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A habilitation specialist helps mentally disabled clients learn social skills and, when possible, skills for living independently. This is in contrast to a rehabilitation specialist, who typically helps people who have been injured to recover their previous abilities. Many of these specialists may actually run a center that provides these services, so management skills and experience are also necessary.
The caregiver's responsibility depends on the age group he works with and the severity of the disabilities. Often, the specialist works in a home for developmentally disabled. Responsibilities include engaging residents in daily activities and identifying situations that could be dangerous to residents. If the caregiver's job is more hands-on than management, he'll be helping with feeding, bathing, hygiene, grooming and teaching behavior management skills. For specialists who work with children, the work can include behavioral intervention to teach social skills and problem solving, in order to help with social integration.
Some habilitation specialists are hired to oversee and manage homes for developmentally disabled. In these situations, their responsibilities can include supervising staff, overseeing programs that teach daily living skills, noting the progress and success of programs to discern whether a certain technique should be continued, and overseeing the budget. These specialists also work with hiring, disciplining and rewarding staff.
Education and Experience
For a habilitation specialist who works hands on with the disabled, he'll need at least a high school diploma and relevant work or life experience. Applicants need a driver's license, the ability to lift up to 50 or 70 pounds and to pass a background check. The ability to handle crisis situations is a must. If the specialist works in management, he needs at least a bachelor's degree in a human services field along with relevant experience with the disabled. If he only has a high school diploma, he may need up to four years of specialized work experience.
The salaries vary widely according to the type of job and whether or not he is at a management level. For example, a private agency hiring a specialist to work with children pays $9 to $12 an hour in Maine. A private agency hiring a specialist to work with adults pays $11.50 an hour in New York. A similar specialist working in Ohio would start out $9.87 an hour. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, rehabilitation counselors with master's degrees, which includes both habilitation specialists and physical rehabilitation specialists, make $16.29 an hour or $33,880 a year, as of 2012.