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I Want to Leave ABA – Alternative Careers for RBTs and BCBAs

  1. Where can I work if I only have my HS diploma?
  2. What can I do with an associate’s?
    1. Associate’s in a specialty:
    2. Associate’s in a general field:
  3. Bachelor’s Degree

I cringe when I see ads from my college to join their ABA clinic. I see the appeal. They market it as a way for psychology (and related majors) to get experience in their interested field without a bachelor’s degree. That’s very attractive considering that most psychology jobs require a master’s to practice.

It appeals to the desire to help others and advance your career. “Help these poor children with autism have a better life and gain experience in your field!”

They don’t mention how they can pay you less because you don’t have a college degree. They don’t mention the controversy surrounding ABA or how underprepared most RBTs are because of their level of education and experience.

I get the appeal. It’s the whole reason I was in ABA in the first place. I wanted to work in my field and help people. I didn’t know anything about autism beforehand and ABA was sold to me as this novel way of improving people’s lives. I was young, naive, and my labor was exploited as a consequence.

One of the most common questions I get is, “I want to leave ABA, but I don’t know where to go. How do I get experience in my field?”

It’s a question that I also struggled with when leaving ABA. It seemed like I was walking away from a golden opportunity to be prepared when I entered graduate school and my career.

I regret how long I stayed in ABA. The longer I stayed, the more unethical situations I encountered, and the worse my burnout became. In the moment I couldn’t see anything except how much I’d be missing out on by leaving. I didn’t realize how many opportunities exist for working in my field without a degree that doesn’t require me to work against my values.

Where can I work if I only have my HS diploma?

If you’re in a similar situation, you have a high school diploma as it’s required to work as an RBT. So, let’s start there.

  • Mentoring (avg. $16.24 /hr) – the first job I took after leaving was a mentoring position. These positions typically involve working with youth and providing support, academic guidance, or chaperoning. If working with students with disabilities is your passion, you may look into your college’s disability center, schools in your area, or youth camps.

  • Special needs nanny (avg. $21 /hr) – often parents of kids with disabilities have difficulty finding reliable individuals to babysit or watch their kids. Nannying can pay well, especially if you’re required to have a more intensive care role. This will allow you to bond with a disabled child without the pressure of practicing any type of therapy.

  • Direct support staff (avg. $15.23 /hr) – direct support staff work in-home or at a center dedicated to treating individuals with disabilities. I recommend this with caution. Many direct support places for individuals with disabilities have inhuman treatment and services. Many can be equal to or worse situations to work in than ABA clinics. And many undertrain their staff, the work is intensive, and they don’t put in enough safety protocols to maintain wellbeing. That being said – if you can find a reputable company that treats their employees well, this can give you experience working with individuals with disabilities and be meaningful work. Edit – I was informed by a reader that direct support staff are sometimes trained using ABA materials and techniques. Keep this in mind when looking for companies.
  • Respite staff/personal care attendant (avg. $12.75/hr) – respite staff work one on one with clients with disabilities and usually help in the home with care tasks, recreation, and other needed tasks. This is similar to direct support staff in both type of work and job risks (emotionally and physically demanding, with many exploitative companies), but the work can be very rewarding and allows you to get to know an individual better than a group home where you would typically be in charge of multiple people.
  • Rehabilitation aide (avg. $15.71 /hr) – rehab aides help physical therapists with patient care and miscellaneous office tasks.

  • Research assistant (avg. $20.8 /hr) – research assistants help perform research of all types. A psychology research aide may help conduct research, analyze, or prepare manuscripts.

  • Tutoring (avg. $18.31 /hr) – tutoring is another great direct support role with kids. There are centers dedicated to special education, usually focused on reading and writing.

  • Social services (social work) assistant (avg. $19 /hr) – social services assistants provide general support for patients in clinical settings. This can include helping fill out paperwork, coordinating care, or other office tasks. While only a high school degree is required, some companies require an associate’s or higher degree.

  • Accessibility staff (avg. $17 /hr) – this has different names depending on where you work, but accessibility staff provides support for people with disabilities in businesses or other locations. For example, if you are an accessibility staff at a college, you may be in charge of reading tests or assignments, taking notes, and talking to professors to get support for your client. Look into accessibility services at whatever location you’re interested in working in.

  • Paraprofessional (avg. $15 /hr) – paras help students with disabilities in the classroom and during other activities during the day. You may have some teaching responsibilities, but most of your duties will be assisting students with their needs and helping with academics. Some paras do provide ABA. It depends on the school, district, and special education classroom that you work in.

  • After-school teaching or teaching assistant (avg. $14.5 /hr) – teaching generally requires an advanced degree, but teaching after-school or summer programs typically doesn’t. This can be a great flexible part-time job, especially if you’re pursuing school. Teaching assistants have similar flexibility but have much more to do with assisting the professor or teacher in their tasks than directly interacting with students. Teaching assistants for special education will generally involve more direct interaction.

  • Case manager assistant (avg. $23 /hr) – case management assistants work under the guidance of a case manager and will often meet with clients to find out their unique needs. They will often locate resources, contact providers, advocate for clients, and support the needs of the case manager.

  • Crisis line worker (avg. $21 /hr) – if you can handle the stress of a job like this, crisis lines can be a meaningful way of helping people in the community. Crisis line workers typically answer calls of people experiencing mental health crises and talk with them to help de-escalate the situation.
  • Volunteer – this may not be the most feasible option depending on your situation, but it can be a great way to build experience in your chosen field. Because you are giving your time, generally, there are not a lot of barriers to becoming a volunteer, and as long as you follow the organization’s rules, you don’t have to worry about being “fired.” This can be part-time while you work in an unrelated field and act as a springboard into a more permanent position.

Read on for information about what associates you can get to pursue a long-term career.

What can I do with an associate’s?

There are not many human services careers you can do with an associate’s that you can’t do without one. There are two sections here I want to talk about. If you don’t already have an associate’s, there are some specialties you can get one in that can become full-time careers. If you already have an associate’s, there is also an option for you.

Associate’s in a specialty:

  • Occupational therapy assistant (avg. $30 /hr)- if you go through an occupational therapy assistant program, you can help implement an OTs plan for a client. This is similar to an RBT in that you are implementing therapy, however, you have two years of schooling specifically about the profession to help aid you in the best and ethical choices. OT assistants work in a variety of settings, similar to an OT.

  • Speech-language pathology assistant (avg. $24.5 /hr) – similar to occupational therapy assistants, SLPAs implement speech therapy under the direction of an SLP.

Associate’s in a general field:

  • Mental health or psychiatric technician (avg. $17 /hr) – mental health technicians oversee patient care and administer. There are four levels, with the higher the level allowing for more specialization. Level 1 requires a high school diploma, 2 requires 480 hours of college, level 3 requires 960 hours, and level 4 requires a bachelor’s degree. Some mental health/psychiatric tech jobs require certification courses.

Bachelor’s Degree

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain access to many more careers in psychology.

  • Mental health rehabilitation specialist (avg. $22 /hr) – MH rehab specialists work with people experiencing difficulty with their mental health and help people learn how to cope and manage their illness.

  • Case manager (avg. $20 /hr) – case managers are responsible for managing cases for individuals with disabilities. They connect people to services, organize accessibility support and ensure that their care is optimal.

  • Child development specialist (avg. $20 /hr)- these specialists monitor and evaluate children’s development. Based on their evaluation, they work with parents and other providers to implement activities to support the child’s development.

  • Disability policy worker (avg. $23 /hr) – policy workers lobby for laws that support disabled people’s rights and advocate in the public sphere for better treatment of disabled people. While this has less of a caregiver position, it can be a good way of making a societal change to improve the lives of disabled people.

  • Psychological stress (polygraph) evaluator (avg. $28 /hr)- a psychological stress evaluator monitors and administers polygraph tests to indicate the truthfulness of statements.

  • Victim’s advocate (avg. $18 /hr) – advocates help victims after a crime has happened and will help connect the person with community resources. They can be a source of emotional support for victims and often provide various help, including legal support, intervention with employers, and submitting applications for government help.

  • Partial care worker (avg. $17 /hr) – partial care workers typically operate out of live-in facilities, help provide outpatient groups, support the facility’s scheduled activities, provide care and advocate for patients.

  • Teacher (avg. $26 /hr) – even if you didn’t get your degree in education, most places allow teachers to obtain a provisional license with any bachelor’s degree, provided you can pass the exam. Look up your area’s requirements for teaching licensure.

  • Social services specialist (avg. $20 /hr) – social services specialists interview families or individuals and determine risk, needs, and intervention scope. They arrange services, contact relevant agencies, and help arrange placements in facilities if needed. They may also help organize vocational help and other employment assistance. Many places allow you to work in this role with a bachelor’s degree and experience in the field, though some sites require a master’s degree.

Hopefully, this gives you an idea of some alternatives to working in ABA that allow you to still care for disabled people. If any of the information above is inaccurate or incomplete, please let me know so I can adjust. Or, if there are any careers I missed, feel free to add!

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