ABA, BCBA, and CAS: What does it all mean?

We now have several different treatment approaches and letters behind our name when talking about treatment for autism. But, what does it all really mean? Before determining the differences between ABA therapist certification, BCBA certification, and Certified Autism Specialist, it may be beneficial to have a clear definition of each one.

Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist (ABA)

An ABA therapist is a person who uses applied behavior analysis as a form of treatment. Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of studying behavior in order to put into place appropriate behavioral interventions. The therapy and term is not exclusive to autism, but typically ABA therapy is used with autistic children. ABA is a well-known and effective treatment for children with Autism when done in high quality and intensive manner.

ABA uses a great deal of positive reinforcement in order to increase desirable behaviors and improve the skills of the child. Typically, an ABA therapist works one to one with a child. Background, training, and experience varies widely for ABA therapists. Several ABA therapists may work with one child as the hours involved in early intervention are intensive.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board certifies individuals as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. You must have a master level degree to be a BCBA, a doctorate to have the BCBA-D, and at least a Bachelor level degree for the BCaBA. The BCBA recognizes individuals who have specific training in the principles of applied behavior analysis. A BCBA is often thought of as working with students with Autism, but it is not an Autism specific credential.

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Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)

A Certified Autism Specialist is for professionals who hold a minimum of a master level degree, has worked in the field for a minimum of two years, and is required to stay current in the field of Autism by obtaining 14 CEU’s in Autism every two years.

A Certified Autism Specialist can be from any field working with students with Autism. Professionals such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, administrators, physical therapists, teachers, psychologists, counselors, behavior therapists, doctors, university professors, and many others obtain their CAS to demonstrate their competency and commitment to the field of Autism.

Autism Certificate (AC)

The Autism Certificate is for individuals who work in the field of autism. There is no degree requirement. The Autism Certificate does require that the individual stay current in the field of autism by obtaining 14 CEU’s every two years in Autism. Individuals such as teachers, Autism organization and program support staff, paraprofessionals, school bus drivers, childcare directors and staff, medical assistants, medical billing clerks, paramedics, police officers, firemen, additional first responders, and many others obtain their Autism Certificate to demonstrate their competence and commitment to the field of Autism.

So what are the differences between ABA, BCBA, and CAS?

There are multiple differences and distinctions between ABA, BCBA, and CAS certifications. An ABA therapist provides applied behavior analysis therapy to an individual. A BCBA is a board certified individual who is trained to provide and supervise behavior analysis. Often it is a BCBA who supervises individuals providing ABA. Neither ABA nor BCBA, by definition, is Autism specific. They specialize in behavior. The CAS and AC are not behavior specific, but are Autism specific.

Full disclaimer here, I am the director for the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, which offers the certifications as a Certified Autism Specialist and the Autism Certificate. Yet, I have also worked as an ABA therapist in the past while completing my training as a school psychologist. I fully support the ABA therapists and BCBA’s of the world. Applied Behavior Analysis is a documented, researched, and very effective method of treatment when completed with intensity and integrity.

So, what is better?

The answer is: they all have a very important place.

CAS or AC and BCBA Focus on Different Things; Can be Complementary

The CAS and AC are meant for the broad audience in the world of autism. The designations show that an individual specializes and/or remains up to date in the field of Autism. ABA therapy and BCBA is most recognizable as being used with individuals with Autism, but are not Autism specific. Many individuals who are ABA therapists and/or BCBA are recognizing the need to also have the CAS or AC designation to highlight their specialization and commitment to autism.

So what about a university degree?

I also fully support university degrees. I have several myself.

However, we have to remember the purpose of university training. A university degree provides us with the background and training we need to enter a profession. It is very important for many professionals to have this background.

Certification should not be thought of us separate, but also of critical importance. Certification requires an individual to stay up to date in their field and shows colleagues and the parents of students with whom you are working with, that you are committed to Autism. It is a higher level of service to individuals and should be respected as such.

For those without a university degree and seeking the Autism Certificate, it is absolutely imperative to have certification to highlight your on-going training and knowledge.

Many with CAS are also ABA Therapists or BCBA Certified

The reality is, if you are reading this, you are most likely a highly trained professional or considering entering the field. Varying certifications and degrees are required to highlight your specific specialty. I, for example, have my degree in school psychology. I have a license in Ohio for both School Psychology and Child Studies based on my degrees. I had certification as a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and I also have certification as a Certified Autism Specialist. They all have a very important purpose to me and highlight my experiences and training.

Many of our current CAS also work as an ABA therapist or are BCBA certified. More and more individuals are contacting us on a daily basis who are BCBA or an ABA therapist to also become a Certified Autism Specialist. These professionals recognize the importance of highlighting their commitment to Autism. If you are interested in becoming a Certified Autism Specialist, or would like to receive your Autism Certificate, check out our website or contact me for additional information. As always, we enjoy hearing from you. Comments, future blog suggestions, and guest bloggers are always welcome.

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