Tips for Behavior Analysts in Public Policy

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Matt McAlear, M.A., BCBA

Executive Dir of CalABA & Co-Owner of Kids Overcoming

Dawn Mackey & Jamie Pagliaro


Dawn Mackey of Rethink recently hosted a webinar with Matt McAlear, M.A. BCBA, Executive Director of the California Association for Behavior Analysis (CalABA).  Matt has spent considerable time lobbying lawmakers to help ensure a bright future for the field, and called on all behavior analysts to get involved.

Why is public policy important?

Unquestionably, the practice of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is growing by leaps and bounds every year.  Matt cited data from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) showing nearly 25,000 BCBAs and BCBA-Ds currently, and growing at a rate of approximately 4,000 each year.  Even more staggering is the growth of Registered Behavioral Technicians (RBTs).  Matt’s data show that we now have over 27,000 RBTs – and in only three years.

But given the incredible growth of the practice, the numbers above are tiny compared to related professions.  For instance, while California has surpassed 4,000 BCBAs, Speech-Language Pathologists in CA number over 12,000, while Occupational Therapists number over 16,000, according to Matt.

Our rapid growth, yet relatively small size, has created a need to persue legislation that ensures the continued growth of ABA in a responsible manner while providing the highest quality services and ethical standards possible.  Licensure, currently in place in over half of states in the U.S. is one such example – but it has taken years to get that far.  Ultimately, public policy has enormous influence over the practice of ABA, and no one is going to advocate for the field except for members of our own field and the families we have served.  Towards this end, Matt offered several pieces of advice to keep in mind when talking with legislators, two of which are described below:

Lose the jargon.

As behavior analysts, we pride ourselves on our technical language.  It offers precision in our research, assessments, and interventions and allows members of the field to communicate effectively.  But legislators aren’t behavior analysts, so don’t talk to them like they are – lose the jargon.  After all, language is operant behavior maintained by consequences.  Be able to see when your language isn’t working and change it up based on your audience.  Topography isn’t as important as function.

Be respectful.

Legislators are busy people.  They are tasked with generating policies that affect entire states.  In the grand scheme of things, ensuring a healthy future for ABA is merely one of hundreds of issues brought to their attention each year.  So, if you are finding legislators or their staff are difficult to pin down for a meeting, don’t take it personally.  Remember that you are a professional representing the field of ABA to policy makers.  Maintaining your composure, patience, and candor will pay off in the long run.

To hear about the many other useful tips Matt had to offer, you will have to join Rethink to access the full webinar.  You will also hear about the tremendous efforts currently under way by CalABA, including a Political Action Committee for ABA, and a CalABA-sponsored mentorship network to turn ABA clinicians into ethically responsible entrepreneurs with a solid business foundation.

How have you impacted the field through public policy?  Let us know in the comments below and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, bSciStudios and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Matt McAlear, M.A., BCBA is the Executive Director of the California Association for Behavior Analysis (CalABA) and the co-founder of Kids Overcoming (KOI), a behavioral health service provider. Matt has dedicated his career to successfully developing and leading programs focused on the needs of individuals with disabilities and the professionals who serve them.  His areas of interest outside of the delivery of ABA services include public policy efforts in support of behavior analysts and the development and dissemination of sustainable business practices.

He has also served on state and national task forces to establish best practice guidelines for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders and for the development of services for individuals with intellectual disabilities.  In addition, Matt has been a speaker and consultant at the national and international levels. Matt holds a bachelors of social work from Marist College, a masters of special education from San Francisco State University and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.  McAlear lives in Oakland, California with his wife and two young children.

Rethink Behavioral Health provides the tools every behavioral health provider needs to manage their practice and deliver quality ABA treatment effectively & efficiently. Rethink’s easy to use web-based software streamlines client care with sophisticated yet intuitive tools for both clinicians & administrators. For more information, visit

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