What to Look for in a Behavior Analyst

February 19, 2020

Behavior Analysts working with a student in an in-home setting.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) programs have much to offer individuals with autism when delivered by knowledgeable and compassionate behavior analysts. How do you know if you have found someone who is ethical, competent, and effective? Here are a few ideas to consider when trying to identify and work with behavior analysts.


Behavior analysts are responsible for knowing how to successfully implement a wide range of assessment, intervention, and quality assurance methods. To do so requires extensive training including academic coursework, hands-on experience, and supervision. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) administers a voluntary certification program designed to ensure a minimum level of knowledge. The BACB offers 3 levels of certification for those with doctoral, masters and baccalaureate degrees:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral (BCBA-D);
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA); and
  • Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA)

Additionally, paraprofessionals who practice under the ongoing supervision of one of the above individuals may also be certified by the BACB as Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT). RBTs are often part of a treatment team and implement teaching procedures that are designed by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


In January 2020, Governor Murphy signed and enacted the “Applied Behavior Analyst Licensing Act,” which will provide additional oversight by regulating the profession throughout the state. Once implemented, look for a behavior analyst who is a Licensed Applied Behavior Analyst (LBA) or Licensed Assistant Applied Behavior Analyst (LABA). These credentials (LBA and LABA) may be in use as early as the end of the calendar year. For additional information on this law and our advocacy efforts click here.

Specific Competencies

While many qualified behavior analysts serve learners* with autism, the demand for ABA services far exceeds the supply. Given the relative low supply and high demand, many under-qualified or unqualified providers offer their services. To be an informed consumer of ABA services, we suggest the list below and the resources that follow as they offer the specific qualifications for behavior analysts and those they supervise.

*(The term ‘learner’ is used as an umbrella term for child, adult, student, client, etc.)

A behavior analyst should:

  1. Spend time with the learner and those who play a role in his/her programming (parents, teachers, staff, etc.) to directly observe and gain an appreciation of the learner’s preferences and skills as well as his/her and the team’s values and goals.
  2. Observe the learner on multiple occasions to become familiar with what the learner can do with and without intervention.
  3. Conduct objective assessments that capture a true picture of the learner’s behavior.
  4. Implement (or train others to implement) an intervention that: makes a meaningful difference in the learner’s life while minimizing risks, is individualized, and is a good fit for the team implementing the procedures.
  5. Collect and analyze data to describe the learner’s progress and ensure service accountability.
  6. Overall, act in accordance with the BACB’s The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.

Meeting your specific needs:

Applied behavior analysis has many applications, so you’ll also want to ensure that the behavior analyst has knowledge of autism and experience in designing behavior analytic services for individuals with similar skills and needs. For example, you may need a behavior analyst with experience working with adults or severe challenging behavior.

Behavior analysts should be prepared to describe their relevant experiences and refer to others if they are not adequately prepared to deliver services or additional expertise is warranted.

Additional Resources

ABAI Autism Special Interest Group Consumer Guidelines 

Behavior Analyst Certification Board 

For additional information, contact Autism New Jersey’s Helpline 800.4.AUTISM. Our online referral database can connect you to behavior analysts in your area.