Consumer Corner: Considerations when Choosing a Behavioral Service Provider
Robert LaRue, PhD, BCBA-D and
Lori Bechner, MA, BCBA

Choosing a behavioral service provider can be a challenging task. Fortunately, there are some resources to guide consumers in making sound choices. Consumers should judge behavioral service providers based on the effectiveness of the interventions they use. By definition, Applied Behavior Analysis involves meaningful changes in behavior (Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968; Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Providers of Applied Behavior Analysis, therefore, should only be considered effective when they successfully bring about behavioral change for the learners with whom they are working (i.e., desired skills are acquired and behaviors of concern are reduced in frequency or intensity).

Formal credentialing of professional behavior analysts (i.e., registration, certification, or licensure) helps consumers identify quality service providers and provides safeguards for consumers by screening potential providers and offering opportunities for recourse if incompetent or unethical practices are encountered. Currently, efforts to establish licensure or registration for behavior analysts are underway in many states. Progress in development of such qualifications — and related requirements —varies from state to state. Subscribers of Science in Autism Treatment will be kept apprised of developments as they unfold.

Behavior analysts are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc®. (BACB). The BACB credentials practitioners at two levels. Board Certified Behavior Analysts® (BCBA) must possess at least a master‘s degree, have 225 classroom hours of specific graduate-level coursework, meet supervised experience requirements, and pass the behavior analyst certification examination. Recently, the BACB added the BCBA-D credential to distinguish doctoral level behavior analysts. Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts® (BCaBA) must have at least a bachelor‘s degree, have 135 classroom hours of specific coursework, meet supervised experience requirements, and pass the assistant behavior analyst certification examination. The BACB specifies it is mandatory that BCaBAs practice under the supervision of a BCBA. All BACB certificants (whether BCBA, BCBA-D, or BCaBA) must accumulate continuing education credits to maintain their credentials.

The BACB maintains a Task List, which outlines content areas in which behavior analysts should be well qualified.

These content areas are applicable to all behavior analysts, and include:

  • Ethical Considerations
  • Definition And Characteristics
  • Principles, Processes And Concepts
  • Behavioral Assessment
  • Experimental Evaluation Of Interventions
  • Measurement Of Behavior
  • Displaying And Interpreting Behavioral Data
  • Selecting Intervention Outcomes And Strategies
  • Behavior Change Procedures
  • Systems Support

More recently, the BACB developed a Task List for Board Certified Behavior Analysts Working with Persons with Autism, to highlight a more specific skill set. This Task List was published in the Fall 2007 Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) newsletter, and is reprinted with permission on page 19 of this newsletter.

For details about certification in behavior analysis, access to the registry of certificates by name and state, and the Conduct Guidelines for certified behavior analysts, visit the BACB website at

For additional information on identifying quality behavioral providers, consumers are also encouraged to review the Revised Guidelines for Consumers of Applied Behavior Analysis Services to Individuals with Autism and Related Disorders, developed by the Autism SIG. The Autism SIG urges consumers to ask prospective directors or supervisors of ABA services to provide documentation of their qualifications in the form of: a master‘s or doctorate degree in ABA or a related field; full membership in ABAI and possibly one of its regional chapters; letters of reference from employment supervisors and/or families for whom they have directed ABA programming for similar individuals with autism (with appropriate safeguards for privacy and confidentiality); any registration, certificate, or license in Applied Behavior Analysis per se (i.e., not psychology, special education, education, or another discipline with no emphasis in behavior analysis); participation in professional meetings and conferences in behavior analysis; and publications of behavior analytic research in professional journals.

The Autism SIG recommends that training and supervision for clinicians who will direct ABA programs for individuals with autism should focus on competency in a number of areas, including designing and implementing individualized skill-acquisition programs (especially in skill areas of particular relevance for individuals with autism, e.g., social interaction, communication, attending, and imitation skills); providing ABA services for individuals with autism who represent a range of ages and skill levels; utilizing a variety of behavior analytic teaching procedures (e.g., discrete trial teaching, task analysis, incidental teaching, activity schedules, script fading procedures, video modeling); conducting functional assessments and developing individualized behavior reduction programs to treat stereotypic and disruptive behaviors; and programming for effective generalization. It is important to note that participating in a few workshops, courses, or brief hands-on experiences do not qualify one to practice Applied Behavior Analysis effectively and ethically.

For further details about these guidelines, visit the Autism SIG website. A PDF of Revised Guidelines for Consumers of Applied Behavior Analysis Services to Individuals with Autism and Related Disorders in their entirety can be found at


Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 91-97.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

LaRue, R., & Bechner, L. (2009). Consumer corner: Considerations when choosing a behavioral service provider. Science in Autism Treatment, 6(2), 5.

A qualified Behavior Consultant (BC) is essential for behavior intervention to be truly effective, and lead to the best outcome for your child. Here is a list of questions to assist you in the interview process and selection of a BC.

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