Jobs that let you work with autistic kids usually focus on helping children overcome learning, social and developmental challenges. People in these positions need years of specialized training to gain the proper licensing or certification, and to understand the effects of autism spectrum disorders and the accompanying challenges. Most of these positions are in the fields of psychology and education.
Occupational therapists do more than help people gain the skills they need to compete in the job market. They also help them with the skills they need to stay safe, interact socially and lead a normal life. When treating children with autism, occupational therapists assess the patient's needs, come up with strategies for dealing with the challenges of limited motor coordination or sensory processing issues, and help parents understand and meet their child's needs. Occupational therapists need at least a master's degree in occupational therapy. During graduate programs, occupational therapists work in the field under the close supervision of experienced professionals to gain hands-on experience. To become licensed, occupational therapists need to pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists exam.
Speech-language pathologists help patients improve their communication skills. Because socialization and communication problems are among the primary characteristics of autism, the skills of speech-language pathologists are well-suited to helping autistic children. Speech-language pathologists first assess autistic children, then develop individualized plans to help them build skills in areas such as motor speech, semantics, and understanding and using nonverbal and verbal communication, also called pragmatics. Speech-language pathologists get their training through speech-language pathology master's programs. As with occupational therapy, these programs include supervised practice. Supervised clinical work, along with a master's degree, is required to attain licensing in some states.
Applied Behavioral Analyst
Applied behavioral analysts study the ways that people learn and put that knowledge into practice to increase positive behavior and reduce negative behavior. One of the main principles of modifying behavior is positive reinforcement. When a child with autism displays positive behaviors, applied behavioral analysts reinforce that behavior with rewards to encourage the behavior. In autistic children, these methods result in improvements in areas such as socialization, communication, play, and the ability to care for themselves. To qualify for certification, applied behavioral analysts must have at least a master's degree in behavior analysis, human services, medicine or a related field; meet minimum coursework requirements in areas relevant to behavioral analysts; and meet supervised experience requirements, which vary depending on the type of experience.
Special Education Teacher
Autism is a relatively common disorder among children and teens, so special education teachers often teach children with autism spectrum disorders. Special education teachers assess students' skills and work closely with parents, educators and counselors to determine an individualized education program. Special education teachers employ positive reinforcement techniques, similar to those used by behavioral analysts, and a multitude of other techniques to improve behavior, socialization and communication. Special education teachers need at least a bachelor's degree with a minor or major in special education. Many special education programs include a supervised practice component. All teachers in public schools must be licensed, which usually entails gaining supervised experience and completing teacher training programs. Special education teachers might need certification in a special education specialization, depending on state requirements.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Therapists
- College of Occupational Therapists: Occupational therapists help children and young people with autistic spectrum disorder to participate in everyday tasks and cope with busy environments
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Special Education Teachers
- American Speech-language Hearing Association: Treatment Efficacy Summary - Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Speech-language Pathologists
- Autism Speaks: Applied Behavior Analysis
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Standards for Board Certified Behavior Analysts
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Experience Standards
- Autism Speaks: What Are the Symptoms of Autism?
- Autism Speaks: Teaching Children With Autism
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images