How to Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

How to Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

How to Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist

For those with a particular passion for working with those on the spectrum, a career as an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist will be compelling. However, this career path will warrant a bit more training and preparation than some of the other special needs jobs you may have researched. Not only will you need a bachelor’s degree in a related right field, but you’ll also need additional education and certifications. We’ve got all the details in one place for you. Here’s how to become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist.


What Does an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist Do?

It’s an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist’s job to make life a little easier for those on the spectrum, particularly those whose symptoms impact their ability to integrate into society and maintain their independence. These are Applied Behavior Analysts who specialize in working with people on the spectrum, and they may choose to work independently or as part of a team at a behavioral center. Specialists offer treatments in the way of speech therapy and sensory therapy, though for younger clients, the therapy can be disguised as play.

They see clients, usually young people with ASD, one-on-one at each client’s home or at a center where they can moderate group sessions.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialists with more experience will also perform managerial and administrative tasks like handling session scheduling and supervising entry-level specialists and aides. From here, the ASD Specialist is well on their way to becoming an Applied Behavior Therapist, though that will require additional schooling.

SEE RELATED: What Does an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist Actually Do?


What Are the Qualifications to Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist?

Although an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist career path doesn’t require as many prerequisites as one for an Applied Behavior Therapist, you still have to undergo some heavy-duty training to show employers (and clients) that you know your stuff. People will want to see that you’re not just knowledgeable in the psychology of behavior as it pertains to the general population. They’ll, of course, also want to see that you’re specifically familiar with behavioral relations for those on the Autism spectrum.

To prove your expertise in this subject matter, you’ll need more than a snippet in your application that says your cousin is on the spectrum. You’ll need a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant field, like special needs education or psychology, and you’ll need to be able to demonstrate that you have various “hard” and “soft” skills like being able to communicate clearly, to stay level-headed in high-stress environments, and to apply your analytical eye to real-life situations.

Though experience as a special education teacher or a day habilitation center employee isn’t necessary, it certainly couldn’t hurt. It’s worth noting any experience you have with individuals with special needs on your resume. Any relevant experience will help you land the job of your dreams. Whether you have hands-on experience with people with autism or not, you can help prove your knowledge by getting a special needs certification.

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Do Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialists Need Degrees? If So, in What?

As Generation Z enters adulthood, more and more people are forgoing college educations, understanding the mountain of debt that will follow them long into their careers. As a result, many job fields are no longer requiring college degrees. Employers are either saying that a degree is preferred or that they’ll outright accept “equivalent experience” in place of one.

While that may be the case for some behavior centers, it’s not the norm: You still need a degree to be an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist.

The following degrees can help you land a job in this field:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Special Education
  • Psychology
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Special-Language Pathology
  • Social Work
  • Child Development
  • Cognitive Science
  • Neurology

How Do I Become an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist?


Step 1: Get Caught Up in School

You just need to start where you are: If you’re still in high school, then prepare for your career as an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist researching the best college degree programs and get some volunteer experience with your special ed class. If you’re currently in college and majoring in something unrelated, then you’ll need to meet with your guidance counselor and switch your degree program.

If you’re in the right program, then simply focus on your studies. If you’re in a place where you don’t have to work, then focus primarily on your GPA and gain some volunteer experience with a special needs organization. 

It’s also possible that you started a post-graduate program before realizing your true passion. It happens to the best of us! You can continue with your Master’s program if it’s in psychology or cognitive science, but if your undergrad degree isn’t in a related field, then it’s best to change your degree plan if your Master’s is in Fine Arts.


Step 2: Gain Relevant Experience

Besides knowledge of cognitive disabilities and behavior, you’ll also need to demonstrate that you have experience working with people with Autism to land your dream job. As mentioned above, you can gain this experience by volunteering with places that specialize in working with people with intellectual disabilities. Some places we’d recommend are: day habilitation centers, behavior clinics, sensory gyms, and churches.


The only thing better than volunteer experience is paid experience working with people with special needs. Depending on how flexible your school schedule is, you can work part-time at any of the above places. If you can take night classes or you’re already out of school, then you can work full-time at a day hab center. You should even consider becoming a personal trainer for people with special needs. You can get certified to work with children with autism as young as 8.


Step 3: Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

While it’s usually not necessary to get a post-graduate degree to become an Applied Behavior Analyst, you might consider this approach to set yourself apart from others trying to enter the field. While it isn’t currently oversaturated, Autism awareness is becoming more and more widespread (thank goodness), so it’s possible that it could be soon.

Getting a Master’s degree can also put you on a path toward becoming an Applied Behavior Therapist, a job that earns approximately $30,000 more per year than an Applied Behavior Analyst. Something to think about!

Other things to could set you apart are other certifications that show you’re knowledgeable about special needs and have the skills to work well with people with cognitive disabilities. If you’re still in school or if you have decided to get an additional degree, meet with your guidance counselor to see if they have a certificate program you can apply for.

Some extracurricular certifications you can get to show your devotion to the field is one with Strong Education. It doesn’t just teach you how to modify exercises to work with children and adults with special needs. It also shows you exercises (both physical and mental) to employ that can help prevent emotional meltdowns in your clients, helping them live happier, more independent lives — precisely your goal as an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist. This certification will help you start doing what you love, even before you get your license.


Step 4: Get Certified

Applied Behavior Analysts wishing to specialize in Autism should receive a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) designation, from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). Employers usually expect applicants to have this BCBA designation. To be eligible to pursue this certification, students must first complete 225 credit hours in courses like “ethics, behavioral assessment, intervention strategies, managing behavioral data, and measurement of behavior.” To complete the certification program, students must also complete 1500 hours of real-world work under the supervision of a certified ABA. From there, you’ll need to pass the exam. Once you’re BCBA certified, you’ll need to renew your certification once a year. 

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Get Certified to Work with Kids with Autism

The process of becoming an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist can be a long journey. While it’s well worth it, you may also consider starting a career that can help you pursue your passion while you’re getting your degrees and certifications — a career that will also help you get the experience you need to stand out for your employers and prospective clients. That career is personal training individuals with special needs. With our all-online, FAST certification program, you’ll have the credentials to work with children as young as 8, adolescents, young adults, and adults with Autism. Sign up today!

Strong Education teaches personal trainers and service providers on how to adapt fitness and nutrition for children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities through our online adaptive special needs certification course.

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