WTF is an Unrestricted Activity?

WTF is an Unrestricted Activity?

We get it, everyone’s confused and panicked about the upcoming changes to the BACB required categories of supervised experience. The panic doesn’t even stop at just students- even the supervisors are scared and uncertain! But what would SNABA be if we didn’t jump in and try to have your back in the midst of all this supervised chaos?? We are here to break down the new requirements and guidelines regarding unrestricted and restricted (previously AKA direct and indirect) hour accrual! WE GOT YOU!

As of Jan 1, 2022 all trainees accruing supervised experience towards their eligibility for the BCBA exam, have a whole new set of requirements. Of course, we HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest that you thoroughly read the new standards in their entirety on your own; this blog is focused on just one of the many changes in the document- the unrestricted hour requirement. 

First things first, what is a supervised activity? Supervisees that are accruing fieldwork and concentrated fieldwork hours with a BCBA supervisor can only “count” activities that allow a trainee to acquire “ the skills necessary to demonstrate competence of relevant tasks on the appropriate BACB Task List and the skills necessary to interact effectively with consumers, supervisors, families, and others” (BACB, 2020). As trainees work towards their total of 1500 (concentrated) or 2000 (not concentrated) supervised hours, they also must make sure that of these acceptable activities, at least 60% OR GREATER, fall into the category of “unrestricted hours.” The 60% designation applies to the entire accrual of supervised experience, so we don’t have to worry about meeting it every month as long as our percentages line up by the end of our supervised experience. Lots of supervisees accrue more restricted activities at first, transitioning to more unrestricted activities as they gain necessary skills.

Type of Supervised Experience Minimum # Unrestricted Hours on Final EVF
Concentrated Fieldwork  900
Fieldwork 1200

So what COUNTS as an unrestricted activity? The BACB provides these guidelines:

Restricted Unrestricted
Delivering therapeutic and instructional procedures directly to a client Activities that are typically conducted by a BCBA

Wow….thanks…that’s…..vague. So how do we know whether an acceptable supervised activity is unrestricted or not? I like to use the following checklist to make sure that a particular activity is both acceptable AND unrestricted.

  1. Am I implementing a behavior plan as written? 
  2. Am I using a skill acquisition protocol to help my client learn something new? 
  3. Am I implementing behavior reduction or crisis procedures directly with my client?

If the answer is yes to any of these, then I conservatively would count these as restricted activities. But what should you do if you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions about a majority of the hours you are accruing? Time to get creative and collaborative! Supervision should be a time not just to work under your BCBA but to start gaining the skills to DO THEIR JOB! Ask for additional responsibilities that are outside of the typical RBT service scope. Have a meeting with your supervisor to discuss ways to add more unrestricted/BCBA-type activities to your regular schedule. Start seeking out and identifying off-the-clock ways to make behavior analysis part of your life every day IRL. 

Because we like to be helpful (#CMO-T), we also went ahead and put together a list of potential unrestricted activities for each “acceptable” activity supervised experience category as outlined by the BACB. Feel free to bring this list to your supervisor to start the conversation and get you on the right track to accruing more than 60% of your hours as unrestricted!

Please note that ALL fieldwork activities must be approved as acceptable by your responsible supervisor. The following are suggestions that may help you brainstorm with your BCBA about how to reach the required 60% unrestricted hour allocation throughout your supervision experience. 

Observation and data collection:

Practice defining target behaviors operationally and taking data on them as they occur in your real world. Use multiple measurement systems to compare the utility and accuracy of each in context. Do this with a partner to also practice calculating all 9 types of IOA and determining which is the most conservative. If IOA is low, identify possible causes and redesign your system, definition, or training. Take data to see if your solution worked. 

Watch videos of classrooms, trainings, or other settings in which you may work and practice observing and collecting data from multiple perspectives. Identify which behaviors may be socially significant using checklists and practice identifying cusps, pivotal behaviors, and replacement/alternatives that are functionally equivalent when measuring problem behavior. 

Training staff and caregivers on behavior-analytic programs or content:

Pull some programs from your supervisor or the internet and design a training to give in multiple settings to multiple audiences, adjusting your methodology as needed (individual staff, groups of parents, etc.)

Design mastery checks and competency evaluations for target behaviors you would want staff to perform in your future work setting. Practice taking data with a peer or partner and adjusting training if it is not effective at reaching the level of performance you deem appropriate. 

Design a self-management training to transfer the oversight of an existing program to the individual once services have ended. 

Conducting assessments:

Practice with the many assessments available in the BCBA world. You can conduct many of these with an untrained partner or peer. Practice giving the assessment, analyzing it, and writing a full report with recommendations for services. 

Practice conducting preference and skill assessments with an untrained peer or even a pet. Go through the process of conducting the assessment, take data, graphing it, analyzing it, and recommending solutions or services. 

Take time to learn a new assessment that is complex and put together an assessment kit you could use in your future practice (PEAK, VBMAPP, etc.)

Design FA protocols for all the versions of an FA and peer review them with a partner. Give suggestions for how to adjust the FA procedures to fit particular target behaviors, assessment results, and contexts. Practice drawing up consent forms and listing the risks and benefits of these assessments in language that can be understood by others. 

Graphing and analysis:

Graph anything and everything you can get a hold of! Practice using data sets with different dimensions, doing different kinds of graphs (bar, scatterplot, SCC, etc.), and using different methods (hand-drawn, Excel, Google sheets, etc.). 

Practice analyzing the graphs and explaining them in lay language that others can understand. In addition to visual analysis, what do your graphs MEAN? What important information have you displayed and how did it help you or others make decisions about the data? Do an interview with another BCBA about their graphing and analysis practices or ask another untrained person to interpret a graph that you have created. Identify areas for improvement. 

Practice graphing the same data set using different types of graphs to see which one is most effective for communicating accuracy and meaning. If you need some SNABA help, here is our Mini Mock “Graphs N’ Sh*t” and our Youtube video “Parts of A Graph“.

Researching the literature relevant to a current client’s programming:

This can be done with real, hypothetical, and past clients. Do literature reviews across different journals and find ways to access articles that may be helpful. Chat with experts that might have suggestions for particular functional interventions or programming. Evaluate your sources for credibility and generalizability and synthesize them (figure out what they say together as a body of literature). Begin building a database of relevant research organized in a way that you can search and use later in your practice. If you need help reading ABA research articles, check out “How The F*ck to Read ABA Research Articles“. 

Writing and revising behavior-analytic programs:

Request behavior-analytic programs from your supervisor and practice revising them based on hypothetical changes (the client moves contexts, the client needs to work on the next step, the client changes staff ratios, etc.). 

Write behavior-analytic programs to address target behaviors in hypothetical clients or characters with whom you are familiar. 

Request assessment data from supervisors and practice writing plans based on those results. Use existing programs to create training protocols, assessment plans, and “next steps” that would be appropriate for the client that you are given. 

Don’t forget to check the literature too! There have been several recent publications in major behavior analytic journals focused on suggestions for supervised activities (unrestricted and restricted) specific to settings like special education during CoVID and organizational behavior management. 


Behavior Analyst Certification Board (2020, May). BCBA Fieldwork Requirements. Retrieved from


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