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Autism Therapy Degree Program Information

Explore degree programs that place emphasis on autism therapy, and check the prerequisites for enrollment. Read about some of the common course topics covered in these programs. Get outlook and salary info for professionals working in autism therapy.

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Essential Information

There are no degree programs offered specifically in autism therapy. However, there are several certificate programs for those who are interested in helping people who have autism. In addition, there are master's and doctoral programs in applied behavior analysis, which is the study of how changing the environment may help those with autism or other developmental disorders. In addition to learning about autism spectrum and therapy, students of such programs should be prepared to complete research, thesis or dissertation projects and an internship. Career outcomes include speech pathologists, applied behavior analysts, physical therapists, teachers and psychologists; some of these positions have additional educational and licensure requirements.

Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Several advanced certificate options exist for professionals looking to specialize in working with people with autism. These programs are intended for those who work with individuals who have autism spectrum disorder. Some programs are specifically for teachers, while others are also open to those in a health care or therapy-related career.

This type of program is short-term and focuses on social and behavioral development of those with autism, and best practices for teaching autistic students. There are also several certificate programs in applied behavior analysis, which is the study of how changes in environment or surroundings may positively impact those with autism or other developmental disabilities.

Education Prerequisites

A bachelor's degree is required, and many programs also require applicants be licensed in special education, speech-language pathology, physical therapy, occupational therapy or a related area. Prior coursework in behavioral theories and practices, special education foundations and human development may be required.

Program Coursework

This type of certificate program is made up of four to six courses, focusing on the study of autism and how to help those who are autistic. Some programs may include clinical practice. Course topics include:

  • Infants and children on the autism spectrum
  • Young people and adults on the autism spectrum
  • Professional collaboration with family
  • Curriculum for those with special needs
  • Social functioning for students with special needs

Popular Career Options

Completing a certificate program in autism spectrum disorders may be helpful training for a number of professions where special knowledge of autism and treatment is essential. Among those are:

  • Speech pathologist
  • Teacher
  • Physical therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Occupational therapist

Master in Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis, which is the study of behavior of those with developmental disabilities and how they respond to subtle changes in their environment, according to the Association of Behavior Analysts International ( Behavior analysis is used to improve behavioral, verbal and reading skills of a person with autism or similar developmental disorder.

Most of the study in this therapeutic field is conducted at the graduate level. This type of program focuses on the methods used to assess developmental problems and how to use applied behavior analysis to stimulate improvements.

Education Prerequisites

A bachelor's degree is required, preferably in a related field, like psychology, special education or education. Many programs require applicants to complete some basic behavior analysis courses prior to starting the program.

Program Coursework

This type of program typically includes a thesis or research project, and an internship. Courses focus on research and assessment of developmental problems, with a focus on autism. Some course topics include:

  • Statistics and research methods
  • Applied behavior analysis introduction
  • Assessing autism therapy
  • Language and social skills for those with autism
  • Applied behavior analysis ethics
  • Measuring behavior and environment

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Applied behavior analysts can provide therapy to those with an autism spectrum disorder, as well as those with mental retardation, brain injury and other disorders, according to the Association for Behavior Analysts International. The professional organization provides job placement help and other professional resources for those in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) did not keep statistics specifically on applied behavior analysts, but a career that has some similar characteristics is psychiatric technicians. The BLS predicted job growth of 15% from 2010-2020 for psychiatric technicians, and the average annual salary for psychiatric technicians as of May 2012 was $33,140.

Continuing Education and Certification

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board offers two credential programs, the Board Certified Behavior Analyst and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst ( A professional must have completed a master's degree program with related coursework in order to be eligible for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst designation. A bachelor's degree with related coursework may meet eligibility requirements for the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. Both programs require work experience and passage of an exam.

Some states license behavioral analysts, but licensing requirements vary by state. Many schools also offer a Post-Master's Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis for professionals who want to advance their skills.

Ph.D. in Applied Behavior Analysis

A few schools offer a Ph.D. program in Applied Behavior Analysis for students who want to advance in the field as clinicians or instructors, or those interested in pursuing research into therapies for autism and other developmental disorders. The typical Ph.D. program emphasizes research methods, clinical work and teaching other professionals. Many Ph.D. programs require applicants be certified as an applied behavior analyst prior to starting the doctoral program.

Education Prerequisites

Most programs require a master's degree in behavior analysis, or a related field such as psychology or special education. Applicants should be certified as behavior analysts, or at least eligible for certification.

Program Coursework

Typical Ph.D. programs include supervised clinical field work and a dissertation project. Course topics may include:

  • Visual and statistical analysis of behavior
  • The study of behavior
  • Interpreting statistics
  • Assessing severe disorders
  • Teaching in a college environment

Continuing Education

In addition to approving graduate programs in the field, the Association for Behavior Analysts International offers continuing education for professionals in the form of events, journals and other resources. The professional organization also has job placement and other services available.

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  • School locations:
    • North Dakota (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of North Dakota include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Education
      • Counseling and Guidance
      • Curriculum and Instruction
      • Educational Administration and Supervision
      • Special Education
        • Teaching Special Education - Autism
        • Teaching Special Education - Emotional Disturbances
        • Teaching Special Education - Learning Disabilities
        • Teaching Special Education - Mental Retardation
        • Teaching Special Education - Vision Impairments
        • Teaching Special Education, Children and Young Children
      • Teacher Education for Specific Levels and Methods
      • Teacher Education for Specific Subject Areas
  • School locations:
    • Minnesota (2 campuses)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Minnesota include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Education
      • Curriculum and Instruction
      • ESL Teaching
      • Special Education
        • Teaching Special Education - Autism
      • Teacher Education for Specific Levels and Methods
      • Teacher Education for Specific Subject Areas

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