The United States Has A Severe Shortage Of ABA Therapists

The United States is experiencing a shortage of trained providers of applied behavior analysis, or ABA. ABA currently treats 64% of people affected by autism.

While ABA isn’t the only therapy used to help those with autism, it is the most common. It uses positive reinforcement, antecedents and consequences, and goal behaviors to strengthen communication skills, improve attention and social skills, and decrease problem behaviors.

According to the latest results from the CDC, autism rates are at 1 in 59 children. It’s still about four times as common in boys as it is in girls.

This is the first time the availability of ABA has ever been reviewed, and the results are sobering.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Aaron Amat

The study was published in the journal Psychiatric Services and led by Yidan Xue Zhang and Janet R. Cummings of Emory University.

Looking at data from 2018 provided by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, which certifies ABA providers, researchers were able to to pinpoint the per capita supply of therapists in each state.

Even when researchers accounted for the possibility of every certified ABA therapist taking on double the recommended caseload, the number of therapists was still below the threshold in 42 states as well as Washington, D.C.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Oksana Kuzmina

Most states don’t have enough therapists. However, the entire Northeast had the greatest availability of ABA therapists. One state, Massachusetts, actually exceeded the number of providers they needed to serve the population of autistic children.

States that spent more money on public education and places that had higher median household incomes had more ABA professionals than those that spent less.

Photo: Adobe Stock/

Simply put, more people need to be certified to be ABA therapists.

“Given the increasing prevalence of ASD among youths, new workforce policies may be needed to improve the supply of ABA providers in the United States to meet the needs of this population,” wrote the study’s authors in their findings.

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