SOE Program Seeks to Address National Need for Applied Behavior Analysts

Applied Behavior Analysts work closely with individuals to improve their abilities.
Applied Behavior Analysts work closely with individuals to improve their abilities.

The School of Education is introducing a new graduate program in applied behavior analysis (ABA) during the summer of 2024 to help fill a nationwide need for board certified applied behavior analysts who employ a culturally relevant lens in their practice. 

The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) graduate program will be available online and can be completed as a stand-alone certificate, in which 22 credits are spread across four consecutive semesters. A special tuition rate of $600 per credit applies to all 22 credits in the ABA program. All credits from the certificate program can also be applied toward a 30-credit, online master’s degree in exceptional education, which can be completed online and in as few as five consecutive semesters. 

Coursework in the ABA certificate program and the exceptional education master’s degree program emphasizes social justice while addressing issues and trends related to equitable service delivery, according to Sara Jozwik, associate professor of teaching and learning, who co-led development of the ABA program with Elizabeth Drame, professor of teaching and learning and special assistant to the vice chancellor of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Denise Ross-Page, chair of inclusive education at Kennesaw State University. UWM doctoral candidate, Carisa Johnson, also plays a critical role in the ongoing coordination and management of the ABA graduate program.  

As a form of therapy, applied behavioral analysis is evidence-based and focuses on building social skills, communication skills, academic skills, self-care skills, and motor dexterity. Principles of applied behavioral analysis are used in practice to increase helpful behaviors while decreasing harmful behaviors, where the categories of “helpful” and “harmful” are described with input from individuals with disability labels and/or their caregivers. The broader goal of applied behavioral analysis is to change socially significant behavior to a degree deemed meaningful to respective stakeholders, including individuals and caregivers. 

The curriculum for UWM’s graduate ABA program includes the Applied Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Verified Course Sequence (VCS). Along with coursework, candidates can complete experience hours and must pass a culminating exam to become Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). BCBAs can meet community needs in a wide range of settings. 

“BCBAs provide behavioral health support for children and youth with various support needs while working in school settings, health care agencies, or nonprofit organizations,” Jozwik said. 

Through skilled collaboration and the application of scientifically based principles, BCBAs can help individuals and families to set goals, implement supports, and establish routines that lead to socially significant changes in behavior, she added.  

There is an increasing demand for behavioral health services, which may be covered through insurance. “Insurance requires evidence-based practice and applied behavior analysis is evidence-based,” Jozwik said. 

The need for evidence-based services is particularly critical in southeastern Wisconsin.  

Families often rely on private insurance to access evidence-based services for children and youth with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. The demand for BCBAs exceeds the supply available in public sectors, therefore “access to behavioral health support is often restricted along the lines of race and socioeconomic status,” Jozwik said. 

One community partner with whom the UWM program is working offers comprehensive and specialized applied behavioral analysis therapy services. The partner’s location is accessible by public transit, and their services are covered through Wisconsin’s Forward Health/Medicaid program. However, the agency currently has a long waiting list because of staffing shortages.  

UWM’s program is working to address such shortages while infusing its curriculum with a focus fostering cultural humility and addressing knowledge gaps related to race and cultural factors, according to Jozwik.  

“We designed the courses in the program to encourage candidates to explore issues related to racial equity by including exercises that facilitate understanding of internal biases and exploration of systemic oppression,” Jozwik said. The goal, she added, is to develop applied behavior analysts who use communication skills and demonstrate competencies that serve the needs of our broader community while practicing with cultural humility.  

Because the courses for the certificate or degree program are all online, working professionals can self-pace their learning, according to Jozwik. “The advantage of this cost-effective program is that people can complete coursework anywhere, in any time zone.”