A master’s degree in ABA – why it could be right for you
What is ABA?
Simply put, “our goal is to help others meet their goals,” said Vicki Madaus Knapp, chair of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Department at Daemen College.
Behavior analysts practice ABA by using the science of human behavior to assist individuals – or those connected with them, such as caregivers– with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), developmental disabilities, behavioral difficulties, or no diagnosis at all, to achieve goals, learn new skills, and improve challenging behavior.
(Note: In New York State, the scope of practice of a licensed behavior analyst is currently restricted to only ASD. Yet, for individuals seeking board certification in behavior analysis and licensure in all other U.S. states, Daemen offers a master’s in Behavioral Science and Human Services, starting in Fall 2022.)
“As behavior analysts, we know how to arrange the contingencies, and the environment, to help a person become more successful,” Knapp explained. “We look at the barriers and measure and determine a baseline to then set goals and help individuals get there using evidence-based practices and techniques. This work is positive and involves the use of schedules of reinforcement or rewards, which vary from taking a break from work to getting your nails done.”
Some examples of goals can include learning how to initiate in social situations, reducing a person’s amount of technology use – or even following medical protocol to heal or maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In short: Behavior analysts determine what people want to achieve, where they want to go, and what they want to do.
“We look at what is preventing someone from reaching their goals,” Knapp explained. “We determine what barriers individuals are facing and then help address those barriers to ultimately help them succeed.”
Having a degree in ABA Increases flexibility and career opportunities for education majors, Knapp said.
Those with a bachelor’s degree in education, who enjoy working with students and are interested in those who do not necessarily respond to typical classroom management procedures – a master’s in ABA may be a great fit for them, said Knapp.
With an ABA degree, educators can learn about more specific ways students can be helped toward success.
The critical and practical skills learned in an ABA master’s program are also beneficial to a person’s career path – creating more opportunities, given that school districts are employing more behavior analysts.
Behavior analysts can also serve in a consultant-structured role to help teachers help their students thrive.
In addition, behavior analysts can have the flexibility to not only work in schools, but also in homes, clinics, and other settings. They can also eventually have their own private practice.
Both social workers and behavior analysts are in the “people-helping profession in very similar ways,” said Knapp.
“Behavior analysts do very individualized-focused work with people, like social workers,” she added. “We really take the time to do a thorough assessment, provide intervention and more.”
Social workers who gain a degree in ABA will still have the opportunity to do individual work with those in the community. However, they will have many more skills and understand more in-depth ways to measure and identify adaptive behaviors.
Overall, “psychology and ABA are a natural fit,” said Knapp. “Behavior analysis has its origins in psychology, and was originally developed by psychologists.”
Psychology graduates with a master’s degree in ABA become more oriented to specific careers and professional roles. Therefore, they can often find more job opportunities with the master’s degree, Knapp explained.
With an ABA degree, graduates can become certified nationally and licensed in New York State, as well as most other states.
“With this master’s degree, you can essentially start to practice immediately,” said Knapp. “And you will be in a very high-demand, well paid position.”
Health professions/natural science
“Health professionals have a passion for helping people,” said Knapp. “With a master’s in ABA you can specialize in verbal behavior, feeding disorders, and many other areas within the healthcare industry.”
A background in ABA can also help people adhere to their assigned tasks and protocol for improvement.
Perhaps a lesser-known major that fits well with a master’s in ABA is business.
“Those in business work with human behavior and changing it,” Knapp explained. “What better way to help you in business than the actual science of human behavior?”
Those pursuing a master’s degree in ABA will learn how to manage people and find ways to help them be more productive, efficient and overall the best they can be. Behavior analysis is used in local banks in the WNY area, including M&T Bank, as well as at other major companies. For example, a recent ABA master’s degree graduate is now an organizational change management coordinator at Moog.
Overall, the science of human behavior is used in many fields and settings.
With an ABA degree, educators can also learn skills to help diversify their career options, as more school districts are employing ABA techniques and professionals to help students.
Behavior analysts can also work in homes, clinics, and other settings as consultants and practitioners, including operating their own business.
Learn more about Daemen College’s ABA program.