Over the last two decades, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, has become a more frequent diagnosis among children in the United States, and it’s a diagnosis that crosses racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic divides. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD compared with one in 150 children in the year 2000.
What this means for parents, educators, and for communities is that there are many more children in the classroom who have been identified as having special needs and who need specialized help. Teachers and aides may need to help these students process material in a different way so that they can learn it better, or they may need to help students manage their emotions or learn social skills to better interact with their peers and the world around them.
The growing incidence of ASD and the increased awareness of what these students need to be successful in the classroom has created a demand for teachers and professionals who are trained to work with children with autism, specifically. If you are a teacher or professional who is likely to work with children who have ASD, you may want to consider getting more education to become a certified autism specialist.
What Does a Certified Autism Specialist Do?
An autism specialist is someone who works with children who are diagnosed with ASD, which can include a range of behaviors and challenges. Not all children who have been diagnosed on the spectrum behave the same way or struggle with the same issues. Some children with ASD may have extreme sensory processing issues, such as reacting negatively to loud noises or unpleasant smells. Others may have difficulty with social interactions, such as being able to process another’s emotions or using appropriate manners. Children with ASD can have mild or severe neurological challenges.
Autism specialists who get an advanced autism certification learn the specific skills necessary to work with these children and help them meet their goals. They can provide therapy or assistance in a classroom, private counseling, or even at home. Autism specialists also work with other students who are in the same classroom. For example, they might teach the other students about the challenges that autistic students face and what they can do to have improved interactions.
Teaching autistic students these skills and teaching other students how to support them can help autistic students to be more successful in the classroom, have improved interactions with their peers, and later perform better in the job market.
Where do Autism Specialists Work?
Typically, autism specialists work in educational settings, such as public and private K-12 classrooms. Students with ASD may be placed in a specific, special education classroom, or they may be a part of a general education classroom and get special assistance from an aide. They may also be sent to a special class for part of the day where they receive additional help.
Certified autism specialists work in any of these settings, either as specialized teachers, general education teachers who can offer specialized instruction for autistic students, or assistants in the classroom.
Other professionals can also become autism specialists to get the credentials necessary to work with ASD children. For example, Dr. David Rago says “that private therapists may choose to become specialists in this field, or social workers who have clients with ASD or clients who have children with ASD may want to get this certification”. Private aides may also find it helpful to get the certification; these professionals focus not on teaching ASD children, but on supporting their social, emotional, and behavioral needs.
Most people who work with individuals on the autism spectrum are not required to have special training or certification in autism. Typically, teachers have a certification in teaching or in special education. Other professionals who may work with autistic individuals may be trained primarily as psychologists, behavioral therapists, personal aides, or family counselors, for example. Each of these professions has its own requirements for practice, which do not necessarily take into consideration working with an autistic population.
According to Rago, getting an autism certification can help teachers and other professionals open up new job opportunities and make them more marketable to potential employers. Teachers can qualify for more jobs by showing that they are trained to work with autistic students, who are a growing part of the student population; other professionals can attract more clients by showing that they are educated on the special needs of autistic children.
Becoming a Certified Autism Specialist
To become a certified autism specialist, you need to get additional education on the specific needs of individuals with ASD, as well as on the most effective therapeutic strategies to help them, including their educational, behavioral, social, and emotional needs.
Three Steps to becoming a Certified Autism Specialist
- Receive an Appropriate Degree
- Complete Continuing Education
- Pass the Autism Competency Exam
Career Outcomes for an Autism Specialist
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that special education teachers make a median salary of $61,820 per year. (In California, it ranges from $ 78,310 at the preschool level to $ 99,200 at the secondary school level, as of May 2021) The BLS does not track information on autism specialists, specifically, but these professionals are counted among special education teachers, and the bureau estimates that the number of jobs will grow by 4% percent between 2021 and 2031.
In practice, professionals who are classified as certified autism specialist likely make more money than special education teachers. By getting that extra autism training, they are increasing their marketability and are likely to get paid a larger salary.
“Somebody with a special ed license can work with students with autism in a special education setting,” Rago says. “But most of the schools – if you’re going to be in a classroom specific to autism, they would like to see that you have some specialized training in addition to your general ed license.”
Rago advises that completing the autism certification makes a professional more attractive to employers and opens up additional career paths. Teachers may decide they want to go into clinical settings, or they can use the certification to segue into private practice. Pursuing those different career opportunities can give them leverage to negotiate higher salaries, as well.
With the growing rate of ASD diagnoses, you can be sure that you will have a wide variety of job opportunities for a long time to come. By getting the autism certification, you can distinguish yourself from other candidates, which will make you more competitive for jobs and give you more leverage to negotiate a higher salary.