Rehabilitation Therapist

Autism Rehabilitation Therapist

Children and adults with autism need therapy and rehabilitation to overcome the challenges of their condition and lead meaningful, productive lives. Autistic children need to learn the same skills that neurotypical children learn in early childhood. They also need to learn how to cope with the difficulties of autism.

Autism spectrum disorder causes neurological differences that make ordinary social behavior difficult or impossible. Autistic individuals have trouble understanding social cues and emotional communication that neurotypical people take for granted.

Rehabilitation therapy for autistic children and adults is a type of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Therapists work closely with the families of autistic people to implement ABA therapy techniques. Effective treatments use proven methods such as reward reinforcement and behavior training. These techniques have been scientifically validated over the decades since the 1960s when they were first developed. They represent the most effective methods in modern psychology for treating autistic people.

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Autism rehabilitation therapy is a broad job category that encompasses several specializations. Workers in senior-level positions earn more money than junior-level therapists. Advanced education and certification can lead to higher pay and greater responsibility. Depending on a therapist’s specific position and job title, he or she may be responsible for developing a comprehensive treatment plan for an autistic child. Entry-level therapists may simply be charged with assisting a more experienced therapist with his or her duties.

Median salaries for autism rehabilitation therapists range from around $32,000 to $56,000 per year, according to Payscale. Entry-level salaries range from about $25,000 to $40,000 per year while the top-earning therapists take home around $49,000 to $75,000 per year. Getting certification, experience and training can help you increase your earnings in this profession.

Key Responsibilities

Autism rehabilitation therapists are responsible for developing and implementing treatment programs for people with autism. They use applied behavior analysis to encourage autistic patients to develop speech and social skills, as well as physical capabilities such as walking and interacting with others. Therapy sessions are highly structured and designed to reward patients for desirable behavior. No punishment is offered for undesirable behavior. However, rewards are withheld until the desired behavior is achieved. Depending on the severity of the autism, treatment can be extremely difficult and occasionally be discouraging. In most cases, ABA therapy produces positive results and progress for autistic children.

Necessary Skills

Autism rehabilitation therapists need to thoroughly understand applied behavior analysis techniques for working with autistic people. Familiarity with early childhood education is also helpful for therapists working with children. Excellent communication skills are necessary to be able to work with other therapists in group settings. It’s important for therapists to be strongly empathetic and patient when working with autistic children. Strong nerves are also required for therapists who work with extremely disabled children. The experience of watching children suffer can be difficult for most people. Many children suffer from multiple disorders of the body and mind. Rehabilitation therapists must often work with children with severe neurological, physiological and gastrointestinal problems. Compassion and a willingness to learn are important qualities for people in this field.

Degree and Education Requirements

For most positions, a bachelor of science in applied behavior analysis is enough education to begin working with autistic children in therapy sessions. Work experience can provide enough training and qualification to move on to a position of greater responsibility. Some advanced positions are available for therapists with a master’s degree. Voluntary certification is another option for professionals in this field. Licensing is required in states that regulate applied behavior analysis.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Autism rehabilitation therapy is an excellent career choice for anyone who is strongly motivated to relieve children’s suffering¬† and help them live more productive lives. The benefits of this career include:

  • the opportunity to help others
  • the professional autonomy
  • the potential for job growth
  • the probability of advancement

A few of the drawbacks include:

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  • the impersonal, clinical setting
  • the sadness of seeing children afflicted with an incurable condition
  • the relatively low pay compared to the cost of education

Most people who do this job believe that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Autism rehabilitation therapy is somewhat of a calling for most professionals in the field.

Getting Started

To get started in this rewarding career, take as many advanced placement courses as possible in high school. High schools don’t always offer social science courses, but you should try to focus as much of your attention as possible in these areas, especially psychology and applied behavior analysis. In college you should major in applied behavior analysis or a related subject. You may also choose to focus on early childhood development and study childhood neurological disorders.

When you receive a bachelor’s degree, you will have the choice of immediately entering your career or earning a master’s degree. If you choose to enter your career immediately after receiving your bachelor’s degree, you can always choose to pursue a master’s degree later. Depending on the career path you take, you may find it more worthwhile to simply keep working instead of taking time off to get a master’s degree.

Future Outlook

Applied behavior analysis careers are expected to increase eight percent over the next 10 years, or about the same as the average rate of growth for all occupations. Jobs in rehabilitation therapy will be in relatively high demand as more children are diagnosed with autism or similar neurological disorders. Positions will be available for bachelor’s degree holders as well as for specialists with master’s degrees in this field. Whether you continue your college education after receiving a bachelor’s degree should depend on your desire to hold a leadership position in the field of autism rehabilitation therapy.

Many people feel a strong calling to help ease the suffering of children and adults with autism. Others enter the field of rehabilitation therapy after seeing a loved one suffer from the effects of autism. If you’re passionate about working with autistic people on a daily basis, you should consider becoming an autism rehabilitation therapist.