Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist Career Information

More and more individuals are becoming interested in working in a behavioral science career as the field continues to grow. Research in the area of behavior and autism has given us a plethora of data and useful information, which in turn has advanced the field and proven the need for more autism spectrum disorder specialists. Autism isn’t necessarily becoming more prevalent, but professionals are now able to assess and diagnose at a younger age, and the general population is becoming more aware of symptoms and warning signs. With that being said, as additional individuals become diagnosed with ASD, additional professionals are needed to work with them. 

An autism spectrum disorder specialist is a special kind of applied behavior analyst who works with children and adults who have been diagnosed with autism. These professionals may work in an educational, clinical, or home setting with groups or specific individuals of children or adults with autism. A critical part of working with children with autism is the process of early intervention to diagnose and treat the symptoms of autism when they are first expressed in a child. As these children grow up, their needs change and sometimes even teenagers and adults with autism need individualized support from an ASD specialist. 

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD specialists are just one type of applied behavior analyst, and they work exclusively with individuals with autism. Individuals who work in this field are not considered medical professionals; ASD specialists do not prescribe medication or diagnose medical conditions. They come into the picture after someone has been diagnosed with autism. Typically, a parent or family member will set up an appointment with an ASD specialist to get things started after a diagnosis has been made along with recommendations from a physician or psychologist. 

These professionals are qualified to treat autism by developing treatment plans specifically designed to address the symptoms of autism. ASD specialists often work with a team of clinicians to treat multiple individuals with autism in a clinical setting, yet they can also work one-on-one with clients in the home, school, or out in the community. 

The work of an ASD specialist can be very demanding and stressful but also highly rewarding! 

Continue reading to learn the ins and outs of being an autism spectrum disorder specialist.

Related Resource: Understanding the Difference between an ABA Therapist and a BCBA


Salary for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Salary for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

The salary for an autism spectrum disorder specialist is about the same as the salary for an applied behavior analyst. After graduating from college and becoming certified to work, an ASD specialist can spend about 10 years working in a clinical setting as a part of a team treating patients with autism and be considered entry-level to intermediate. During this phase of an applied behavior analyst’s career, the salary typically increases as the years progress.  At this point in their careers, most ASD specialists move on to higher positions in their organizations and earn greater pay.

The median annual salary for applied behavior analysts is about $41,500, according to Payscale. The top-earning 10 percent of professionals in this occupation earn about $67,000 per year or more. Yearly bonuses can increase the base pay by about $3,000. Entry-level salaries for this occupation start at around $29,000, with most analysts receiving promotions and raises within the first three years of work. 

With advanced education, certification, and experience, ASD specialists can expect to earn a higher salary than the median. All of these numbers can vary depending upon location and type of setting. 

Key Responsibilities for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Key Responsibilities for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

At the beginning of his or her career, an ASD specialist is responsible for working with children and/or adults with autism in a group or home setting and treating the symptoms of autism with professional applied behavior analysis (ABA) methods. 

Treatments may include sensory therapy, games, practicing social and life skills, encouraging the use of assistive technology, working on language development, and other exercises designed to educate minds and develop skills. Oftentimes, ASD specialists work quite closely with other professionals such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and even clinical psychologists. Collaboration is key when working with a holistic mindset and treating the individual as a whole. 

Other basic duties and responsibilities include:

  • Conducting observations
  • Taking data 
  • Graphing data 
  • Explaining the results of data collection 
  • Completing progress notes
  • Maintaining case files
  • Communicating with multiple parties involved 
  • Creating behavior intervention plans
  • Attending meetings 
  • Being flexible 

After a few months or years of entry-level work, an ASD specialist can receive more responsibility for designing schedules and developing treatment plans for their clients. This initial phase of an applied behavior analyst’s career usually lasts about 10 years, after which he or she will take on additional administrative, supervisory, and clinical responsibilities as well as higher pay.

Necessary Skills for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Necessary Skills for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

To get started in applied behavior analysis as an ASD specialist, one must have expertise in autism spectrum disorders as well as experience working in a clinical or educational setting with individuals with autism. 

Important skills for this profession include analytical aptitude, in-depth knowledge of behavioral and developmental disorders with symptoms similar to autism, and excellent communication skills. 

The most effective ASD specialists are passionate about working with individuals with all levels of autism and helping them cope with their symptoms. They are caring and nurturing and have a genuine interest in helping their clients grow and thrive. In addition, they are natural educators and are curious about the world of behavior. 

All of the skills needed to succeed as an ASD specialist can be obtained by completing an applied behavior analysis degree program and undergoing additional training for treating autism spectrum disorder.

Expertise in special education may be required for some positions, and state certification may be required by some states.

Those who want to work in an education setting as an ASD specialist can work as a substitute in an ASD classroom to get experience while they are in their college program. Once they are certified and out of their program, it will be easier to get a job with the classroom experience they already have. Oftentimes, certified teachers become ABA specialists on the side then merge those two career paths to get the benefit of both worlds. 

Alternately, for those who want to work in a clinical setting, there are opportunities for entry-level and volunteer/internship positions at clinics and autism centers. 

Overall, the skills required to become an autism spectrum specialist take time, education, and training. 

Degree and Education Requirements for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Degree and Education Requirements for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

For some positions, a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis is required. However,  many entry-level positions require only a Bachelor’s degree along with specialized training in treating autism spectrum disorders. Ultimately, many will allow growth and movement within the company or organization without an advanced degree. 

As this profession is experiencing above-average growth, finding a job in this field usually doesn’t take very long in highly populated areas. It is important that individuals seeking this type of job hold an appropriate degree type and are certified to work with individuals with autism. 

Because this profession is not very competitive or crowded with job seekers, enrollment in applied behavior analysis degree programs is generally attainable for most people. Before obtaining a Master’s degree, students must have a Bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis or a related field such as special education, social work, or psychology. 

While becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is not required to become an ASD specialist, this is always an option for those who want to advance their career and have more options. 

Pros and Cons of the Position

Pros and Cons of the Position

The job of an ASD specialist can be very challenging. It can also be highly rewarding for compassionate professionals who love working face-to-face with people who have special needs.  

The benefits of this job include a relatively low barrier to entry, the opportunity to help improve the lives of children and adults with autism, as well as their loved ones, the opportunity to advance to positions of greater responsibility and higher pay, and the personal autonomy of the profession. Other advantages of working with individuals with autism in this capacity are being able to see things from a different perspective, learning to be more curious and compassionate, having fun while at work, and knowing at the end of the day that you are making a difference in lives. 

Some of the drawbacks include low starting pay, occasionally stressful work, physical demands, and the unpleasant experience of dealing with behavioral challenges. Depending on the individual and the symptoms/behaviors, some children and adults with autism display tantrums that can get aggressive or messy. ASD specialists must be trained in proper restraint techniques and understand how to handle emergencies.  

Despite the difficult days, most ASD specialists will agree that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. 

Getting Started

If you’re interested in doing what it takes to start a career working with individuals with autism, you have multiple options and routes. 

For those still in high school, you can begin preparing for a career in applied behavior analysis by enrolling in advanced placement social science and natural science courses. To ensure that you get into a good college undergraduate program, it’s important to graduate from high school with a strong academic record. With a high GPA and a well-rounded extracurricular record throughout your undergraduate years, you can expect to be accepted by a highly ranked graduate program. High school students can also find volunteer or part-time job opportunities working with children with special needs to gain practical experience and make connections. 

There are various undergraduate and graduate programs geared toward working with children and adults with special needs. If you’re not interested in going into special education, there is always social work or psychology; although you’ll want to make sure at some point you take some education courses and courses related to behavior and ABA. 

Depending on the program you choose (undergraduate versus graduate), you may be required to complete an internship or enroll in supervision hours. This will give you beneficial experience in the trenches so you can see what working in the world of ASD is truly like. 

Upon graduation, you will need to complete a training program for applied behavior analysts in your state. For convenience to allow you to continue working while attending a program, there are numerous online ABA programs available

Lastly, many people who work with those on the spectrum have an interest in getting their BCBA. 

Career experts at Indeed describe a bit about this: 

“Psychologists or behavior therapists who want to earn additional accreditation in applied behavior analysis can enroll in a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certificate program. Some employers require employees to have this certification, and those looking to earn this certificate should already have a master’s degree in a related field. BCBA programs include coursework related to ethics, behavioral management, assessment, intervention, and research practices. To earn this certification, students must complete 255 hours of classwork, 1500 hours of supervised fieldwork, and pass an exam.”

Those who want to continue to grow in their career can benefit from obtaining their BCBA certificate. 

Future Outlook for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Future Outlook for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

The occupational outlook for those who want to become an autism spectrum disorder specialist is excellent. Now is the time to start a program and get your career started. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors may grow by 25% between now and 2029. 

They also predict that jobs in the field of special education are projected to increase by about eight percent over the next 10 years. Psychology careers are projected to grow by around 14 percent over the same period. As diagnosed cases of autism continue to increase, specialists in this field will have many job prospects.

Overall, individuals interested in becoming an ASD specialist don’t need to worry about finding a job––there are plenty of opportunities out there! 

Conclusion to Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

Autism is a serious condition that affects the lives of about one in 68 people beginning in early childhood. Specialized therapists can alleviate some of the symptoms of this disorder and make life easier for individuals diagnosed with this condition. The job outlook for this field is quite promising and there is a lot of room for growth. If you enjoy working with children or adults with special needs and want to make a difference in their lives, you may want to consider becoming an autism spectrum disorder specialist.