A person interested in teaching and helping students with special needs may wonder, “How do I become an autism support teacher?” The route to certification really isn’t much different than other types of teaching certifications.
Those teaching in the realm of special education (SPED) will need to pass specific assessments that a general education teacher would not have to; however, in order to become certified, there isn’t a huge difference. However, the SPED classrooms are unique and teachers and support staff undergo more daily challenges than a general education teacher would, which is why it is important to find individuals who are genuinely passionate about helping students with special needs.
Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online
Special education teachers work with students with various disabilities that have a range in severity. Students on the autism spectrum generally receive special education services, depending upon their needs. School systems are always seeking highly qualified and certified SPED teachers for their autism and resource classrooms. Support staff positions are also available in schools, such as a paraprofessional or teacher’s aide position. Paraprofessionals and teacher’s aides are not required to have a teaching certification to assist a teacher in a SPED classroom.
Knowing what it takes in order to become an autism support teacher can help curious individuals plan their educational path and gain the correct certifications.
All states require a special education teacher to earn at least a Bachelor’s degree in Education in order to become an autism support teacher. In some states, a Master’s degree is required or at least preferred.
But there are other options for individuals wanting to become a SPED teacher.
Those states may offer a period of time from earning a teaching license in order to complete the Master’s degree. Some states specifically require a degree in Special Education in order to be an autism support teacher. The Master’s degree requirement may involve a program that is specific to Special Education. Regardless of the degree, each state has specific requirements for how many units of coursework is required to be able to teach.
Although there are also cases in which an individual changes career paths later on. These people are still in luck. There are teacher preparation programs out there for people who decided to make a career change later in life and did not major in Education during college. These programs typically take one to two years to go through and are often geared toward working adults who are at a job during the day.
An example of this is the GaTAPP program, which stands for Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy.
They describe their program as follows:
[It is an] alternative option for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institute, but who did not complete teacher education preparation requirements as part of their degree programs. Georgia TAPP seeks to equip teacher-candidates with the skills to ensure a reasonable expectation of initial success in their classrooms, and to put in place a supervised internship/induction program that will help them move toward subsequent mastery of teaching.
In most states, an individual can be hired as a teacher as long as they are enrolled in a teacher education preparation program, such as GaTAPP, and get their certification within a set amount of time.
This is quite beneficial to those who work full-time and are wanting to obtain their teaching certification and for those who want to change career paths.
Long story short: if you want to become a SPED teacher and work with students with autism, there are options.
Student Teaching Experience
All states require prospective teachers to complete a student teaching experience under the mentoring of a licensed teacher. Although the length of the mentoring program varies by state, most of them require a three to 12-month student teaching experience and a positive evaluation or recommendation letter from the teacher and administrative professionals at the school. This mentoring program is typically through a public school system that partners with the college or university for student teaching purposes.
If a prospective teacher is currently in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program, the internship is set up through the university who partners with certain schools, although they might get lucky and be able to choose their own internship site. Those learning in a teacher preparation program, such as GaTAPP, the internship will be done during the program, most likely under the supervision of a professor.
Individuals who change careers or start late may be able to get hired into a school system without being fully qualified, as long as they are in a preparation program, and then can do their internship hours at the school they already work at.
Certification and Licensure
All states have a way for a person with a Bachelor’s degree in some other area of expertise to gain certification and licensure as a special education teacher without having to complete another degree. Most of those programs do require additional classes and a student teaching experience. Completing one of these programs may earn the candidate a Master’s degree, explains the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once the degree and student teaching requirements are completed, the prospective teacher must take a licensing examination and pass a background check. The certification for special education is an exam that focuses on aspects of teaching students with special needs. A person who wants to become an autism support teacher in a private school may not have to go through the certification and licensure processes.
A specific example of certification exams prospective SPED teachers must take comes from Georgia.
The Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators® (GACE®) is Georgia’s state-approved educator certification assessment program. These computer-delivered assessments have been developed by the GaPSC and Educational Testing Service (ETS).
The purpose of the GACE assessments is to help the GaPSC ensure that candidates have the knowledge and skills needed to perform the job of an educator in Georgia’s public schools.
The Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators (GACE) provides multiple certification exams that prospective teachers can choose from to get certified in particular areas. For SPED teachers, they would take each of the specific SPED-related exams for the grade levels they will be working with. Most SPED teachers take all of the subject area exams for special education since oftentimes they will be teaching in a self-contained environment and/or will be teaching multiple subject areas each day.
Each state will be different regarding its certification and exam requirements.
Development of Critical Job Skills
In addition to completing the educational and training requirements to become an autism support teacher, it is also important for the candidate to have certain skills or characteristics. One such characteristic is resourcefulness. Children with autism may not learn in the same ways as their typically developing peers. The teacher might need to develop customized learning tools and aids. Another essential characteristic is patience. Students with autism may have behavioral problems or lack basic skills, resulting in the teacher needing more time to teach the material.
The Applied Behavior Analysis Program Guide describes 10 Characteristics of Great Autism Support Teachers in a previous article:
Many people already have these wonderful characteristics. The areas that some people lack in, professional development, practice, and observing others can help them grow.
Conclusion to How to Become an Austism Support Teacher
Becoming a special education teacher who works primarily with students with autism allows their students to learn, grow and thrive in a compassionate and caring environment. People who want to become an autism (ASD) teacher should acquire certain skills and have specific characteristics, such as a passion for helping others, patience, a commitment to continuing education for themselves, as well as an ability to communicate well with people with autism, their parents and other educational professionals.
There are multiple options for those who are interested in becoming an autism support teacher. The best thing to do is to contact the Department of Education or a specific school system and inquire about what it takes in that state to get fully certified as a SPED teacher.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated July 2021
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