Where are all of the behavior analysts?

As my first post as the new Connect the Dots blogger, I want to begin by introducing myself. Currently I teach, coordinate practicum experience, and supervise research at the ABA program at the University of South Florida (USF). Prior to joining USF, I held various clinical positions at the New England Center for Children, in MA. My experience working with individuals with autism led me to seek a doctorate degree so that I could help teach and train the future generation of behavior analysts.

Given my current position in academia, I have always wondered if we will reach a point in time when the demand for graduate education in behavior analysis will decrease. Thus far, this does not appear to be the case. In fact, as the estimated prevalence of autism continues to increase (CDC, 2018), many families struggle to find qualified behavior analysts to provide ABA services to their child. I have even heard of families being on a waitlist, across multiple service providers, for over a year, and I imagine that the delay to receiving services is much longer in rural areas as these have even fewer qualified providers.

This begs the question, where are all of the board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) and assistant behavior analysts (BCaBAs)?

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Researchers have used census data, estimated prevalence of autism, data available from the BACB® on number of certificants per state, and BACB® recommended caseload sizes to estimate the demand for and supply of behavior analysts per state.  They found that the supply of providers was lower than the estimated demand in all but one of the estates, Massachusetts. In addition, they found that states in the northeast region of the US have the highest supply of certified ABA providers. Many factors likely contribute to the surplus of BCBAs in this region, such as the sizable number of training programs available. Specifically, Massachusetts currently has 42 training programs (i.e., verified course sequences) whereas states such as Nebraska and Arkansas have two each (see ABAI website).

In recent years the number of graduate programs offering courses required to sit for the BACB® exams and of certified analysts have increased. Yet, many states have more individuals in need of behavioral services than the amount of individuals that can be effectively served by the available providers. I think that it is time for states with few service providers to consider ways to attract qualified individuals. The exact variables responsible for the current uneven distribution of certificants is unclear but factors such as sources of funding for ABA (e.g., autism insurance coverage), BCBA® licensure, and the availability of major graduate or training programs are some of the items correlated with higher availability of service providers (Deochand & Fuqua, 2016).

Therefore, one possible way to address the lack of qualified providers may be to create high quality graduate programs in ABA so that individuals can attain the required certification without leaving their home states. Failure to increase the number of qualified service providers may result in individuals in need of services waiting an extended amount of time to find a provider, and, at least in some cases, relocating to another state, something that is simply not feasible for families with limited financial resources.