No two humans possess the same bodies, and the mind similarly varies. Individuals who appeared to act out of the ‘ordinary’ were previously thought to have disorders, but now we know that people can be neurodivergent. Autistic individuals, for instance, display neurodivergence prominently.
Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with how people learn and behave, communicate, and interact with others. Autism can be diagnosed at any age; however, symptoms usually appear within the first 2 years of life. It is not an impairment but rather evidence of human minds’ diversity.
Autism is a spectrum, so every autistic individual is different. Some autistic people require very little or no support at all, while others might need help on a daily basis.
If you want to help individuals on the autism spectrum navigate their life in the future, there are plenty of career options you can opt for. These include an Applied Behavioral Analyst, School Social Worker, and Special Education Teacher, among others. These service providers aim to assess autistic individuals carefully, recognize their needs, and intervene with tailored treatment plans.
All such individuals closely work with autistic children one-on-one, regularly monitoring their progress, which helps them identify the success of their efforts in the long run. As such, a career in the field can be gratifying.
Keep reading this article to learn about five rewarding careers that involve working with children on the autism spectrum.
1. Applied Behavioral Analyst
Applied behavioral analysts are psychologists who specialize in treating people on the autism spectrum. They use the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a behavioral therapy that focuses on minimizing challenging behaviors like self-injury and aggression, teaching adaptive behaviors, and acquiring new skills. Professionals commonly use ABA as a therapeutic intervention for increasing language and communication skills. It also helps improve attention and focus, memory, academics, self-care skills like showering and toileting, and motor skills.
Applied Behavioral Analysts work in various clinical settings like hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, and higher education institutions. Their skills include assessing clients’ abilities and evaluating environmental factors that might contribute to challenging behavior. They then develop goals focusing on improving communication and behavioral skills, create treatment plans to help achieve those goals and measure the patient’s progress from session to session.
Becoming a Behavioral Analyst requires earning a bachelor’s degree in education, psychology, or other subjects related to behavioral science. A master’s in Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) will be the next step, followed by acquiring work experience through supervised clinical work. You must obtain board certification by passing the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst examination. State licensure is also necessary for some states, though not all require it, for you to be able to practice.
2. Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers support students with various conditions, including autism. Their job is to help autistic students with their learning, developmental, emotional, and physical needs and help them overcome challenges.
On a typical day, special education teachers might work with single or several students in specific academic subjects, basic skills, literacy, and communication. Additionally, they assess each student’s needs to develop teaching plans specifically tailored for them. They also work with parents, school counselors, psychologists, and occupational therapists to help children develop and socialize.
To become a special education teacher, you must get a bachelor’s degree in special education and work experience through a 16-week internship. Gaining a license is also necessary if you want to work in a public school since it’s a requirement in most states. However, working in private schools does not require licensure. Having excellent communication and critical thinking skills is also essential.
3. Developmental and Behavioral Nurse Practitioner
Developmental and behavioral Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are growth and development experts providing care to children that miss developmental milestones. They care for children with mental health issues like mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. They also care for patients lying on the autism spectrum, suffering from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), ADHD, etc. They specialize in early recognition and treatment of these conditions.
There are different pathways to a nursing career, but the most common one starts with acquiring a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. BSN is a four-year degree that equips its students with the extensive knowledge and experience required to start working as a Registered Nurse (RN). You will then have to pass the NCLEX exam and obtain a license to practice in the state you want to work in. The next step would be to acquire a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program.
A significant benefit of nursing careers is that if you ever decide to broaden the scope of your practice by switching specialties, you can do it quickly. For example, you can become an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner in as little as 20-24 months through online AGNP programs like this one.
4. Speech-Language Therapists
Speech-language therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, diagnose and treat conditions involving speech, language, communication, and fluency. These problems can result from an injury or a disease or be present from birth. People on the autism spectrum also face speech and communication challenges, so speech-language therapists work closely with them.
Speech-language therapists work across multiple settings, for example, schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, colleges, universities, and community health clinics. When working with autistic children, their job includes helping them improve speech, treating cognitive communication delays, and helping them use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), i.e., ways of communicating besides talking.
To become a speech-language therapist, you require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree focusing on communications degree, but most employers prefer a master’s certification. It’s also necessary to obtain a license to work in some states. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are also essential.
5. School Social Worker
School social workers are mental health professionals working with children in a school setting. They counsel students to help them deal with various conditions and issues, including those with special needs, like autistic individuals. They work with the autistic child to improve their communication and social and psychological functioning. They also work closely with the child’s parents, helping them understand their child’s emotional and behavioral issues and share treatment needs with them.
Besides working with autistic children in a therapy setting, social workers are also a resource for administrators and teachers. They participate in special education meetings and help devise Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students with special needs.
To become a school social worker, you at least need a Master of Social Work (MSW) to practice. Each state also requires school social workers to obtain a license by passing the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam to be able to practice. Also, if you move to another state, you may have to take exams there. Some states also require school social workers to get a school social work certification that ensures the workers have met the necessary standards to be eligible to provide services in a school setting.
Most careers in the autism field require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree; however, employers often prefer individuals with master’s degrees. These careers involve working with autistic children from various backgrounds one-on-one, identifying their specific emotional and psychological needs, and developing plans to cater to those needs. Having excellent critical thinking, communication skills, compassion, and resourcefulness is also essential.