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Behavioral skills can help someone flourish in school, work, home, and social settings. A registered behavior technician® (RBT®) works one-on-one with children, teens, or adults, addressing unique challenges so people can learn new skills and increase their capacity for communication, autonomy, and connection.

What’s it like to be an RBT working with children on the autism spectrum? We interviewed Simone Burgess, an RBT with the BAYADA Pennsauken Center for Applied Behavior Analysis , about her work. What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

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How did you become interested in working as a registered behavior technician? What drew you to it? How long have you been doing it? 

I was grappling with my career path when finishing my psychology degree.

Coincidentally, I had a friend who was an RBT and recommended the role to me. I began watching clips of how parents worked with their children on the autism spectrum. The hook for me was how your work with someone can elicit a calmer demeanor, behavior changes, and progress.

I’ve been an RBT for one year, and I enjoy it so much that I recently applied to Rowan University’s master’s program to become a board-certified behavior analyst® (BCBA®). I’ve also started educating with the BAYADA RBT® Academy, helping others certify as RBTs.

Briefly explain what you do as an RBT. What types of patients do you serve? What ages are they, and how are they approved for the program? What do you provide for them? 

As an RBT, I work one-on-one with children using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a type of therapy considered the gold standard for learning and skills practice for individuals with autism. Before coming to our center, children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Then, they undergo an assessment with a BAYADA Board Certified Behavior Analyst to evaluate skills and goals and to determine their unique ABA program. As RBTs, we collaborate with BCBAs on all aspects of care and receive supervision. Some RBTs work with children with developmental disabilities; our center works primarily with children on the spectrum.

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Our center’s setting for an ABA session is nothing like a clinical therapy office. It’s full of toys for engagement and supplies for painting—clients’ art projects adorn the walls. We do a lot of Natural Environment Teaching (NET), letting each child choose their activity or guide them to one. Within NET, I’ll prompt children to respond through visualization or narrate what they are working on.

Children are at the center for half or full days. Tasks like independent eating or bathroom usage are, naturally, essential parts! Some children are new to environments other than their homes, so the plan to help encourage independence varies based on the child. We always offer food without forcing it to prevent unintended fear. I work with 2-3 clients per day.

Each child’s needs and ABA programs are different. One child has difficulty transitioning to discrete trial training (DTT), an ABA methodology that breaks down skills into small components, like flashcards. I patiently wait until she’s ready. When she gets there, we offer praise, a significant part of ABA therapy.

Did you need to get additional education to become an RBT? 

All RBTs complete the Registered Behavior Technician® certification and 40-hour training, which includes lectures, Q&A, observing clients, and skill-based assessments. Guided by a BCBA, we assess how trainees apply their knowledge to clients, equipping them with plenty of support and suggestions for improvement. While you don’t need a background in mental health to be an RBT, getting the right training is essential.

What do you like most about working in your job? 

I worked with one child who had limited language. With ABA, his language has progressed so much that he can communicate his wants. His anger and frustration decreased when he learned communication skills through Natural Environment Teaching. Seeing improvements and the desire children have to become independent is so meaningful. ABA isn’t about changing our clients—we are trying to help them have more appropriate skills for life. Also, you never know what to expect, and no two days are the same. I find this part so fun!

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What are your biggest challenges? 

Children feed off your energy, leading to increased behaviors, so staying calm and uplifting is key. This includes having a neutral face and tone and keeping your body and mind centered as you navigate high-intensity moments.

What are the most significant rewards in your work? 

The biggest reward is watching children as they start versus seeing their progress a few months later. I even enjoy watching the changes with clients I’m not working with. It feels like something we all get to celebrate.

Is there anything else that is important for our readers to know? 

The job requires a lot of multitasking—I’m constantly inputting notes based on my sessions while providing instruction and close attention. Being an RBT is something you have to have a special heart for. Ultimately, your bond with the children you work with makes the role so fulfilling.

Renee Hewitt
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