If you want to work with autistic children, there is no shortage of career options. We’ve outlined 10 career options here:
- Special education teacher
- ABA therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Autism spectrum disorder specialist
- Social worker
- Speech-language pathologist
- Developmental psychologist
- Rehabilitation therapist
- Art therapist
1. Special Education Teacher
A special education teacher is a highly trained professional educator who is equipped to work with a child on the autism spectrum. They are capable of meeting the developmental, learning, physical, and emotional challenges of children with autism.
A day in the life of a special education teacher might involve working with a single child, or a group of children, in specific academic classes. The teacher may lead students through basic skills like literacy and communication.
This is an in-demand profession, as 1 in 54 children has some degree of autism spectrum disorder. The median income for this job is $57,910.
To become a special education teacher for children with autism, a candidate will need a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology, or a related field, and a teaching license that will be accepted in their state of residence and practice. A concentration in autism spectrum disorders will be very advantageous.
2. ABA Therapist
An applied behavior analyst (ABA) therapist is a person trained in a special branch of psychology that primarily deals with children who are on the autism spectrum. This person is generally a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA).
An ABA therapist’s job is to look for connections between the child’s environment and their behavior, to understand what in the environment can be triggering for the child, and then help the child and the therapy team manage those triggers. An applied behavior analyst will work toward helping the child develop the necessary behavioral changes to reach certain goals of increased independence.
A person hoping to become an applied behavior analyst will need a master’s degree and a license to practice clinical psychology. There are board exams to take, issued by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. To be eligible to take those exams, a candidate will need training in ABA and/or a doctoral degree in behavior analysis.
Across the country, the demand for trained applied behavior analysts is increasing. In 2018, there were 16,109 job postings, which increased to 28,967 in 2019.
3. Occupational Therapist
An occupational therapist works with a wide variety of people to help them become more independent, so these professionals often work with children with autism.
The job an occupational therapist is to observe and evaluate how a person interacts with their daily environment through growth and interaction. They are trained to offer assistance in social, emotional, and physiological dimensions of behavioral and developmental disorders. An occupational therapist can promote life skills for people with autism to become more independent.
The work might involve anything from helping the child to use the toilet to writing or eating.
To work in this field, an occupational therapist will need a master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy, and they must have a license to practice in their state of residence. The median income for this job is $81,910.
4. Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist
The job of an autism spectrum disorder specialist is similar to that of an applied behavior analyst, where the specialist works with the client and their therapy team on coordinating everyday tasks, academic goals, and social behaviors, among other things.
Unlike an applied behavior analyst, the autism spectrum disorder specialist is usually based in an educational setting (like a school). They often serve as classroom aids or school therapists, which an applied behavior analyst will generally not do.
Some schools might require a bachelor’s degree in special education, but most will want a master’s degree or higher. As with an applied behavior analyst, a person in training to become an autism spectrum disorder specialist will have to pass exams issued by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Elemy has launched Ecademy: a fully-paid, 3-month, training-and-certification program for registered behavior technicians (RBTs).
The median annual wage for an autism spectrum disorder specialist is $58,390 for a teacher in kindergarten and elementary schools. This increases to $60,250 for teachers in middle schools.
5. Social Worker
Social workers have a lot of responsibility in their line of work, having to interact with individuals and families in very difficult situations. They often work with children on the autism spectrum.
They may work with the client to improve their mental and social functioning. And they offer support and ideas to the client’s family and their therapy team, specifically when it comes to knowing how best to help the client in social, communal, and professional interactions.
The social worker also helps to coordinate services across therapies and other interventions that will benefit the whole family. In some states, for example, social workers are case managers for children with autism, working with parents and caregivers, teachers, speech-language pathologists, therapists, and psychologists. They are essentially the glue that holds the whole therapy team together.
While some forms of social work require a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree should suffice for most jobs in residential care, educational institutions, and supported living environments. A social worker position has a median income of $46,980.
6. Speech-Language Pathologist
Many children with autism have difficulty with language development and communication, so a career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) offers a number of different ways to work with these children.
Speech-language pathologists help their clients develop alternative ways of communicating that don’t involve traditional speech. This is known as augmentative and alternative communication, which can involve sign language, pictures, and smart devices. SLPs can also guide clients through the process of improving their speech.
Additionally, SLPs are trained to treat speech development delays related to cognitive communication. Pathologists can work independently, but many are also attached to a doctor’s office or school.
A master’s degree in speech-language pathology is a requirement for this line of work. Some states may require licensure. The job pays $74,680 a year, on average.
7. Developmental Psychologist
Developmental psychologists usually work in clinics, hospitals, or schools, evaluating children on the autism spectrum to suggest treatments, therapies, interventions, and coping mechanisms to parents, teachers, doctors, and anyone else on the therapy team. They are not “autism psychologists,” but trained psychologists who work with children and their families to address depression, social anxiety, repetitive behavior, self-stimulating behavior, social cues, and how to manage work and school relationships.
A developmental psychologist should have a doctoral degree and certification in their chosen field of practice. The median income for the position is $75,230.
8. Rehabilitation Therapist
Rehabilitation therapists do their work in rehabilitation centers, educational institutions, community centers and programs, and government facilities. Their job is to assess the client’s abilities and boundaries, and then work with them to better navigate situations involving family and social dynamics.
While the work of a rehabilitation therapist tends to focus on helping the client gain physical dependence, they also have to understand the emotional concerns of children with autism. These professionals cover a lot of ground in helping clients realize their full potential.
Rehabilitation therapists must have a master’s degree in a field connected with intellectual or communication disorders and disabilities. They also require professional and state certification. The median income for a rehab therapist is $34,760.
Nannies are frequently employed by families who have a child with autism. While many of the duties of a nanny would be similar to those taking care of a neurotypical child, some extra responsibilities might include accompanying the child and family to social events, working with the child on basic tasks, and providing other forms of help to the parents.
The requirements for being a nanny can be very different across states, counties, and even individual families. Some families might want their nannies to have some kind of certification in early childhood development and education, especially in the fields of special needs and autism care. Others might not have a requirement for any kind of formal training.
The average median income for a nanny working with an autism family is $21,170.
10. Art Therapist
Art therapy is a popular intervention for many children with autism who struggle with speech and language, and express themselves better in other ways. Art therapy covers much more than only drawing or coloring. It can include music, dance, drama, crafts, and other forms of creativity, to help children increase their confidence in how they move, think, and communicate. It also teaches children how to work with others.
An art therapist should have a master’s degree in a form of art as well as additional components for special education and child psychology. The median income for a position like this is $46,410.
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