Read as Mary Barbera gets JobShadowed about her career as a behavioral analyst.  You can find her on her website www.barberabehaviorconsulting.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living? marybarbera

I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and I work as a Behavior Consultant with children with autism.  I also wrote a book called The Verbal Behavior Approach:  How to teach children with autism and related disorders in 2007.  In addition to working with several children on a weekly basis, I also conduct training workshops on techniques outlined in my book.

How would you describe what you do?

I see children (most of whom have been diagnosed with autism) in their homes and in schools.  I teach parents and professionals how to reduce problem behaviors and also how to increase language and learning skills.

What does your work entail?

To work as a BCBA, you need excellent people skills.  You need to be good at tasks such as assessment, data/record keeping, graphing and analyzing results and also need to be an excellent communicator and problem solver.

What’s a typical work week like?

I work with 1 to 3 young children per day in their homes or in pre-schools.  I work about 20 hours per week.  Occasionally I also conduct full day assessments in schools with older students or do full day trainings in different States or Countries.  

How did you get started?

I “fell into the autism world” in 1999 when my first born son, Lucas, was diagnosed with autism.  I was the Founding President of the local autism society and began to coordinate Lucas’ in-home 40-hour/wk ABA program when he was three.  In 2000, someone recommended I look into becoming a BCBA which I did a few years later.

What do you like about what you do?

I love seeing progress and helping children with autism either directly or through my efforts to train parents and professionals around the world.  I also like the flexibility I have as I work alone through my own Limited Liability Company.  Most BCBAs, however, work for schools or agencies.

What do you dislike?

The thing I like least is billing each month for my services.  If I owned a large company, billing would be done by someone else or by an entire department.  Since I work alone, it is easier for me to do the billing but it does take a lot of time and is my least favorite activity.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I work for an hourly rate which may be slightly different depending on the contract.  Sometimes I am hired for a day or two to speak or do an evaluation and this is usually paid at a fixed daily rate.

How much do you make?  

Since BCBAs need a Master’s degree and certification, most salaries start over $50,000/year.   Some BCBAs who work privately are compensated by insurance companies or organizations between $75-$150/hour.  The pay range is wide and heavily dependent on where you are employed and what State you live in.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

A Master’s degree in ABA or a related field is required.  If the Master’s degree is in a related field, additional post Master’s ABA courses are required.  In addition, a supervision period is required (1500 hours directly with children/clients and 75 hours with a BCBA supervisor).  Finally passing a certification exam is necessary.  To maintain certification BCBAs need on-going continuing education credits.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Every child, parent, and professional is different so each situation requires careful analysis and intervention.  If everyone is not on the same page, the child does not make the maximum progress.  Most of my time is spent on training, analyzing data, and giving constant feedback to adults who work with the child to get the interventions as consistent as possible so the child makes progress.

What is most rewarding?

I love to see graphs/data showing that our interventions are working to reduce problem behavior and increase language.  I love to see a child who progresses from not talking to speaking in phrases or a child who is not potty trained master this important life skill or a picky eater learn to eat a wide range of foods because of the ABA intervention programs I put in place.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Check www.bacb.com for more information about becoming a BCBA.  Check my web site:  www.BarberaBehaviorConsulting.com for info about my work.   Read my book (The Verbal Behavior Approach) as well as another (How to Think Like a Behavior Analyst by Bailey and Burch published in 2006)

How much time off do you get/take?

I’m off most evenings and weekends.  Since I work alone and only about 20 hours/wk, I can take time off as needed for vacation or conferences.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

Many people have the misconception that ABA turns children with autism into robots.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth as ABA is the most evidenced-based treatment for children and adults with autism.  

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I plan to write another book soon to help toddlers with delays catch up.  I would also like to develop a video series and reach more parents and professionals to teach them about ABA!

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

ABA is the science of changing behavior and works with everyone.  Not all BCBAs work with children with autism.  Some BCBAs work as dolphin trainers at Sea World, some work with people with brain injuries, and others work with companies to improve organizational processes.  If more people knew about the power of ABA and had BCBAs to help them make data-based decisions, the world would be a better place!