What to Look for in a Behavior Analyst

If you are a parent of a child with autism, and are considering engaging a behavior analyst -- for ABA therapy, to help your child gain skills, and/or to mitigate disruptive behaviors -- how do you know what to look for? What does a behavior analyst (sometimes also called behavioral therapist) do? And what should you expect from them?

Special needs activist Noria Zasslow put together this list of shared expectations for engaging a behavior analyst. I have published it with her permission.


Information a Behavior Analyst Should Provide To You

My training and expertise :
  • I have been practicing as a behavior analyst for ____ years.
  • I am certified by BACB (Behavior Analyst Certification Board).
  • My specialty is _____ (working with l children, teens, adults, parent training, etc).
I provide the following services:
  • I will help you with behavior you would like to change.
  • I will help you with maintaining a behavior, identify more appropriate replacement behaviors, develop a plan to teach those behaviors.
  • I will help you develop a plan to help you acquire a new behavior or improve your skill level.
  • I may provide training to others as well.
  • I will not work with you in any other capacity except as your behavior therapist or consultant.
  • I will provide a Behavior Intervention Plan if applicable.
How I proceed:
  • I do not make judgments about behavior.
  • I suggest ways of adjusting and modifying behaviors to reduce pain and suffering.
  • You will be provided information at each step in the process.
  • I will explain my assessment and the results of my assessment.
  • I will provide a plan for intervention and treatment and ask for your approval.
  • I will cooperate fully if at any moment you wish to terminate our contract.
  • If I believe that my services has become non-productive, I will inform you of my intent to terminate our contract and provide referral information.
  • I will work at your home only if you are present. It is not appropriate for you to leave me alone with your child or to ask me to take your child to places not directly related to my work.
  • If I need to cancel or reschedule an appointment, I will give you a 24-hour notification of cancellation. Please do the same.
I must comply with the Guidelines for Responsible Conduct of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

It is not appropriate for me to accept gifts, meals, or to be involved with your personal activities (family celebrations/birthdays, family outings).

I will request:
  • A list of any prescribed/ over-the-counter medications.
  • Your concerns/requests.
  • Your help to understand behaviors that you wish to address.
  • Questions about your family habits and daily routine.
  • Your opinion.
  • If you are dissatisfied with my services, please let me know. You may report your concerns to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
I do not disclose anything about our relationship. However the law provides confidentiality limitations in cases where:
  • I have your written consent to release information.
  • I have reasonable grounds to suspect abuse or neglect of a child, disabled adult, or an elder adult.
  • I am ordered by a judge to disclose information.


The current fee for my services is ____


  1. Anonymous9:58 AM

    Any decent BCBA would also make it clear that he/she will not be involved in the use of any restraints or seclusionary procedures. Unfortunately many parents are brainwashed by BCBA's into thinking this is necessary in some cases. What it really shows is that the BCBA is not doing his/her job and they are low quality.

  2. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Thanks for this post. My son started with an ABA agency last week (he has Aspergers & SPD). Aside from the fee (the state is picking up the tab), she covered everything listed in your post. I felt good about our first 2 visits, now I feel better. Good "what to expect" information. The only thing she didn't cover was a BIP, but happy to know that is within her scope if practice, I didn't think to ask.

  3. @Anonymous @9:58, is this personal experience or hearsay or one bad egg? I have never, ever heard of restraint or seclusionary recommendations by behavior analysts, not personally, not professionally, not within the regional IRL special needs community, not within the online special needs community.

    One point of this post is to encourage people to contact the BCBA and report inappropriate situations. But BCBA can only intervene on matters that are reported.

    @Anonymous @10:10 the internet exists so we can share brains and information! Glad to help out, and good luck.

  4. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Restraint and seclusion happen quite a lot in formal ABA programs, typically within school district programs and many times within ABA centers (NECC in Massachusetts is famous for these procedures). Not sure why you have never heard of this. It's not uncommon unfortunately.

  5. Anonymous3:06 PM

    This poor child lost his life there from an illegal restraint. And yes, this is from an official database. Restraints and seclusion are still commonly used there and routinely ordered and written into behavior plans by not only BCBA's but by PhD., BCBA's.


    Data Key:
    N/A -- Information not available
    P -- Physical restraint hold | M -- Mechanical restraint | S -- Seclusion
    H -- Hospital | R -- Residential facility
    (list has been modified to reflect only children and young adults ages 6-19)

    Notes on death
    Cause of death

    Bogrett, Jeffrey
    New England Center for Autism
    New Hampshire boy died in restraints at a Massachusetts group home.
    Sudden death during restraint

    Tue May 13, 10:05:00 AM EDT

    For those of you with a child who has been abused or for those of you who know of abuse that has occurred, could you please see if your school's or institution's name has been added, and if not, could you email me tcfpbis@gmail.com with that info? Your personal information will not be shared, just the name and location of the school or institution and the reason it was added, so as to protect privacy and/or from retaliation.

    To see the full listing, please click the following link: http://tcfpbis.blogspot.com/2009/10/state-by-state-listing-of-locations_24.html

  6. Citing rare, horrible, negative BCBA therapist instances as a sole response to a posting about evaluating a behavior analyst is akin to antivaccinationists shrieking about rare adverse vaccine reactions in response to Bill Gates's "Decade of Vaccine" campaign.

    I am trying to help parents help their kids. Try to keep that in mind, please. If you want people to take your cautionary words seriously, try using a balanced approach. And a name other than Anonymous.

  7. Anonymous4:49 AM

    First of all, if you were in the industry you would know that this is not that rare. I believe all that was being stated was that any good BCBA would include that no corporal punishment would be used in their program. I know several who include this wording in their contracts. Parents should insist on it.

  8. Anonymous4:57 AM


    A great article on the misuse of restraints no doubt ordered by a low level BCBA.

  9. @Anonymous

    You obviously have a good deal of passion for this topic, and possibly even useful information to share. However, when you write assumptions such as "...no doubt ordered by a low level BCBA," you undermine your credibility.

    The use of restraints and seclusion is a fine-print addition to this discussion, and as such can stay here in the comments, so readers can glean the constructive information from among all the alarmist assertions.

  10. Anonymous8:33 PM

    The use of restraint is not (or should not be) used as an intervention but is sometimes necessary when there is a safety concern and the individual needing restraint is a danger to himself or others. BCBA's are under ethical obligation to use reinforcement procedures rather than punishment or restraint, but there are times when danger of aggressive or self-injurious behaviors outweighs the aversiveness of using restraint. This is often seen in individuals who have not received behavioral treatments to increase functional communication skills and decrease maladaptive behaviors from an early age, and have instead learned to receive reinforcement from using such dangerous behaviors. Any behavior analyst in this situation may need to initially utilize restraint procedures to keep all parties involved safe, while simultaneously working on extinguishing these behaviors and increasing functional skills.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.