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5 Careers for Autism Master’s Graduates

Careers Suitable for Autism Master’s Graduates

Careers for Autism Master's GraduatesThere are many rewarding and excellent careers available to those who complete graduate programs in Education, Social Work, and Counseling and specialize in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The options are out there, whether it be working in a school directly with students with ASD in a classroom or having your clinical practice working with children and adults. Individuals with these degrees can be contracted out to schools, parents, clinical settings, and hospitals. Those working in the world of autism have a great potential to have a lot of career flexibility and independence.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Disorder Online

Autism isn’t going anywhere. As more children and adults become diagnosed with autism, the need for graduates in this specialty field is growing as well. 

According to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with ASD, and 1 in 6 in the U.S. have developmental disabilities, which creates the need for specialized education and treatment. And that number may have increased in the past few years. 

This prevalence statistic hikes up the demand for professionals who are educated and trained to work with these individuals. Many autism-related career positions require a Master’s degree, although organizations or businesses only prefer a Bachelor’s depending on the capacity the professional will be working with the person with autism. 

These are 5 potential careers for individuals who have autism Master’s degrees.

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder Specialist
  • Social Worker
  • Art Therapist
  • Special Education Teachers

1. Board Certified Behavior Analyst

Board Certified Behavior AnalystBoard Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) are professional therapists who work not just with clients with autism, but also those with developmental delays and certain types of learning disabilities. 

Board Certified Behavior Analysts initially assess their clients with autism to learn their skill level, specific needs, strengths, and their personalities so they can help them modify their behavior. BCBAs also work with individuals suffering from behavior difficulties. They may work in a clinic setting, at a patient’s home, or place of employment. 

BCBAs are required to be licensed and must be board-certified, but first, they must take specific graduate courses and earn a degree in the field. Once finished with coursework, graduates will complete practical fieldwork in applied behavior analysis. This can take place at a school, in a clinical setting, or a home under the supervision of a BCBA. 

The following is a general example of the daily responsibilities of a BCBA.

  • A BCBA who is hired within a school district, for example, typically gets notified that there is a child in a classroom who needs to be observed due to recent behaviors. The BCBA will go in, observe, conduct direct and indirect assessments, ask the teachers and paraprofessionals to do so as well, and look over the student’s IEP and BIP, assuming they already have one. 
  • Target behaviors will be identified (the ones to be modified) and data collection will begin. Once a Functional Behavior Assessment is complete, the BCBA can help the teachers come up with a treatment plan. This FBA will also be used to write a new, updated BIP. 
  • After this process is complete, teachers and paraprofessionals will begin following the new BIP and using the new interventions that the BCBA has modeled for them, as well as taking data on behaviors. 
  • The BCBA will follow up and if those interventions are not working after a period of time, they will go back in and observe. 

This process is similar if a BCBA works with a family in the home with a child with autism. 

BCBAs have a wide variety of opportunities available to them. 

2. Autistic Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Autistic Spectrum Disorder Specialists are professionals who work with children mainly in an educational setting; however, that is not to say that a specialist cannot work with an adult or outside of the educational setting. Generally, they work in K-12 SPED or Gen Ed classrooms assisting students who are on the spectrum get appropriate access to the materials and standards while ensuring their success. 

ASD specialists may sit next to a student with autism in the classroom and assist them with communicating and acting appropriately during a lesson, help with lesson modifications or accommodations while another teacher teaches the entire class, or may pull one or more students out for small groups. 

To become a certified ASD specialist, there are specific courses and exams one must take to show proficiency in the areas required. In the end, the student in these courses must fully understand autism and know the most effective therapeutic strategies to help them in the classroom. 

Autistic spectrum disorder specialists with Master’s degrees are usually teachers and must be licensed. Depending on the state requirements, the individual may also need to be board-certified.

3. Social Worker

Graduates with an autism master's can be social workersSocial workers are usually required to have Master’s degrees, and those working with individuals with autism need specific training in that area. General social work courses do not have a huge focus on autism or any type of disorder. This is why they may need additional training or certifications to specialize in clients with autism. 

Social workers can work with children and adults with ASD in their office setting, in the home, or the community. Their goal is to help their clients with ASD improve their behavior and function better around others. They also collaborate with doctors and therapists to ensure their client is getting adequate support as part of a family unit and among classmates and peers.

4. Art Therapist

Art is a powerful tool to help individuals express their thoughts and feelings without having to verbally speak them. 

Art therapists play an important role in the treatment of those with autism, especially when working with children with autism. They help the child relate to the world better through the use of art therapy. 

Art therapy is highly effective for autistic children because it helps them increase their awareness of objects around them and offers them a way to express themselves, which gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. Art therapists may work in schools, hospitals, or independently. Because art therapists know various forms of art media, they’re able to stimulate the child’s tactile and visual senses in different ways. Art therapists may not need licensure but are often required to be certified.

Some benefits of art therapy with people with autism include:

  • Enhance visual skills
  • Define fine motor skills
  • Encourage social skills
  • Improve behavioral issues through integrating ABA therapy
  • Develop sensory integration
  • Decrease off-task behaviors
  • Increase learning opportunities

Art therapists can also share their techniques with teachers and parents so that they can regularly do some of the art activities with the child. 

5. Special Education Teachers

Lastly, special education teachers play a very important role in the treatment of a child suffering from autism and autism-related disorders. Teachers are generally with a child more during “awake hours” compared to their parents. This is why SPED teachers must be highly trained in students with all types of disabilities and continue their education every year. 

Teaching in a SPED classroom is one of the most common and popular choices for candidates interested in earning a Master’s degree in ASD. 

Special education teachers generally work with children from Kindergarten through 12th grade and graduation and work with them in some or all subject areas. They also help children increase school and life skills and learn to become more independent as they prepare for adulthood. 

Special education teachers need to be licensed to teach and may have additional certifications such as in learning and behavioral disorders. 

There is always a demand for passionate and caring SPED teachers. 

With more than three million people in the U.S. today living with autism-related disorders, the need for trained professionals has never been higher. With so many career types available for autism Master’s graduates, it can be a very rewarding career choice.

Brittany Cerny

Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University

Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University

Updated July 2021

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