This article contains a transcript of a conversation between Joshua Feigin, the interviewer, and Daniela Guttman, a BCBA in New Jersey. The goal of this interview is to expose readers to aspects of a career that otherwise may have not been known to them. Content has been shortened for clarity and concision.
Joshua: Hi, can you introduce yourself and explain your job title?
Daniela: Sure, my name is Daniela Guttman. I live in Teaneck, NJ and I am a BCBA – A Board Certified Behavior Analyst. I work with children with special needs, mainly autism, that receive ABA therapy in their homes.
Joshua: And what is ABA therapy?
Daniela: ABA is Applied Behavior Analysis. It studies the principles of behaviors and it allows us to change behaviors and to teach specific skills.
Joshua: Got it. Do you think you could give an example to illustrate a behavior typically found in children with autism and how you have used ABA to modify it for a child’s benefit?
Daniela: So for example, let’s say a child screams every time they want something, we teach them a better way to communicate. Some children may need an iPad or a picture, or some people literally need to be taught language. We give a lot of reinforcements and praise and we make sure that when the child screams, we redirect and we don’t give in to that behavior. And we do this in a very gradual way.
Joshua: What do you mean by reinforcements?
Daniela: It could be verbal praise, “Yay you did wonderful.” It could be food, it could be iPad time, anything that the child likes.
Joshua: Let’s move on to your day to day routine. What does your schedule look like and in what settings do you work?
Daniela: I work for an agency that works for insurances, so this is not school based. I have about ten clients, ranging in age from about 3-13 years old. I go mostly after school hours and see them in their homes. These children get somewhere between 15-30 hours a week of services. I supervise the therapists, meaning I don’t actually give the sessions. I go in probably about once a week [to each client] and I ensure that there is a treatment plan for ABA services for each child. When I go in, I supervise the therapist, speak to the parents, and then I work on the programming, which I can do at my home through the computer.
Joshua: Let’s shift to education. How does one become a BCBA?
Daniela: Sure. There are a few different paths. One very popular way nowadays is just to get a Masters in ABA. You definitely do need a Masters degree in a related field. Once you complete the course sequence, you then are required to do some field work. I believe it’s about 2,000 hours, where you actually work as a therapist, and then you can take the board exams. I actually had a Masters in teaching, and then I added on a few courses [in ABA] and did the field work at the same time, before sitting for the exam. For more information about the degree requirements, one can look at the BACB website.
Joshua: You mentioned that you personally have a Masters in teaching. I am wondering how you then entered the field of ABA. How did you gain exposure to what is not such a mainstream field and how did you know that you wanted to pursue it?
Daniela: While I was going for my Masters in teaching, I was working as a Spanish translator for early intervention services, which dealt with children with disabilities and special needs, and that is really where I was first exposed to ABA therapy. From there I decided to continue with the ABA course sequence. I loved what I saw as I was observing it, and it was something that I really wanted to do. I started working under the guidance of a BCBA, and then I became a BCBA myself.
Joshua: What are some skills or qualities that an ideal candidate for someone who wants to become a BCBA should possess?
Daniela: I think it is really important to love what you do, which, in this context, means that you need to be curious and interested in wanting to help others. You also need to like kids – not necessarily in a playful way, but you definitely need to be motivated to help improve their wellbeing. You also need to be able to think logically, as there is a lot of science involved in understanding behaviors. Although intuition and great personality are good, you really have to understand how to treat certain behaviors and analyze graphs and data.
Joshua: Can you share your favorite and least favorite parts of your work?
Daniela: I get very excited when I see a breakthrough. I see that I taught a child how to communicate, how to improve his/her behaviors. When I see a big smile on a parent’s face, that is really a highlight. My least favorite part would have to be the pressure to become a miracle worker and solve all of a child’s challenges. Autism is not necessarily easy; it is a work in progress and it is not something that can be changed overnight.
Joshua: Does your career path offer flexibility, time off, time for the holidays, and personalization?
Daniela: I am flexible in the sense that I can decide on how many cases I am taking. In general though, I am being told what the parameters and the hours are [of each case]. There is a huge demand and it really depends on how much I want to work. In general, it’s not so easy to fill the entire day. Most of my cases are during after school hours. Sometimes a private school student may receive services during the day, but that is pretty rare. You are dealing with a lot of people’s schedules: The parents’, the therapist’s, etc. Sometimes I need to drive from place to place.
Joshua: What are some reasonable salary expectations?
Daniela: A therapist probably makes somewhere between $20-$35 an hour. A BCBA makes somewhere between $80-$100 per hour. There are some agencies that hire BCBAs one a salary basis, in which case that would on average be in the range of $80,000 – $110,000 per year.
Joshua: Are there any more resources you can recommend for anyone looking to learn more about the options within this field or research this career path further?
Daniela: Sure. BACB.com is a great website. I would also recommend for anyone considering the field just to start working in it. Anyone with experience in teaching can start. And to be truthful, there is such a need in the field, so even for someone with no experience, agencies are willing to hire. So get a job as a therapist and see if you like it.