Autism is a developmental disorder that generally is characterized by repetitive movements and delays in language acquisition and social skills. A career working with people who have autism can be rewarding and fulfilling as it offers you the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of your clients and their families. There are a variety of career paths you can choose, depending on your area of interest and level of education.
Early Intervention Specialist
Autism is typically diagnosed before age 3. When a doctor determines a child is autistic, that child will receive a variety of services, depending on her specific needs. Early intervention is a service that helps to address symptoms and deficits as soon as possible to improve the outcome of the disorder. Specialists in early intervention work one-on-one with children and their families to evaluate needs. They help teach or improve upon specific skills, such as communication and social skills, and remedy problematic behaviors. Various professionals provide early intervention services, including speech/language pathologists, physical therapists, special education teachers, occupational therapists and psychologists. Most of these professionals have at least a master's degree in their respective fields.
Applied Behavior Analyst
Applied behavior analysts work with people who have autism, providing services from birth until adulthood. They use the principles of applied behavior analysis, such as positive reinforcement and repetition, to implement positive behavioral changes, reduce negative or problematic behaviors, and to help their clients gain new or improved skills. Applied behavior analysts work in various settings, such as schools, early intervention programs, developmental disabilities institutes and other educational settings. To become an applied behavior analyst, you usually need to be a licensed clinical psychologist with training in applied behavior analysis, or a board-certified behavior analyst. Board-certified behavior analysts must obtain at least a master's degree in a relevant field and complete additional experience and education requirements.
Adult Services Specialist
Developmental disabilities institutes and charitable organizations offer various services to help people with autism make the transition to adulthood, then offer continued support. Autism professionals who work with adults might work in residential programs such as supportive living or supervised group homes. They also might work in day-treatment or job-readiness programs to help people with autism find suitable and enjoyable employment. Examples of careers in adult services might include titles like job readiness coach, support worker, case manager or residential counselor. In most cases, these positions require a minimum of a high school diploma, but case managers may need at least a bachelor's degree.
The field of autism research has experienced a boom, with an increase in the number of professionals and publications entering the field in recent years, according to a leading autism science and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks. Researchers in the field of autism are usually doctoral-level professionals with degrees in areas like psychology, neuropsychology, genetics and other biomedical fields. Autism researchers might work in dedicated research institutes, hospitals, universities or other educational settings. They conduct studies in a variety of areas, such as examining risk factors, cognitive issues or genetic markers, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs for people with autism, like early intervention programs.