As more and more children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States, it's becoming increasingly important to have early intervention in the lives of the children, families, and communities affected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism — a marked increase over the last few decades — and while positive changes in awareness are most likely the reason, there is concern that the rate is not slowing.
For anyone looking for a career that involves working with children on the spectrum, these numbers indicate that a need exists and is even likely to increase in coming years. From special education teacher to occupational therapist, if you're looking to devote your time and energy to assisting children with ASD, here are five great career choices and the necessary requirements for getting hired to do them.
1. Special Education Teacher
One of the most well known career paths a person interested in working with autistic children can choose, becoming a special education teacher is also one of the most rewarding. By simply earning a bachelor's degree, such as a bachelor of liberal studies, you'll be on track to assist autistic children in either private or public school settings, although the latter will require licensure specific to the state in which you live.
Special education teachers are trained to work with children, who experience a vast range of extraordinary needs including developmental, physical, emotional, and learning-based. While some children with unique needs outgrow them and move out of special education classrooms or programs, children with ASD often need assistance throughout their entire education, which means special education teachers play a vital role in the autistic child's learning and development toward increased independence.
2. Applied Behavior Analyst
An applied behavior analyst is a psychologist who specializes in observing the links between an autistic child's behavior and his or her environment in order to bring about behavioral changes. Utilizing Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) — one of the most common and successful intervention methods used in the treatment of people with ASD — an applied behavior analyst works in groups, in families, and one-on-one with individuals on the spectrum to positively reinforce behaviors that ultimately grant greater skills and increased independence.
If you'd like to become an applied behavior analyst, you'll need extensive schooling and training. After becoming a licensed clinical psychologist — you'll need at least a master's degree for that — you'll need either training in ABA or a doctoral degree in behavior analysis. Lastly, you'll need to pursue board certification. Alternatively, you can sit for the certification exam to become a board-certified Assistant Behavior Analyst after completing the BS in Professional and Liberal Studies.
3. Occupational Therapist
An occupational therapist’s goal is to help their clients achieve greater and more practical independence. When working with a child with ASD, then, an occupational therapist will employ a variety of methods to assist that child gaining the skills he or she will need to successfully achieve independence later on.
Basic tasks such as eating, toilet training, writing, and even listening can be greatly aided with the help of a skilled occupational therapist. Occupational therapists must be state licensed, and you'll also need a master's or doctoral degree to practice.
4. Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist
An autism spectrum disorder specialist is a behavior modification counselor who works directly with adults and children with neurobehavioral disorders, such as ASD, helping them to find the services and support they need to reach educational goals, gain skill sets, find a job, and more.
These specialists are often found in educational settings where they may function as school aids, teachers, or therapists, but whatever their role, their overall goal is always to help students on the spectrum improve and succeed socially and academically. While a master's degree is preferred for this type of work, oftentimes, only a bachelor's degree is required, and you'll probably also need a teaching license.
5. Social Worker
Social workers aim to improve the psychological, institutional, and social functioning of a child with ASD while offering support to his or her family in order to improve interactions and successes at school and home. Trained to provide assessment and various therapies, a social worker can help find and coordinate the practical services families with autistic children need to ensure the child is successful and the family is supported.
Social workers often have master's degrees, but a bachelor's can often be enough. Some residential care settings, such as children's homes, supported living environments, and schools for children with special needs routinely hire applicants with only undergraduate degrees.
Working with children on the spectrum is one of the most challenging and rewarding career paths you can choose, and due to the high prevalence of children with ASD, it's a career path that's likely to last a lifetime. If you'd like more information on our degree programs so you can start working with autistic children, request more information below.