A Closer Look: What Do ABA Therapists Do?

By Natalie Schad | 12 May, 2024
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If you’re a parent starting out in the field of autism support, you’ve likely heard about ABA therapy. It’s not just another method on the list—it’s a real, concrete way to help your child grow, communicate better, and find their place in the world.

This article provides an honest look at the people who’ll become a part of your family’s journey—ABA therapists. We’re going to show you who these professionals are, what drives them, and which path they take to become the guide your child might need. 

What Do ABA Therapists Do: Duties & Job Description

ABA therapists are dedicated professionals who apply specialized techniques to help people with autism improve their communication, social skills, and overall independence. 

They accomplish this through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) — a therapy that focuses on understanding and improving behaviors in order to make meaningful changes in their clients’ lives.

ABA therapy has proven successful in addressing various mental health conditions aside from ASD, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, eating disorders, and PTSD.

What Are ABA Therapist Responsibilities?

A therapist’s primary goal is to identify behaviors that can be changed to help people better engage with their surroundings and live more fulfilling lives. That includes helping children communicate better, interact socially, develop motor skills, manage personal hygiene, enjoy playtime, and succeed academically.

A typical day for an ABA therapist consists of the following duties:

  • Initial assessment—ABA therapists start by assessing the individual’s behavior to identify potential areas of improvement. This assessment forms the foundation for all future interventions.
  • Creating Behavior Intervention Plans (BIP)—They develop comprehensive plans aimed at encouraging desirable behaviors while reducing those that are problematic. This involves setting specific, measurable goals suited to the individual’s needs.
  • Skill building—Therapists design and implement lessons and playful activities that teach essential life skills. These can range from basic communication abilities to more complex social interactions and self-care practices.
  • Implementing strategies—Through one-on-one sessions, ABA therapists apply various strategies to teach and reinforce these new skills. Their techniques are diverse, always chosen with the individual’s best interests and preferences in mind.
  • Monitoring progress—Continuous evaluation is essential. Therapists track the individual’s progress toward their goals, and they make necessary adjustments to the plan to guarantee optimal outcomes.

Collaboration Is Key

ABA behavior therapists must collaborate closely with other caregivers, educators, and families of the individual they are caring for.

This team approach brings consistent support across different environments, which improves the ABA therapy’s effectiveness. ABA therapists provide families with strategies and resources to continue skill reinforcement at home, which makes them an integral part of the therapy process.

How to Become an ABA Therapist?

As you can read from our BCBA therapist’s experience, to become an ABA therapist, one must complete rigorous academic studies, gain practical experience, and demonstrate a commitment to professional excellence. It involves several stages, beginning with foundational education and progressing to professional certification and beyond.

ABA therapist requirements include investing approximately six years in education and training. This usually entails four years for completing a bachelor’s degree, followed by an additional two years to earn a master’s degree and gain certification.

Academic Studies

Getting a degree is a must for those aiming to help individuals with autism through ABA therapy. The academic phase usually consists of the following:

  • Undergraduate education—Initially, aspiring autism therapists pursue a bachelor’s degree in fields such as psychology, sociology, or special education. This stage is crucial for learning about human behavior, mental health, and emotional disorders that are relevant to ABA therapy.
  • Practical internship—Internships provide valuable hands-on experience and are an essential component of the educational process. It enables individuals to collaborate closely with experienced ABA therapists and gain valuable insights.
  • Graduate studies—A master’s or Ph.D. in behavior analysis can help an aspiring therapist gain more knowledge and expertise. Graduate programs for ABA therapist schooling typically include extensive study and research into ABA principles, and they prepare students for advanced positions in the field.

Professional Certification and Licensure

Certification and licensure are required for formal recognition as an ABA behavioral therapist:

  • State licensure—Depending on the region, getting a license may be required. This part of the ABA therapist training process often involves completing a set number of supervised clinical hours, which is typically done after graduate studies.
  • Board certification—Being certified as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is a significant accomplishment. This certification, which requires passing a national exam, validates the therapist’s knowledge and skills. Therapists need to pursue ongoing education to maintain the validity of this credential.

Ongoing Professional Development

The dynamic field of ABA therapy for autism requires lifelong learning. The commitment to ongoing ABA therapist education through workshops, courses, and conferences is vital for professional growth. Therapists are expected to practice with the most up-to-date and efficient techniques and continuously improve their knowledge and skills.

Techniques and Strategies Used by ABA Therapists

Professionals in ABA therapy use a variety of ABA techniques to encourage learning and behavior change. Discrete Trial Training, Natural Environment Teaching, and positive reinforcement are just a few of these fundamental techniques:

  • Positive reinforcement is used throughout all ABA techniques. It entails rewarding desired behaviors right away, which increases their likelihood of recurrence. Rewards are tailored to the child’s motivations, such as praise, a favorite activity, or a small treat. This reinforces the link between the behavior and the positive outcome.
  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT) breaks down skill learning into smaller components. A private ABA therapist, for example, could teach a child to ask for a toy by presenting it, prompting the request, and rewarding the attempt. This method focuses on repetition and clear cues to encourage mastery of each step.
  • Natural Environment Teaching (NET) takes therapy beyond the clinic by incorporating lessons into real-world settings. Here, learning happens through play and daily activities. A child might learn turn-taking while playing a game with peers or practice greetings during a family outing. This way, skills are integrated into the child’s natural behavior.

When developing an ABA therapy plan, professionals recognize that not all techniques work uniformly for every child. Selecting and combining strategies that are appropriate for each child’s individual profile, behaviors, and learning preferences is one of the most important ABA therapist duties.

During the initial assessment, therapists focus on understanding the child’s strengths, challenges, and interests. If one technique does not work well with a child, the therapist can adjust the strategy and shift the focus to other methods that may result in greater engagement and progress.

How Abacus Therapies Can Help

Our team provides specialized autism therapy services adapted to your child’s unique needs in Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia.  

In every interaction and lesson, ABA therapists at Abacus Therapies pour their hearts into helping children with autism reach their full potential. For us, it is a commitment to improving people’s lives through understanding, patience, and personalized care. For parents feeling overwhelmed or searching for answers, we believe ABA therapists stand as allies, and we are here to guide your family with expertise and empathy.


What are the duties of an ABA therapist?

The duties of ABA therapists include:

  • Conducting detailed assessments to identify the behavioral needs of children with autism
  • Developing personalized intervention plans aimed at increasing positive behaviors and decreasing undesirable ones
  • Designing activities to improve communication, social skills, and daily living skills

Additionally, they collaborate with parents and educators throughout the process to share techniques and insights and make sure the child’s development is consistent across all settings.

What does ABA therapy do?

ABA therapy equips children on the autism spectrum with vital life skills and strategies to curb harmful behaviors like self-injury. This therapy adapts to each child’s needs, and it uses rewards to naturally encourage the repetition of positive actions. 

There are several variations of this type of therapy, but the goal is always the same—to improve learning, communication, motor skills, and social interactions by reinforcing the behaviors that benefit the child most in daily life.

What is an example of ABA therapy?

To help children with autism grow, ABA therapy employs a variety of hands-on techniques:

  • Discrete Trial Training breaks learning into small steps, like teaching a child to ask for water by rewarding each little success along the way.
  • Positive reinforcement means giving a high-five or a favorite snack when they do something great, like sharing.
  • Modeling is like showing how to brush teeth by doing it ourselves, so they can copy. 
  • Generalization makes sure what they learn with us, they also use at the playground or home.

What is the difference between an ABA and behavior therapist?

ABA therapists specialize in autism spectrum disorder, but they also work with people who have other conditions like ADHD, OCD, TBIs, PTSD, ODD, and developmental disabilities. Also, ABA therapists typically work one-on-one with patients, whereas behavior therapists frequently manage multiple patients at once.

On the other hand, behavioral therapists cover a broader range of mental health conditions due to their varied educational backgrounds. While ABA therapy requires specific certification in behavior analysis, not all behavioral therapists rely on the ABA approach in their practice.