Becoming a Behavioral Intervention Specialist
You’re an 11-year-old sitting in a classroom. Your teacher, Miss Homina, stands at the front of the class, wearing a brown sweater with a shiny dragonfly brooch. Your eyes lock onto the brooch, and study the light reflecting off it. You squint to see if you can bend the light and make the dragonfly sparkle differently. Nothing.
Find a School
Miss Homina is saying something about nouns and how they’re not the same thing as subjects or objects.
You look over and see Susie drumming her fingers on the edge of her desk. Rat-t-t-t-…Rat-t-t-t. The rhythm lodges in your head and Miss Homina’s voice again recedes into the background. You lose yourself in the tapping of fingers and begin to replicate the pattern with your own fingers. You hear a family sound—your name—in the background, but don’t give it much notice.
“Jackson!” It’s Miss Homina. “Jackson. You just lost recess. For the last time, you need to focus.”
You fume at your desk. It’s been another rotten day. You couldn’t find your homework to turn in on time. You aren’t keeping up with your schoolwork. And now this.
- What is it like?
- Can I get a job?
- What salary can I expect?
- How do I get a job as a Behavioral Intervention Specialist?
For many children, going to grade school is a joyful experience. It’s a time to see friends, spend time with a caring teacher, and discover the joys of books, science, and history.
However, many children with special needs have a far different impression of school. For these children, school is a time when they find themselves getting in trouble with their teachers, getting made fun of by other children, and becoming frustrated by their schoolwork.
What does a behaviorist do?
A psychological behaviorist attempts to understand both human and animal behaviors by focusing on the external environment. Instead of focusing on an individual’s internal motivation, a behaviorist first looks at the external physical stimuli that acted on the person, and then studies the responses the person made to the environment. Next, the behaviorist observes how that person responds when the stimulus is changed, and makes note of a person’s learning history. Finally, the behaviorist offers a list of positive and negative reinforcements that should help mold the person’s behavior in a desirable way. Among the most famous psychological behaviorists are Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.
For example, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have difficulty focusing on the teachers’ instruction and often misbehave. A child with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) might have a counting ritual that makes it difficult to attend to the lesson. Children with anger issues have difficulty making and keeping friends, and can act out when the subject matter feels too hard. A child with Asperger’s syndrome can quite easily experience sensory overload from the normal commotion of class, or even from sensitivity to fluorescent lighting. This overload might cause the child to inappropriately shout or even run out of the classroom.
Each case presents a unique challenge to appropriate classroom instruction. The child’s disorder contributes to inappropriate behavior that keeps him or her from learning. It also potentially bothers the other students, further disrupting classroom instruction.
While many teachers have awareness of a broad range of childhood disorders and are highly skilled at appropriately responding to children’s misbehaviors, additional support is frequently needed. Teachers aren’t formally trained in child psychology, and therefore may not fully understand how a child’s diagnosis contributes to his or her inappropriate behavior. Additionally, budget constraints often result in teachers having less than ideal student-teacher ratios, making it that much more difficult to deal adequately with behavior problems.
This is where a behavioral intervention specialist steps in—to provide an objective look at the child’s behavior and create behavioral modification plans to help the child succeed in the classroom.
What is it like?
Unlike a classroom teacher who works with large groups of children, a behavioral intervention specialist (BIS) is tasked with observing an individual child’s behavior. He or she will travel from classroom to classroom, and very likely from school to school. Therefore, it’s important for a BIS to own a reliable vehicle and keep accurate mileage reports for reimbursement.
Initially, a behavioral intervention specialist will simply observe the child in a classroom setting and watch his or her behavior. The specialist attempts to get a handle on how often the child misbehaves, and what “antecedent behavior” triggered the misbehavior. The BIS then creates a plan and suggests it to the teacher. He or she might offer to model a new technique, or train the teacher in the new strategy.
Presenting this plan can present a challenge, as some teachers may feel insecure about their own skills or outright disagree with the notion that the child needs special treatment at all. Thus, the BIS will need to find ways to build strong rapport with teachers, so they can suggest these new strategies to teachers without offending them.
Specialists also attend case review meetings with the multi-disciplinary team. The composition of the multi-disciplinary team varies from school district to school district, but generally includes school psychologists, the child’s psychiatrist, and school administrators. During these meetings, representatives from each discipline share their observations of the child from their unique vantage points, in order to coordinate treatment.
In addition to these meetings, the BIS will attend meetings to formalize the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The student’s parents or guardians are included in these meetings. By partnering together to understand the child’s strengths and weaknesses, you work together to set goals for the child’s treatment and success in the school system.
It’s in these settings that the BIS will help the parent understand, in practical terms, just how a child’s diagnosis is impacting the child’s behavior. Many parents feel overwhelmed having a special needs child, and struggle to understand the disorder. A skillful behavioral intervention specialist can interpret a child’s psychological testing results into language that parents and teachers can understand, so that both can better serve the child.
In some school districts, behavioral intervention specialists might also run group therapy sessions for students who struggle with substance abuse or other behavioral issues. Also, depending on the school district, BISs are required to keep current on developments in school psychology by attending in-service workshops, seminars, and other professional meetings.
Can I get a job?
Employment in this field is expected to grow 22 percent through 2020, above average for all occupations. In most school districts, a master’s level education is required to become a behavioral intervention specialist. Those who have a doctoral degree in psychology or in a behavioral specialty will improve their chances even further.
In addition to the public school system, there’s a high demand for behavioral specialists in group homes, residential treatment centers, and early intervention centers. Some school districts contract with local mental health agencies to provide behavioral specialists and other emotional support services. Therefore, it’s worth your time to not only look for work within public school systems but also within the social service sector.
Other employment opportunities for behavioral intervention specialists include drug, alcohol, or gambling counseling for adults.
What salary can I expect?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average mean wage for a behavioral intervention specialist in elementary through secondary schools is $68,780. This salary varies by region of the country, the work experience of the professional, as well as his or her educational experience.
How do I get a job as a Behavioral Intervention Specialist?
There are a variety of undergraduate programs which provide relevant training, including psychology, sociology, human services, and behavioral science. But again, a master’s degree is usually required for those wishing to become behavioral intervention specialists.
Several universities are responding to the growing need for behavioral interventionists, and have created master’s programs specific to this subset of school psychology. Coursework includes the foundations and legal issues associated with special education, effective interventions in math and literature classes, special education assessment, and multicultural issues. Other applicants have prepared themselves through master’s programs in applied psychology or applied behavioral analysis.
The final step to becoming a BIS is to earn your credentials through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board; a list of approved university programs can be found at the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website.
Schools Offering Accredited Education Programs
WELCOME TO KAPLAN UNIVERSITY
Online Education That Fits Your Life
For 80 years, we’ve been preparing students for career success. We’ve led the wayso that our students can too.
Globally Renowned Purdue to Acquire Kaplan University
Purdue University, one of the nation's most respected universities, will acquire Kaplan University and create a new, nonprofit, public institution within the Purdue system. Pending regulatory approvals, this exciting transition is expected to take place later this year. This change will be seamless—during the transition, you will still be able to enroll at Kaplan University, earn a high-quality education, and meet your educational and career goals.
- MS in Psychology - Applied Behavior Analysis Specialization
Recognized by the U.S. News and World Report for: Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s 2017, Best Online Programs, Grad Education 2017 and Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s for Veterans 2017
- Conflict Resolution (Master of Arts) - Online
CTU can help you connect to what matters most: a powerful professional network, faculty who are real-world professionals and innovative technology. And now several CTU degree programs are ranked by U.S. News Best Online Programs for 2015. Are you in?
- Doctor of Management - Environmental and Social Sustainability (Executive Format)
Top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers its innovative Master of Social Work program online so students can make a lasting positive impact in their communities. Aspiring practitioners attend online classes with an average of just 12 students so they can get to know each other and expert faculty.
- Master of Social Work
- Northcentral University was founded in 1996 to provide working professionals around the world with unprecedented access to richly engaging, professionally relevant, and academically-rigorous education from a U.S. university.
- As a regionally accredited, private, online and graduate-focused university, NCU offers doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business, technology management, education, and psychology, as well as doctoral and master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy.
- Gender Diversity Studies - MA in Psychology
- Gender Diversity Studies - PhD of Psychology
- Master of Arts in Ministry - Pastoral Care and Counseling
Online Learning at Concordia University-Portland
If education is your passion, Concordia University-Portland is your university. One of the most respected names in learning today, Concordia offers several fully online Master of Education (MEd) programs—most of which can completed in one year—and a fully online Doctorate of Education (EdD) program. Our graduates stand out with the skills, integrity, and compassion necessary to meet the ever-changing needs of students today. Together, we're all making an impact in education.
- M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction: Curriculum & Instruction: Early Childhood Education
As a community of initiative, University of the Southwest challenges graduates to become enterprising members of our society contributing to the common good by advocating and participating in the productive commerce of free enterprise, the constitutional privilege of self-government, and the practical contributions of community service.
- MSE Educational Diagnostics
Fordham University’s online Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.) program prepares aspiring teachers (grades 1–6) to address the needs of today’s students. In addition to providing essential skills and experience, the M.S.T. program prepares students seeking initial teaching certification. The program offers two tracks: an M.S.T. in Childhood Education and an M.S.T. in Childhood Special Education (Dual Certification). Both combine live classes, interactive coursework, and placement experiences to prepare students to become effective teachers.
- MS in Teaching-Childhood Education
As a student at South University, you will have the opportunity to learn from accomplished faculty members who have real-world experience in the subjects that they teach. Our small class sizes allow you to receive personalized attention from instructors, and the encouragement to recognize your goals for the future and the means to achieve them.
- Doctor of Ministry