How Special Education Teachers Can Benefit From a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis

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 form 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.

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 also perform many of the same duties as general education teachers, such as planning and coordinating 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 must create assignments that are aligned with 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 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, 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 techniques special educators can learn in order 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 individual 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 improved targeted development areas, such as responsivity to stimuli and cues, self-sufficiency, and social interactions, and personal motivation.
  • Natural Environment Training (NET) – This system involves reviewing the reward systems that the 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 applied behavior analysis (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 theories and techniques that can be incorporated in creating individual treatment strategies for students with 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 a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

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 also possibly increase their long-term earning potential.

Learn More

The online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis 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 starting out or seeking advancement in the field. If you are interested in developing a deeper understanding of human behavior to prepare for a potential career as a special education teacher, Regis encourages you to learn more about the MS ABA degree program today.

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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Special Education Teachers”

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”

USA Today, “Special education teacher shortage creates opportunity for students”