How ABA Special Education Teachers Benefit from Advanced Degrees

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

Teachers trained in ABA special education use evidence-based interventions to promote behaviors and habits that enable classroom learning. Special education professionals with ABA expertise can also use their skills to support students outside the classroom — teaching behavioral regulation skills to support students, their families, and their communities.

Explore how earning a   can equip special education teachers with the tools to facilitate a more impactful learning experience for students with disabilities.

Special Educator Roles and Responsibilities

Special education teachers provide academic support services for students of all ages, from preschoolers to high schoolers. They develop individualized education programs (IEPs) that detail customized instructional approaches to accommodate the specific needs of each student.

Special education teachers have similar responsibilities to general education teachers, such as giving their students assignments and activities. However, special educators typically carry out these tasks in different ways and must customize their approach for addressing their classes. Special education teachers are responsible for creating assignments tailored to each student’s academic abilities.

In addition to developing IEPs, special educators also assess the performance of their students and keep track of their progress. They then update their students’ IEPs based on whether the students have met certain goals. Special educators also communicate their observations to parents and other 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, behavior specialists have a range of tactics they can apply in the classroom to optimize their students’ educational processes. These are a few examples of ABA special education techniques teachers can learn to expand their professional capabilities.

  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT) – This process involves observing complex student behaviors and breaking them down into 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 minimize problem behaviors.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) – This technique is not focused on directly studying students’ behaviors. Rather, PRT uses play-based activities to improve targeted development areas, such as responsiveness to stimuli and cues, self-sufficiency, social interactions, and personal motivation.
  • Natural Environment Training (NET) – This system involves reviewing the reward systems that 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.

Benefits of Earning an Advanced Degree for Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers need to have at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the profession. Those teaching in a public school must also hold a state-issued certification or license, whereas private schools typically don’t require certification or licensure.

Earning a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, for example, can help career-driven special educators enhance their job qualifications and, most important, expand the range of services they can provide to their students.

ABA master’s programs explore theories and techniques that can be incorporated into individual treatment strategies for students. These strategies can address a variety of behavioral or learning disorders, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), developmental disability, or learning disabilities. The competencies gained in these 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 to become Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) .

Graduate-level ABA programs equip graduates with many of the skills they need 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 possibly increase their long-term earning potential.

Skills for ABA Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers who pursue specialized ABA training gain a tool kit for addressing their students’ behavioral and developmental challenges. Along the way, ABA special education teachers develop key professional skills.

  • Teamwork – Special education teachers must work closely with content teachers, parents, guardians, school counselors, and administrators to develop IEPs for their students. Developing positive working relationships is essential.
  • Communication skills – ABA special education teachers need to demonstrate what they know. In addition to understanding ABA principles, teachers must be able to communicate these concepts to students and their families.
  • Flexibility – What works for one student may not work for another, so special education teachers need to understand how to adapt their practices to fit their students’ learning styles.
  • Patience – Most behavioral issues do not change overnight. In special education, teachers must learn to approach their work calmly and with patience and adopt a long-term approach to their students’ progress.

Propel Your Special Education Career with an Advanced Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis

The masters in Applied Behavior Analysis online program at Regis College helps graduates prepare for success in a number of possible career fields, including special education. Designed for students from a wide variety of health science backgrounds, the program blends research and hands-on experience for students just starting out or seeking advancement in the field.

If you’re interested in developing a deeper understanding of human behavior, learn more about the MS ABA degree program to prepare for your career as a special education teacher.

Recommended Reading

What Is Applied Behavioral Science and Why Is It Important?

ABA Therapy Examples, Definition, & Techniques

Behavior Intervention: Definition, Strategies, and Resources


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 & Outcomes as a Certified Autism Specialist

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

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