Benefits of Earning an ABA for Special Education Teachers

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While all students should have access to a high-quality education, some require individualized teaching programs that suit their unique learning styles. Special education teachers are trained to apply their knowledge of education, behavior, and human development to educate students who have learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a set of principles that forms the basis for a variety of behavioral interventions.

Earning a master’s in applied behavior analysis can equip special education teachers with the tools to facilitate a more impactful learning experience for students with disabilities. Weaving ABA into special education can enhance opportunities for students to make progress toward their goals.

ABA Therapy Basics

ABA therapy is based on the science behind learning and behavior. The primary goals of ABA therapy are to increase behaviors that are helpful, and to decrease behaviors that are harmful or impede learning.

ABA is a flexible therapy involving a number of possible approaches for understanding and changing behavior. It is tailored to an individual’s specific needs and abilities, and can be used to improve communication skills, strengthen attention and focus, and decrease problem behaviors. Continuous evaluation throughout ABA therapy enables the measurement of an individual’s progress in working toward established goals.

Skills Required for Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers have unique skills that make them well suited to incorporate ABA with special education classrooms. Special education teachers need to be able to demonstrate the following essential skills.

  • Assessing students’ needs and collecting data to determine whether students are making progress in achieving their goals
  • Modifying and adapting instruction to meet each student’s individual needs
  • Maintaining good communication with school administrators, psychologists, and therapists to ensure that students can benefit from the most efficient plan
  • Exhibiting compassion and understanding with their students, identifying their students’ strengths, and recognizing the challenges their students face both in school and outside of school

Special Educator Roles and Responsibilities

Special education teachers provide academic support services for students of all ages, from preschoolers to high schoolers. Examples of their roles and responsibilities are outlined below.

Developing Programs for Students

Special education teachers develop individualized education programs (IEPs). IEPs detail customized instructional approaches to accommodate the specific needs of each student.

Planning Assignments and Activities

Like general education teachers, special education teachers plan and coordinate assignments and activities for their students. However, special educators often approach these tasks in different ways. While general education teachers may have a uniform approach for addressing an entire class, special education teachers create assignments that are aligned with each student’s academic abilities.

Tracking Progress

Special educators track the performance of their students. They then update their students’ IEPs based on whether their students have met certain goals. Special educators also communicate their observations with parents and caregivers so they can keep track of their children’s progress.

Ways to Apply ABA in Special Education Settings

When working with students who have disabilities, teachers and behavior specialists have a range of techniques they can apply in the classroom to optimize their students’ educational processes. These are a few examples of ABA techniques special educators can learn to expand their professional capabilities.

  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT) – This process involves observing complex student behaviors and breaking them down into a number of smaller, more practical components. Each element of that behavior is individually and successively reinforced by the educator to build up a desired behavior. In doing so, special education teachers may be able to teach essential skills.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) – PRT uses play-based activities to improve targeted development areas, such as response to stimuli and cues, self-sufficiency, social interactions, and personal motivation.
  • Natural Environment Training (NET) – This system involves reviewing the reward systems students already rely on in their daily lives, and then pairing those rewards with desired behaviors. This facilitates a natural pattern of learning and adjustment that students with disabilities can more easily navigate.

Should Aspiring Special Education Teachers Earn a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis?

Earning a graduate degree in special education is a typical entry point for teaching special education, but earning an additional master’s degree in ABA can help career-driven special educators enhance their job qualifications and, most importantly, expand the range of services they can provide to their students.

ABA master’s programs explore a range of practical theories and techniques. These can be incorporated into creating individual treatment strategies for students and can be applied to a variety of behavioral or learning disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developmental disability, or learning disabilities.

The competencies gained in these master’s programs — such as conducting systematic assessments, implementing behavior-based intervention programs, and collecting data to measure progress — are highly valuable to many institutions that employ special educators. After successfully completing a master’s program, students may choose to continue working toward advanced certifications.

Graduate-level ABA programs equip graduates with many of the skills to develop effective strategies to teach students with disabilities. Therefore, earning a Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis can create opportunities for graduates to gain advantages in the job market and also possibly increase their long-term earning potential.

Using ABA in Special Education Strengthens Opportunities for Success

Using ABA in special education can lead to rewarding outcomes for both teachers and students. Individuals who are interested in learning more about ABA can explore the Regis College masters in Applied Behavior Analysis online program.

The program helps graduates prepare for success in a number of possible career fields, including special education. Designed for students from a wide variety of backgrounds, the curriculum blends research and hands-on experience for students starting out or seeking advancement in the field.

Learn more about incorporating ABA into your special education career today.

Recommended Readings

What Are Some Examples of Positive Behavior Supports in the Classroom?

Behavior Intervention: Definition, Strategies, and Resources

The Importance of Parent Training in Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment


Autism Speaks, Applied Behavior Analysis

International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, “Effective ABA Programs for Certified Autism Specialists”

International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, “Improve Your Reach as a Certified Autism Specialist”

Journal of Pedagogical Research, “Investigating Special Education Teachers’ Knowledge and Skills: Preparing General Teacher Preparation for Professional Development”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Education Teachers

USA Today, “Special Education Teacher Shortage Creates Opportunity for Students”