Careers in the Autism Field

With Autism Spectrum Disorders being increasingly recognized and diagnosed, now is a good time to pursue a career working with individuals with ASD. But where to start? For those determined to work with children on the autism spectrum, we’ve rounded up 10 of the most rewarding careers. We’ve included the basic tasks of each rewarding career, and laid out exactly what is required to land that first interview. Finally, we consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for information regarding job outlook and median pay.

Special Education Teacher

teacher with students sitting in a circle on the classroom floor
With one in every 68 children in the United States affected by autism, a special education teacher is extremely important and influential in the life of a child on the autism spectrum. Autistic students have a variety of developmental, learning, physical, and emotional needs, and special education teachers are specifically trained to help students deal with those needs and overcome challenges. A typical day might include working with a single student or several students in specific academic subjects and/or basic skills, communication, and literacy.

What is Required: The position of special education teacher in a public school will require a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license specific to the teacher’s state. It is often possible to obtain a position in special education at a private school with only a bachelor’s degree.

Median Income: $57,910

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Special Education Teacher
Special Education Teacher: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)

Applied Behavior Analyst

teacher and young girl learning with multicolored wood building blocks
An applied behavior analyst is a specific type of psychologist specializing in autistic children. They work closely with children on the autism spectrum to find correlation between a child’s behavior and environment. The goal of an applied behavior analyst is to work with the child and his or her family to bring about necessary behavioral changes and successfully reach goals of increased independence.

Related: 15 Best Applied Behavior Analysis Online Programs

What is Required: To become an applied behavior analyst, you will need a master’s degree and license to practice clinical psychology. Once you have those, either training in applied behavior analysis or a doctoral degree in behavioral analysis will prepare you for the required board certification. Similarly, the job of assistant behavior analyst requires only a bachelor of science degree and a certification exam.

Median Income: $75,230

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Applied Behavior Analyst

Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

Occupational Therapist

boy at desk interacting with teddy bear puppet
Occupational therapists work with all kinds of people, including children on the autism spectrum, in order to help their clients become more independent. While working with an autistic child, an occupational therapist might assist the child with basic skills such as eating, using the toilet, or writing.

What is Required: To become an occupational therapist, one must have a master’s degree or higher in occupational therapy, plus be licensed to practice therapy in his or her state.

Median Income: $81,910

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Occupational Therapist
Occupational Therapist: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA)

Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

woman teaching young boy how to interlace his fingers
Like an applied behavior analyst, an autism spectrum disorder specialist works with children and adults on the autism spectrum on things like everyday tasks, social behaviors, and academic goals. They often work in educational settings such as schools, where they might also hold such positions as classroom aids or therapists.

What is Required:
While a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related topic is enough for some employers, others require a a master’s degree or higher. To practice as an autism spectrum disorder specialist, one must become board certified by passing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

Median Income: $49,000

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist
Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist Salary and Career Facts

Social Worker

woman on a couch with a mother, father, a young girl, and a toddler
Social workers interact with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, but when it comes to working with children on the autism spectrum, a social worker’s job is twofold. On one hand, a social worker works with the autistic child to improve his or her social and psychological functioning. At the same time, the social worker works closely with the child’s family to offer support, give ideas about how to improve social interactions, and coordinate therapies and other services that might benefit the entire family.

What is Required: A bachelor’s degree is often satisfactory for jobs in residential care, supported living environments, and schools. Other positions require a master’s degree.

Median Income: $46,890

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Social Worker
Social Worker: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Association of Social Work Boards: Social Work Licensing 

Speech Language Pathologist

woman and child working with small foam letters and numbers
Becoming a speech-language pathologist is a great option for those who want to work with children on the autism spectrum, as many autistic children experience challenges in language and communication. A pathologist works with an autistic child to improve speech, develop alternative ways of communicating, or treat cognitive-communication delays. Pathologists may work in a private practice, for a doctor’s office, or at a school.

What is Required: At least a master’s degree in speech-language pathology is required to become a speech language pathologist. In some states, pathologists must be licensed in order to practice.

Median Income: $74,680

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Speech Language Pathologist
Speech Language Pathologist: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Speech-Language Pathology: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) 

Developmental Psychologist

woman and young girl with clear cups and small colorful objects
Like the other psychology careers on this list, a developmental psychologist can work closely with children on the autism spectrum. A developmental psychologist might work in a clinic, hospital, or school, where they evaluate children in order to better advise parents, teachers, and doctors on the best treatments, therapies, and other coping methods.

What is Required: In order to practice as a developmental psychologist, one must earn a master’s or doctoral degree, plus certification in the intended field of practice.

Median Income: $75,230

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Developmental Psychologist
Psychologist: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Career in Developmental Psychology: American Psychological Association

Rehabilitation Therapist

teenage boy avoiding eye contact with adult male who is flipping through paperwork
Rehabilitation therapists work with autistic children in rehab centers, schools, universities, community programs, or government agencies. It is their job to assess a child’s abilities, then find ways to help that child deal with family and social situations. The overall goal of a rehabilitation therapist is to help his or her clients gain physical and emotional independence to help them reach their full potential.

What is Required: Rehabilitation therapists must earn a master’s degree in a subject relating to intellectual or communication disorders, professional certification, and in most cases, state certification.

Median Income: $34,670

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Rehabilitation Therapist
Rehabilitation Counselor: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nanny

woman and young girl on couch playing pattycake/pat-a-cake
Many families, including those with an autistic child, choose to employ a nanny. For a nanny in a home with an autistic child, duties might include accompanying the child to social events, working with the child on basic everyday tasks, and helping out in other ways.

What is Required: Requirements vary. Some families might prefer a nanny to have certification in early childhood education, while others might not require any formal education or training.

Median Income: $21,170

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Nanny
Childcare Workers: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Art Therapist

woman and little girl coloring with crayons
Many autistic children who have trouble with speech or language are able to express themselves in other ways, such as through art. An art therapist uses music, painting and drawing, crafts, and drama to help children on the autism spectrum grow their confidence and communication skills, while also learning to interact with others.

What is Required: A practicing therapist should have a master’s degree in his or her chosen field.

Median Income: $46,410

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Art Therapist
Becoming and Art Therapist: American Art Therapy Association 

Further Reading: 30 Best Autism Blogs