Autism Therapy Degree Program Information

While there are no degree programs specifically in autism therapy, several certificate programs are available for those who are interested in helping people who have autism, as well as master's and doctoral programs in applied behavior analysis.

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Essential Information

In addition to learning about the autism spectrum and therapy, students of programs focused on helping those with autism 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. Most of these programs cater to those working with people with autism spectrum disorder, but 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.

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. 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

Master in Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis concentrates on the 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 disorders. This type of program focuses on the methods used to assess developmental problems, and how to use applied behavior analysis to stimulate improvements.

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. 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

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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. Most programs also 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. 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

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

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 5% from 2014 to 2024 for psychiatric technicians, and the median annual salary for psychiatric technicians as of May 2015 was $31,140.

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.

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.

Those who want a career where they can work with people with autism will not find a degree program in autism therapy, but they may find a certificate program in autism spectrum disorders. Master's and Ph.D programs in applied behavior analysis will also provide training in therapies used to treat autism.

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