Across the country, the practice of applied behavior analysis (ABA) has exploded. According to Steve Woolf, Ph.D., BCBA-D, president of the Massachusetts Association for Applied Behavior Analysis, Massachusetts has the highest concentration of board-certified ABAs in the world.
“The last official count was 732,” he says. “Although that number is on the increase and we will probably see more than 1,000 a year from now.”
With the explosion of the field has come a drive to create a licensing board to regulate the practice of behavior analysis. From three bills introduced to the Mass. legislature last year, the issue has been condensed into one bill that is now before the House Ways and Means Committee.
The main issue between the original three bills was a question of whether the new board would be independent or under the jurisdiction of the Board of Registration of Psychologists. After a hearing on Sept. 20, where practitioners and parent advocates packed the room, the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure chose to combine key components of the three bills into one with an independent board.
“We have the largest number of behavior analysts in the country and I felt that it is such a critical field that they ought to be licensed and they deserve their own licensing board,” says Rep. Theodore C. Speliotis (D-Danvers), chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.
The new board would be one of only a small number in the country, according to Mike Dorsey, Ph.D., BCBA-D, chair of the practice board for the Association for Behavioral Analysis International.
“There are seven to 10 states that have in place laws that license BAs now,” he says. “There are none yet in New England but there is a bill in New York that has been fast-tracked.”
According to Speliotis, the main concerns that the committee heard centered around a fear that the bill would restrict practice for other professionals and keep them from using applied behavior analysis techniques.
“The intent of the legislature is not to exclude people from practicing but to license people that are primarily or exclusively operating as behavior analysts,” says Speliotis.
However, the way it is written, says Elena Eisman, Ph.D., executive director of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, it goes further.
“We remain opposed to the bill on numerous levels. The language still does not allow psychologists to do applied behavior analysis without getting additional credentials,” she says.
“The way it is written, psychologists are not able to say that they are doing behavior analysis and that will restrict the appropriate practice of psychology.”
Among other things, the MPA is concerned, she says, that psychologists will not be able to self-identify as behavior analysts and that will affect their ability to bill insurance companies for services.
Speliotis, however, maintained that if billing were the main concern, he would be willing to put appropriate language into the bill to protect psychologists and other professionals.
“But we are not going to stop the bill,” he says. “Call me directly and we will clean up the language. We have no intention on limiting people who come from accredited institutions to practice.”
The MPA also questions the use of an outside organization to set licensing guidelines. Currently, ABAs may be certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board or BACB, a private certification corporation located in Florida. The Massachusetts bill, as written, sets the standards for licensing to include BACB-approved course work standards, a practicum or supervision and the “successful completion of the BACB examination for Board Certified Behavior Analysts.” (The bill does contain language that would allow currently practicing ABAs to apply for a license without BACB credentials for the first three years of the board).
“We feel that the criteria for licensing should be written into the state statute and not deferred to an organization in another state that has had multiple changes to their criteria over the few years of their existence,” says Eisman.
The MPA has been working, she says, with Autism Speaks and with the Association of Behavior Analysis International to create model legislation that would satisfy each of the concerned groups.
By Catherine Robertson Souter