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What Does a BCBA Do?

We’ve been in the field of ABA for a long time. But let’s review the basics. What does a BCBA do? When I first got into the field of ABA, my mother thought that I babysat kids with autism. I’ve always been told that I need a good elevator pitch. If someone asks you what you do, an elevator pitch would be something like a 30-second synopsis that you would tell somebody in an elevator before they got out on the third floor. 

So as BCBAs, what’s our elevator pitch? I still hate that question. Because whenever anybody asks it, I want to say “do you want the long version or the short version? And I know you’re not going to understand the short version.” 

What is a BCBA?

There are a lot of things that we do as behavior analysts. Being a behavior analyst seems to imply that we work with kids with behavior issues. But that’s not true. As we all know, behavior consists of both positive behavior and negative behavior. As BCBAs, we should be working on skill acquisition as well as behavior reduction. 

It’s an extension of behavioral psychology, where we look at how the environment affects behavior, and how we can change elements of the environment to change behavior by either increasing behaviors we want to see more of, or decreasing behaviors we want to see less of. It’s most commonly applied to kids with autism because ABA has been proven to be very effective. 

Download a free Skills Acquisition for BCBAs Checklist Below!

What Does a BCBA Do?

What does a BCBA do? If we look at teaching skill acquisition as well as decreasing problem behavior, the first thing we really need to do is an assessment. That assessment could be something like a functional assessment or functional analysis. But for skill acquisition programs we can do a lot of different assessments. It can be a psychological assessment or it can be something like a VB MAPP. 

The thing that we really base a lot of our decisions on is data. We constantly record data. So an assessment is one form of data. Ongoing data is another form of data to help us make decisions. (Is this behavior increasing or decreasing?) Even in a school, is the student understanding what’s being taught to them? Then we need to define understanding. Well, what’s the data? How do they do on the test? Or what’s their performance like? So we constantly look at data and use that data to make decisions for the future. 

We also use things that are evidence-based. We put in interventions, assessments, and programs that all have been proven to be effective. 

BCBAs Do Assessments

When we start these programs, we start off with assessments because we want a baseline of what skills the learners have. And then from there, we determine the goals. By determining those goals, we’re able to look at data and the assessments and say, what do we need to teach? But also we talk to caregivers about what their goals are. And with that comes a whole myriad of skills that we actually need that are outside of data collection – like compassionate care. 

So we analyze data, determine goals, and then start to implement programs to teach these goals.

BCBAs Manage and Coach Caregivers and Other Professionals

Something that I always think of is no one’s going to learn from someone that they don’t like. At the end of the day, our big goal is teaching, and not only do we teach skills to kids but also to caregivers, parents, and teachers. We ask them to change a lot of the things that they do to be able to change behavior. And so something that we have to include in our repertoire as BCBAs is management and coaching. 

We almost have to wear many hats to be able to work with all these different people. It’s managing staff, it’s hiring staff, it’s working with parents and professionals, and collaborating with other professionals. And that’s a skill set that we may not always be prepared for, but it’s something that we should continue to work on as BCBAs because that’s really the only way we’re going to be effective. 

We have to pair ourselves with reinforcement, not only with the kids we’re working with, but also with parents, staff, and other professionals. When we have a great relationship with those people we can then implement those programs and train and coach others on those programs. 

BCBAs Analyze Data

Once we have a program in place, we constantly analyze the data that comes out of that program. It’s not enough just to take data and have it sit in a binder somewhere. When we analyze that data, we also analyze the teaching behind the data. We look for any kind of error patterns, motivation, and so much more. Then we use that information to better update programs and make progress. 

BCBAs and Social Significance

One of the things that I love about what we do is this concept of social significance. We are putting things in place that are going to be significant and change the individual’s life. And that means that we go into the learner’s setting. We go into schools, into homes, and that’s very different from other professionals who might have you come to them. We want to go and see where the issue is happening so that we can make changes that are going to be socially significant for the individual. 

When we go into other people’s homes, we need to be respectful of those other environments and make sure that we can adapt our behavior to those environments so that we can be respected and listened to and our ideas can be implemented in those environments. We constantly coach therapists, teachers, parents, etc. Because we’re showing them what they can do. In addition to all of that, we’re still doing those skill acquisition programs. But some of us are also supervising other therapists and other future BCBAs.

What Does a BCBA Do – Conclusion

So what does a BCBA do? In summary, there’s a lot that we do as BCBAs. Essentially we change behavior, but how we do that is kind of by being a jack of all trades. And there are a lot of tools that we use from our toolbox to help change behavior in kids!

Don’t forget your free download of a skills assessment for BCBAs checklist.

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