- Autism & Developmental Services
Written By: Melanie Bren, BCBA, LBA
A behavior specialist is a professional who specializes in behavior, has a strong understanding of the principles of behavior and applied behavior analysis. Often times, a behavior specialist works with those who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to develop new skills, such as: communication, daily living and social skills.
Additionally, a behavior specialist can work with others to reduce challenging behaviors and replace them with functional, socially-significant behaviors. Typically, a behavior specialist will work under the supervision of a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst who has the necessary education and appropriate certificates and licenses to create analyze and treat behavior. A behavior specialist’s main job is to implement the individual’s treatment plan with integrity and fidelity, providing compassionate care and help their clients develop skills in order to be autonomous as possible.
As previously mentioned, a behaviors specialist main job is to meet the needs of their clients by implementing and carrying out their specific, individualized treatment plan in order to develop skills necessary to function in their everyday lives as independently as possible. The goal is to provide individuals receiving services with the ability to carry out the tasks that they (and their caregivers) have determined most important to them by teaching these skills across various environments and people and fading out services when the individual has acquired the skills previously determined.
Most importantly, the behavior specialist strives to make a positive impact in the person’s life and create meaningful, lasting change to specific behaviors to promote a fulfilling and happy life for all people involved in treatment. This applies to caregivers, as well! The ”client” is considered the person receiving services, but also the individuals closest to that person; caregivers, parents, siblings, etc. who are involved in the helping the person reach their goals and achieve new skills.
Most behavior specialists teach their clients skills through the use of applied behavior analysis (ABA) which is an empirically validated method of treatment for those diagnosed with ASD. ABA is a scientific discipline that applies empirical approaches based upon the principles of respondent and operant conditioning to change behavior of social significance.
These skills include increasing functional communication, daily living skills, peer social skills, basic academic skills and kills to use in the community, such as: vocational skills and safety skills. Most skills are taught by applying positive reinforcement, however there are other methods of teaching skills.
Each day looks a little different for a behavior specialist, however a few common tasks remain the same; data collection, completing clinical notes, debriefing with caregivers, consulting with related service providers and maintaining case files. Data collection is at the forefront of the specialist’s duties as that is how the supervisor on the case makes clinical decisions.
The data conclude whether or not a specific program/treatment is creating meaningful change in the person’s life. Additionally, documentation and clinical note writing can be expected every day session notes provide a synopsis of the services provided and typically serve as a way to bill insurance companies (or the client directly) for those services.
Furthermore, behavior specialists spend a significant amount of time debriefing and training caregivers on implementation of the treatment plan. It’s important that every involved in the person’s life is consistent responding to behaviors and teaching new behaviors; this is called treatment fidelity. When treatment plans are implemented with high fidelity, skills are acquired faster, generalized to other settings and maintained over time. The main goal of treatment is to teach lifelong skills, but fade out the need for a therapist or behavior specialist.
To begin this process, behavior specialists debrief with caregivers daily regarding the day, which typically consists of discussing current skill acquisition progress, replacement behaviors taught, any challenging behaviors observed and any other pertinent information regarding the session. By debriefing, caregivers will start to understand how to respond to challenging behaviors, what goals are being taught so they can teach them in the home environment simultaneously and have a chance to ask questions about the session.
Although debriefing can serve as a mini caregiver training session, the behavior analyst on the case will conduct formal parent training sessions to ensure the caregivers understand the treatment plan in depth. If the caregivers mention anything pertinent, the behavior specialist will relay the message to the behavior analyst.
A behavior specialist may be qualified to assist or conduct certain assessments, provide training to therapists and assist in creating treatment plan goals. The assessment typically completed for people diagnosed with ASD is called a Functional Behavior Assessment.
This assessment determines the function of one’s behavior. Typically, the behavior specialist will spend time with the person being assessed, notate strengths and areas in which the treatment team could target for skill acquisition through probing. Additionally, the behavior specialist will collect baseline data on any challenging behaviors observed.
A behavior specialist is typically not an entry level position and requires some higher education and additional training to be qualified for the position. Because of these requirements, they may be able to help train and onboard new therapists who are just starting in their roles. This typically consists of a “classroom” style training day along with shadowing. Terms and concepts are introduced in the classroom training and implementation of those concepts are demonstrated and practiced during shadowing sessions.
As previously mentioned, a behavior specialist is not an entry level position and those in the position typically have an undergraduate degree with significant experience working with those with ASD. However, there is room to grow into a higher-level position.
With additional schooling, such a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis or a similar degree and the completion of fieldwork hours, a behavior specialist may qualify to sit for the BCBA exam and advance in the career as a behavior analyst. Other career options include a clinical social working, psychologist, mental health specialist.
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