are more effective at changing systems than clinicians.

The most effective movements in history have been won by self-advocates, not others advocating on their behalf. Think of the people you recall as the lead voices in the Civil Rights Movement, the Woman’s Suffrage, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most people picture Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Judith Heumann; they don’t picture politicians or clinicians advocating on behalf of those they serve. It is often the people who are being discriminated against that have the loudest voice and most compelling experience to share.

Professionals and others can support them by providing a platform, funding, and research, but the individuals and their families who experience ASD are the best ones to tell the world what they need. In 2001, the first legislation passed for insurance to cover ABA services for individuals with ASD was fought for by 5 mothers, right here in Indiana.

And every one of the 50-states to follow, was brought to legislators and fought for by parents of children with ASD who wanted more for their children and wanted the system to change to support the health and wellbeing of their child. As children age, and become adults, that self-advocacy is such an important skill for them to learn, and who better to learn it from than a parent.

In summary, at Children’s Autism Center, we understand that families are under an immense amount of pressure. We work creatively around challenging schedules to help families to access training and support, so that their child has the best possible outcomes. We want to create a community where our clients, their families, and their communities can come together to work towards common goals. We embrace family involvement, and we fully believe that our clients have better lifelong outcomes when their families are involved. It is why we say, “Where families come first,” in our tagline.


Ozbay F, Johnson DC, Dimoulas E, Morgan CA, Charney D, Southwick S. Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2007 May;4(5):35-40. PMID: 20806028; PMCID: PMC2921311.

Johnson, K., Street, E. M., Kieta, A. R., Robbins, J. K. (2021). The Morningside model of generative instruction: Building a bridge between skills and inquiry teaching. Sloan Publishing.

Smith, & Eikeseth, S. (2011). O. Ivar Lovaas: Pioneer of Applied Behavior Analysis and Intervention for Children with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(3), 375–378. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-010-1162-0


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