Graduate Certificate Programs in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Graduate certificate programs in applied behavior analysis, or ABA, provide training in specific theories of human psychology, development, and behavior, and the therapeutic practices associated with those theories. Many of these programs are designed for college graduates and mid-career professionals who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, although some programs are designated as post-graduate or post-master’s certificate programs and require students to have a master’s degree in counseling, education, psychology, or a related field.
Students in an ABA graduate or post-graduate certificate program take a focused cluster of graduate courses that can typically be completed in 12 to 18 months and which result in the conferral of a certificate rather than a degree. In addition, many programs require supervised fieldwork and/or clinical practicums in order to prepare students for professional certification and/or a state license to practice as a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in settings such as schools, mental health and rehabilitation clinics, assisted living facilities, and/or private practice.
ABA represents a discrete body of psychological research and practice that encompasses theories and therapies used to improve the academic, communication, personal care, and practical life and social skills of children and adults. The theories of ABA are unique in that they focus primarily on externalized behaviors rather than internal thought processes as a key to assessing, managing, and changing a person’s response to social and environmental cues. The practices of ABA include therapies in which an individual’s learning processes are observed and evaluated, positive and negative reinforcement techniques are employed to curb unwanted behaviors, and behavior modeling and social prompts are used to promote more desirable responses.
ABA is commonly associated with treatments and interventions for individuals diagnosed with autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it has been shown to be particularly effective in improving the coping skills, social interactions, and learning processes of those on the spectrum. However, ABA has applications with other populations, including but not limited to patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries, adolescents with intellectual disabilities, adults facing parenting challenges, nursing home residents who are experiencing cognitive decline, and athletes striving to overcome psychological hurdles.
The ABA therapeutic approach is based primarily on the idea that an individual’s behavior in most contexts is impacted by the perceived and actual consequences of that behavior. Thus, by altering the consequences of and social responses to particular behaviors, ABA therapists can facilitate changes in a person’s behavioral patterns. Through this process, individuals undergoing ABA therapy are able to better adapt to their environment, improve their ability to perform certain tasks, and cultivate more productive behavioral responses to social and environmental cues.
Identifying and Classifying ABA Graduate Certificate Programs
Graduate certificate programs have several important identifying features that distinguish them from undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Most graduate certificate programs are offered by colleges and universities that offer full degree programs in equivalent or similar subjects. However, graduate certificate programs do not confer a degree. Instead, they are designed to provide advanced practical training and instruction in a particular field or profession. Graduate certificate programs are designed for students who have already completed a bachelor’s program, as well as master’s and doctoral program graduates who are interested in adding new skills for professional development, career advancement, and/or a career change.
ABA graduate certificate programs are generally offered by schools and/or departments of counseling, education, and psychology that have ABA master’s programs, and they commonly consist of six or seven of the core courses from an Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI)-accredited master’s program. However, unlike ABA master’s programs, which commonly require 12 or more courses and can take two or more years to complete, ABA graduate certificate programs are typically designed to be completed in 12 to 18 months, depending on the number of courses a student takes per semester.
While the ABAI does not accredit graduate certificate programs, the organization maintains a Verified Course Sequence (VCS) to help ensure that programs offering graduate training in ABA meet eligibility requirements for the BCaBA and BCBA credentials awarded by the Behavior Analysis Certificate Board (BACB) and required by many states as a condition for licensure. Thus, most ABA graduate certificate programs, including post-baccalaureate and post-master’s programs, adhere to ABAI’s VCS, as detailed in the section below.
Applied Behavior Analysis Graduate Certificate Coursework
Most ABA graduate certificate programs align their curriculum with requirements set by the ABAI in its VCS. These requirements include training and instruction in the following areas: ethical and professional conduct; concepts and principles of behavior analysis; research methods in behavior analysis (data analysis and experimental design); and fundamentals of ABA practice, which encompass problem identification and assessment, behavior change intervention procedures, and behavior change systems. Indeed, ABA graduate certificate programs commonly restrict their curricula to courses that cover topics and training recommended by the ABAI and required for BACB professional certification. This typically translates to six or seven graduate courses, as well as a practicum in which students engage in supervised ABA fieldwork.
While course titles and descriptions vary by program and by school, the list below provides a representative overview of a typical ABA graduate certificate curriculum.
- Introduction to Behavior Analysis – An overview of behavioral theories, the principles of ABA, and the use of ABA in schools, developmental centers, and other human service settings.
- Foundations & Principles of ABA – An examination of key features of ABA, including functional behavioral assessments, ethical interventions, behavioral-change procedures, and the evaluation of intervention outcomes.
- Behavior Analysis Research Methods – Experimental design and ABA research methods with a focus on single-case studies in special education settings and with people diagnosed with ASD and intellectual disabilities.
- Ethical Concerns & Professionalism in ABA – An examination of best practices as outlined in the current literature on ABA at schools and hospitals and in residential and outpatient settings.
- Verbal Behavior & Social Context – The functional analysis of complex verbal interactions in relation to social environments as a means of assessment, intervention planning, and curriculum development.
- Behavioral Consultation & Intervention – Guidelines for the design and implementation of ABA interventions that promote adaptive skills in a variety of settings, and for consultant-consultee relations.
- Personnel Management in ABA – An exploration of the skills required to supervise, train, mentor, and coach others in the use of ABA in schools, clinics, and other professional settings.
Note: Further information and additional details about the ABAI’s Verified Course Sequence in behavior analysis can be found at www.abainternational.org.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in ABA
While many graduate certificate programs in ABA are designed to accommodate working professionals through part-time enrollment and evening courses, there are also a number of programs that provide additional convenience and flexibility through online instruction. Online ABA graduate certificate programs offer all or most of their didactic coursework via web-based learning management systems (LMSs) and computer platforms that facilitate the streaming of live and pre-recorded lectures and allow students to complete assignments from anywhere with a secure internet connection. These programs provide students with the same training and instruction as traditional, campus-based programs, including fieldwork and practicums, which can typically be completed at program-approved sites located near a student’s place of residence.
Online programs primarily utilize two types of instructional methods: synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction. Synchronous instruction indicates that lectures and virtual classroom sessions are streamed live and thus require students to be logged on to a program’s LMS at scheduled times. Asynchronous instruction encompasses a range of learning activities that do not have a real-time component, including pre-recorded lectures, instructional modules, and interactive assignments. Programs that rely exclusively on asynchronous instruction are typically less rigidly structured and thus offer more scheduling flexibility than programs that incorporate synchronous instruction into the curriculum. Programs that utilize synchronous instruction offer less flexibility but provide students with more structure and a learning experience that more closely resembles attending traditional, campus-based classes.
The specific requirements for online ABA graduate certificate programs vary by school and by program. For example, some programs utilize synchronous instruction, and some do not. Some programs also require students to attend a limited number of campus-based sessions, which may include orientations, workshops, seminars, and/or networking opportunities, while others offer all of their required instruction online and do not require campus visits. Programs that require students to attend more than two or three campus visits per year are generally designated as blended or hybrid programs. As stated above, regardless of the mode of instruction (face-to-face, hybrid or online), students must complete practicum hours at local sites approved by the program.
Example Online Graduate Certificates in Applied Behavior Analysis
The programs listed below are examples of online graduate certificate programs in ABA that are offered by accredited non-profit colleges and universities and that provide a representative overview of online ABA graduate certificate programs in general.
Ball State University has a Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis program that is offered in a fully online format through Ball State Online. This is a 15-credit, ABAI-verified post-baccalaureate certificate program that can be incorporated into Ball State’s Master of Arts (MA) in Special Education program or completed independently of the master’s program. To complete the certificate program, students choose five courses from among seven online ABA courses offered by Ball State’s Teachers College: Introduction to Applied Behavior Analysis; Behavioral Consultation; Advanced Applied Behavior Analysis; Professional Issues in Applied Behavior Analysis; Research Methods for Behavior Analysis; Verbal Behavior; and Supervising Human Service Staff in ABA. Visit Ball State Online at www.bsu.edu for more information on the program.
The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis through Penn State World Campus. The 21-credit program is designed for students who have a bachelor’s degree and a background in education or human services. It offers an ABAI-verified curriculum that can help prepare students for eventual BCBA certification. Students in the program must complete six online courses and one week-long campus-based seminar held in August at Penn State’s University Park campus in conjunction with the National Autism Conference. The program’s online courses include: Foundations of Applied Behavior Analysis; Concepts and Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis; Assessment of Behavior in Contexts; Behavior Change Interventions and Management; Single Subject Research; and Ethical Considerations for Special Education Populations. Visit Penn State World Campus at www.worldcampus.psu.edu for additional information on the program.
Drexel University has an online Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis program that is designed for students who hold a master’s degree in either education or psychology. This post-master’s certificate program consists of seven 4.5 quarter-credit ABAI-verified courses, or a total of 21 traditional semester credits, and a clinical practicum that can be completed at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, PA or at an alternate site approved by the program. The courses required to earn the certificate include: Fundamental Elements of Behavior Change; Measurement and Experimental Design; Behavioral Assessment and Functional Analysis; Behavioral Interventions; Consultation, Systems Change, and Supervision; Ethical Considerations and Professional Conduct; and Applications of Fundamental Elements of Behavior Analysis. Visit Drexel University Online at www.online.drexel.edu for additional program details.
ABA Certification and State Licensure
While licensure is not currently required for behavioral analysts in every state, many states and most employers require ABA practitioners to hold a professional credential issued by the BACB. The BACB offers two types of credentials that students who complete an ABAI-verified post-baccalaureate or post-master’s certificate program in ABA may qualify for: Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Both credentials require the completion of an ABAI-verified curriculum in ABA, several hundred hours of supervised fieldwork, and successfully passing an ABA certification exam administered by the BACB.
Students with a bachelor’s degree can attain eligibility for BCaBA certification by completing a post-baccalaureate certificate program in ABA and between 500 and 1000 hours of supervised fieldwork. Qualifying for the BCBA credential requires a master’s degree, the completion of an ABAI-verified program in ABA, and between 700 and 1500 hours of supervised fieldwork. The exact number of required fieldwork hours for BACB certification depends on how those hours are supervised and is determined on a case-by-case basis by the BACB. For more information about BCaBA and BCBA certification requirements, visit the BACB at www.bacb.com.
More Graduate Certificates in Applied Behavior Analysis
Additional Graduate Certificates in Counseling and Psychology
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