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Top 35 Education Programs for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

There’s a growing need for qualified professionals in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA therapy is a leading treatment option for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which affects 1 in 68 children.

For those interested in pursuing a career as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) or a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), below are some of the best undergraduate and graduate ABA or autism-related programs in the United States (in no particular order).

Trinity Christian College

Trinity Christian College’s Behavior Intervention Specialist Master’s program includes a BACB pre-approved Verified Course Sequence that prepares students for the BCBA exam. In fact, it’s the only master’s program in Illinois that offers this BACB-approved course sequence as well as the Behavior Intervention Specialist endorsement.

Wayne State University

Wayne State University solidified a place on the list with its BCBA and BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) training programs. The school offers course sequences with seminar and practicum experience to train students in ABA with a focus on treating autism.

Mercyhurst University

The graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis, offered by Mercyhurst’s Special Education and Applied Disability Studies graduate program, helps students develop the skills needed to be successful in the world of ABA. The program provides students with opportunities for graduate assistantships through service contracts with organizations like the Erie School District Autism Program.

Fresno State University

Fresno State University’s M.A. in Psychology gives students the opportunity for an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis. The program trains students to provide high-quality therapeutic intervention with ABA for both kid and adults on the autism spectrum. Further, students learn about behavioral management consultancy in business.

University of North Alabama

The University of North Alabama offers a BACB-approved 12-credit Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. The university also offers support to help students in the program find potential locations to earn the required supervision hours to be eligible to sit for the BCaBA exam.

Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University’s College of Humanities and Social and Behavior Sciences offers an 18-credit BACB-approved course sequence for students pursuing a career as either a BCaBA or a BCBA. The school also requires 2 of the following 3 categories for practical experience: 1500 hours of Supervised Independent Fieldwork, 1000 hours of Practicum, or 750 hours of Intensive Practicum.

Rowan University

The Psychology Department at Rowan University has its very own Center for Behavior Analysis, Research & Services. Students are able to choose from a variety of coursework options: the Concentration Program in ABA for Psychology Majors, the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Applied Behavior Analysis, Master of Art in ABA, or the Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in ABA.

McNeese State University

McNeese State University offers a graduate training program – approved by the BACB and accredited by the ABAI – in Applied Behavior Analysis. The Department of Psychology also has the McNeese Autism Program, which provides early intervention services for children with autism. The Autism Program’s team of BCBAs also conduct social skills groups, language training, feeding interventions, and family training.

Williams College

Williams College’s undergraduate psychology program comprehensively covers Developmental Psychology, which is a major part of ABA. The college specifies that its psychology degree will prepare students with the skills need for many mental health professions, including a behavior analyst.

Bay Path University

Bay Path University has 3 program options for students interested in practicing ABA: a 39-credit MS in Applied Behavior Analysis, a 45-credit MS in ABA/Autism Spectrum Disorders, or a 39-credit EdS in ABA/Applied Research Focus. Bay Path faculty members oversee 1,500 hours of supervised fieldwork for students, and the course sequence is verified by the BACB.

Texas State University

Texas State University offers a top-notch Master’s of Special Education with a Concentration in Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) approved the concentration as meeting the eligibility requirements for taking the BCBA exam. The university landed a high BCBA exam pass rate in 2016 at 83 percent.

University of West Florida

The University of West Florida offers quality online ABA course sequences for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students. The program allows for a more flexible schedule, with start dates in January, March, May, August and October. The course keeps students engaged with weekly virtual class meetings with instructors and peers.

Baylor University

Baylor University’s ABA program offers hands-on learning experience in its own Clinic for Assessment, Research, and Education (CARE) – part of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. With excellent funding opportunities that award students with free tuition, Baylor is an ideal choice for a 15-month ABA Master’s program.

Kaplan University

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Kaplan University offers a postgraduate certificate in ABA that meets the BACB requirements to sit for the BCBA exam. Both on-campus and online students are eligible for the program.

University of Nevada, Reno

The University of Nevada-Reno provides options for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students to receive specializations in ABA. Their programs are accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), and in 2016, 100 percent of University of Nevada-Reno students passed the BCBA exam on their first attempt.

Saint Cloud State University

Accredited by the ABAI, Saint Cloud State University’s MS program in ABA is the only accredited online ABA program in the world. The university also offers an on-campus cohort. The university boasts a 96 percent first-time BCBA exam pass rate.

Florida State University

The Florida State University (FSU) Applied Behavior Analysis program is accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International, making it one of just 24 universities with this distinction. FSU boasts a high BCBA examination pass rate of 88 percent.

Nova Southeastern University

There are a number of ABA program options for both undergraduate and graduate students at Nova Southeastern University. Undergrads pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in education or psychology can complete ABA minor programs. Graduate students pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling have the option to specialize in ABA or Advanced ABA.

Winthrop University

Winthrop University’s College of Education has a well-rounded program with special education classes specializing in ABA and how to effectively deliver one-on-one instruction to children on the autism spectrum. In fact, Winthrop University’s Education professors have published books on how to bring ABA into inclusive classrooms and working with students with behavior problems and learning disabilities.

University of Texas Austin

With an 82 percent first-time BCBA exam pass rate, the University of Texas Austin offers M.Ed and M.A. programs with concentrations in Autism and Developmental Disabilities. The program is approved by the BACB and many students who complete the program go on to become BCBAs or BCBA-Ds.

University of Texas San Antonio

Not too far from UT Austin, the University of San Antonio also has educational opportunities for those hoping to become RBTs or BCBAs. In addition to strong undergraduate and graduate programs for students interested in working with special needs children, the University of Texas San Antonio also has the option of a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis.

University of Nebraska

Remarkably, the University of Nebraska has locked down a 100 percent BCBA exam pass rate for two years in a row. The Department of Psychology’s MA program typically takes about two years to complete and equips students with the necessary skills to become a BCBA.

California State University Northridge

California State University Northridge surpasses the national average with a 94 percent first-time pass rate for the BCBA exam. The rigorous program teaches students how to conduct behavioral assessments and how to implement outcome-based behavioral interventions.

University of the Pacific

The University of the Pacific was the only other university on this list to secure a 100 percent BCBA exam pass rate two years in a row. The Department of Psychology places ABA track students in internship sites to learn how to design treatment plans and implement behavioral interventions.  The majority of ABA track students work 20 hours per week in one of the community settings.

Stephen F. Austin State University

Stephen F. Austin University has a number of programs – both campus-based and online – to help undergraduate and graduate students build a solid foundation for working with children with autism, including programs that focus on special education, speech-language pathology, school psychology, and visual and hearing impairments.

University of Maryland Baltimore County

In 2016, 100 percent of the students from the University of Maryland Baltimore County who took the BCBA exam passed on their first attempt. The UMBC Department of Psychology has an ABAI-accredited M.A. in Applied Behavior Analysis program which thoroughly prepares students for success as professionals in the industry.

University of California Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara has a great Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology program for undergraduates interested in the ABA field, as well as a Professional Certificate in ABA for those already enrolled in master’s or doctorate programs.

University of North Texas

The University of North Texas’ Department of Behavior Analysis was the first to earn the highly-esteemed ABAI accreditation, and has since attracted talented ABA professionals from around the world. UNT students are given a wealth of research opportunities, including the Behavior Analysis Resource Center, the Easter Seals North Texas Autism Treatment Program Research Group, the Behavior Analysis Online Research Group, and more.

Whittier College

For undergraduate students with an interest in later pursuing an MS in ABA or a career as an RBT, Whitter College’s Department of Psychological Sciences offers a solid foundation on the social, developmental, emotional, and biological bases of behavior.

Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University offers a variety of undergraduate majors in its Psychological Sciences department for those interested in becoming an ABA professional. Texas Tech graduates then have the option to pursue a Master of Education in Special Education with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis or an online Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate.

James Madison University

With an impressive 100% BCBA exam pass rate, James Madison University easily solidified its spot on this list. The program involves a mix of coursework, research, and practicum experience for those students interested in becoming a BCBA or doctorate level behavior analyst.

St. Edward’s University

For undergraduate students looking for a college experience at a smaller school, St. Edward’s University has a comprehensive psychology degree with a capstone project that completes a two-semester research/experiential course sequence. This gives students the opportunity to work with current professionals and develop the skills to become professionals themselves.

Abilene Christian University

Abilene Christian University, conveniently located by the West Texas Autism Center, is a prime location for undergraduates interested in getting involved with the autism community while earning their degree. ACU’s Psychology Clinic acts as a training facility for Master’s-seeking students and professionals administer tests to test for autism.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Applied Behavior Analysis) through its Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The graduate education program was ranked 11th in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 rankings.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s Department of Educational Psychology offers both the coursework and the fieldwork supervision needed to be eligible to take the BCBA exam. The course allows students to hit the required 1500 hours of field experience in 4-6 semesters, which is 50-67% faster than hiring an independent supervisor, A&M reports.

 

For students pursuing a degree in ABA or autism-related studies, Action Behavior Centers awards a bi-annual scholarship. Details can be seen here.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD)?

When a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reaches preschool age, many parents ask themselves whether a full-time ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) program or PPCD (Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities) is the best option for their child.

Both programs have value but take a fundamentally different approach.

ABA

After a child receives a diagnosis of ASD, the pediatrician or neurologist will often refer the child to a center for intensive ABA therapy. Based on decades of scientific research, ABA has proven itself as an effective and reliable treatment method for autism. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) create individualized treatment plans to cater to the specific needs of each child.

ABA consists of two major treatment methods: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Natural Environment Training (NET).

DTT teaches target behaviors or goals through simplified and structured steps.  For instance, teaching a child to write his name could be broken down into a five to 10 step process. First, he might work on properly holding a pencil. Then, he might learn how to individually trace an “A,” and so forth. A typical DTT session is similar to how lessons are run in a typical classroom setting – oftentimes taught across a table or with workbooks.

NET sessions are more about learning through play and social interactions in a natural setting. Multiple children will play together in the room at the same time to provide a social setting similar to that of a typical school. This also helps children generalize their learned behaviors with multiple people.

The combination of DTT and NET helps children with autism gain improvements in a variety of areas of developmental delay, including communication, cognition, social skills, play skills, and day-to-day living skills.

PPCD

Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

In order to start PPCD in Texas, children must first be evaluated and approved by the school district, and then if accepted into the program, Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals are set for the child. PPCD services typically happen in a classroom in a public school under supervision of a special education teacher.

PPCD classrooms typically contain around 12 or less students with special needs, supervised by one certified special education teacher and 2 educational associates. Each classroom will include children with a variety of special needs, ranging from moderate to severe disabilities. Based on the level of developmental delay, children will work on appropriate activities to improve language, social skills, pre-reading skills, cognitive skills, and self-help skills.

Breaking Down the Main Differences

  • ABA therapy centers focus specifically on children with autism, while PPCD classrooms focus on children with a variety of special needs.
  • BCBAs and therapists are trained in ABA for children with autism, while PPCD teachers have a background in special education.
  • ABA therapy is conducted in a 1:1 child-to-therapist ratio, while PPCD classrooms typically have about 3 adults to 12 children.
  • ABA programs (typically 40 hours a week) are more intensive than PPCD programs.
  • ABA is backed by decades of research

Parents’ Interactions with Babies May Ease Signs of Autism as Toddlers, Study Finds

Over the decades, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy has proven itself as an effective treatment option for the severe developmental delays seen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Moreover, the scientific research suggests that the earlier a child begins early intensive therapy with ABA, the more gains are made in critical areas like communication, social skills, and day-to-day living skills. In a study of over 1,400 children and adolescents with ASD, researchers from the University of Missouri found that children who received more intensive therapy at younger ages saw greater advancements in communication and social skills.

It’s important for children to receive the earliest possible therapy because these early experiences play a critical role in brain development. According to a report by the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC), Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child says “high quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory” and “intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.”

Parents also play a key role in a child’s success rate. In fact, a recent 2017 study found that parents’ interactions with babies at high risk of autism may help to ease the severity of autism symptoms at age three.

In the preliminary part of the study, conducted back in 2015, parents received individualized training sessions on how to respond to their baby’s facial expressions and gestures. Then, the parents worked these teachings into their interactions with their 9-month old babies over the next five months.

At the end of the five months, researchers measured early autism signs using the Autism Observation Scale for Infants, as well as the quality of parent-child interactions. The data showed that babies in the treatment group showed fewer early signs of autism and better interactions with their parents.

The 2017 follow-up study assessed these same children, now at ages 2 and 3, with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Even years later, the quality of parent-child interactions was better among those who had received early parent training, and the toddlers showed less severe autism features.

 The researchers stress that larger studies are needed to confirm these results. However, they argue that “preemptive” therapy among infant populations can help parents address the early signs of autism and potentially ease the features of ASD during later development. This research solidifies just how important of a role parents play in the very early development of their child.