Careers in Autism Education: Job Options and Education Requirements

A career in autism education requires formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Almost 1% of children in the United States are diagnosed with autism, which has contributed to a high demand for qualified professionals to work with autistic individuals. Careers working with autistic individuals include being a special education teacher, art therapist or behavior analyst. These careers require highly trained professionals with a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and in some states certification or a license is required.

Essential Information

Professionals who teach autistic individuals utilize a variety of methods to engage students. Many careers exist in the field of autism education, and teachers and therapists often collaborate to educate children and help them improve their communication and coping skills. A bachelor's degree is required and a graduate degree for specific positions.

Career Special Education Teacher Art Therapist Behavior Analyst
Education Requirements Bachelor's; master's or graduate certificate Bachelor's; master's for employment at schools Bachelor's and master's
Other Requirements Certification or licensure Certification in some states Pass exam and experience
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all special education teachers 12% for recreational therapists 20% for mental health counselors
Median Salary (2015)* $55,810 for elementary; $57,280 for middle school; $58,500 for high school $45,890 for recreational therapists $53,845**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale

Career Options

A number of career paths are open to autism education graduates including special education teacher, art therapist, and behavior analyst. All three of these careers require a bachelor's degree. To focus on a specific area, like special education, an individual needs to have a master's degree or graduate certificate. The following three career options are available to those with an autism education degree.

Special Education Teacher

Autism or autism spectrum disorder affects about one out of every 110 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Special education teachers work with these children, developing methods to help them learn behaviorally as well as academically. Since early intervention is vital, students may be toddlers or preschool age. Special education teachers can help create transition plans for jobs or post-secondary education when the students graduate from high school. If the autistic child can be mainstreamed into a regular classroom, the special education teacher may adapt lesson plans to fit the child's learning method.

Education Requirements

Aspiring special education teachers must earn bachelor's degrees in education or a related field before going on to study special education techniques in graduate certificate or master's programs. These programs include courses in behavior issues and language skills. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in special education are also available. All states require that teachers pass a certification or licensure examination. Some states require that teachers first earn a general license to teach before training for special education, and others also expect special education teachers to obtain a master's degree.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), special education teachers overall are predicted to see jobs increase 6% from 2014-2024.

The BLS reported that special education teachers who taught kindergarten and elementary school grades earned a median salary of $55,810 in 2015, while those who taught middle school grades earned a median salary of $57,280, and those who taught high school grades earned a median salary of $58,500.

Art Therapist

Art therapy may help children with autism better relate to the world by increasing their awareness of objects, providing them with another way of expressing themselves and giving them a sense of accomplishment. Art therapists can work independently or in a school. The therapist guides the child through various projects that stimulate the child's visual and tactile senses. Art therapists must have knowledge of many forms of art media.

Education Requirements

Depending on whether they're employed at a school, art therapists may not need to be state certified or licensed, since they don't actually teach. A few states require school art therapists to hold professional certification. In order to obtain certification through the Art Therapy Credentials Board, an individual must have a master's degree in art therapy from an institution approved by the American Art Therapy Association. Students examine various techniques of art therapy and study psychology and human development. States that don't require this certification generally require that the art therapist be licensed to teach.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

The BLS reports that recreational therapists, including art therapists, could look forward to a 12% increase in jobs from 2014-2024. The median salary for recreational therapists was $45,890 in 2014.

Behavior Analyst

Educators use applied behavior analysis to understand their students' behavior and bring about change by using scientifically validated methods, such as following a desired behavior with a reward. Behavior analysts work with autistic children in structured school settings and in more informal atmospheres, like during playtime. Their work helps the students learn to express themselves and understand the views of others, as well as develop such attention skills as looking and listening.

Education Requirements

Behavior analysts need to earn the credential of Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). A BCBA must hold a bachelor's and master's degree in behavior analysis, education or a related field, pass an examination and meet experience requirements. Some behavior analysts who work in schools are special education teachers with master's degrees who have earned graduate certificates. They can also be credentialed as Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts by the BACB.

Salary Information

PayScale reported in January 2016 that the median salary for behavior analysts was $53,845.

Special education teachers typically work in a school setting to provide specialized instruction to children with autism to help them learn behaviorally and academically. Art therapists stimulate an autistic child's visual and tactile senses through art. Behavior analysts work with educators to help them understand behavior and how to change behavior in students. All of these careers require highly trained professionals who have a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

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