What are the specifics and what does an autism spectrum disorder specialist actually do? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specialists are a specific type of applied behavior analysts. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that zeroes in on how behaviors can change based on the environment and by social settings.
ASD specialists are specialists who work exclusively with those who have been diagnosed with autism. Their work can be performed both inside educational settings, residential centers, and even medical facilities. These specialists work to improve the mental, physical and social skills of their patients.
Responsibilities of an Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist
Autism spectrum disorder specialists have key responsibilities when it comes to working with their clients, all of which contribute to a major goal: to help clients become more individually inclined, and to function well within different social environments
Whether specialists are working with people individually or in group settings, they always carefully and professionally treat the symptoms of autism.
Treatment is usually done by methods such as:
- Games that are appropriate for age level, which also support individual needs
- Sensory therapy
- Social skills training
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
- Assistive technology, such as electronic or tablet use
- Collaborative work with other specialists in the same field
Because every patient is unique, these activities are not one-size-fits-all, and each of them can be customized to fit each patient’s individual needs, challenges, strengths or age.
These responsibilities are expected of specialists at every level. However, later on in their careers, autism spectrum disorder specialists may take on bigger responsibilities, such as developing treatment and lesson plans that can be used across the board for other specialists, leading industry conferences and even recruiting others to be involved with this special work.
What Are the Benefits of ASD Specialists?
ASD specialists have a very rewarding job, since they are giving back to a community with special needs in a positive and productive way. Improving their patients’ livelihood is just one of the many benefits of their career. Of the many other assets, some of the most notable include:
- Specialized therapy sessions and activities: Because each individual has different needs, there are some areas that may require more focus than others.
- Improving physical and mental health: This is done through exercises built for both physical strengthening and cognitive development.
- Improving education and schoolwork: This includes assistance with handwriting and other core skills. When a specialist works with a child on his or her work at home, it is often reflected in their performance at school and their excitement in learning in general.
- Decreasing challenging behaviors: Sometimes ASD patients have meltdowns. Specialists work with them to decrease the intensity of these behaviors and prevent future meltdowns through special methods of therapy.
- Support: ASD specialists provide a great deal of support for both their patients and their patients’ families, which is critical for everyone involved.
- Early detection: ASD specialists play a role in detecting autism spectrum disorder early on, which means therapy can begin, and a child can get the help he or she needs as soon as possible.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialists’ Role in Early Detection
Though they are not medical professionals and can’t make any medical diagnoses, ASD specialists are specially trained to detect early signs of ASD, through professional observations and conclusions.
ASD specialists can observe and record young children’s behavior, and if they detect any signs of early autism spectrum disorder, it is up to them to refer the child’s family to a medical professional, who can then give an official diagnosis. Once a child is diagnosed, therapy for ASD can begin as soon as possible, in both home environments and school or educational environments.
ASD Specialists in Educational Environments
Many ASD specialists work primarily in school environments, as special education teachers, teacher aids or general specialists. These positions involve interaction with students in both group and one-on-one settings. Students may play games, participate in physical and sensory activities with other students. Specialists will also help students with speech therapy, arithmetic, spelling, handwriting, and more.
Many schools also offer courses like “partners physical education,” and other partnered activities, where students on the autism spectrum are able to interact with those who are not. This is a great way for ASD students to become more adjusted in social situations. ASD specialists can plan lessons and games that are appropriate for all students involved, and monitor the interactions as well.
ASD Specialists in Residential Environments
ASD specialists are also able to make home visits for therapy sessions, for more a more personal approach. Children and adults alike can benefit from these visits, because they are often more personalized and less distracting.
It can also reduce anxiety for patients who are able to learn, play and interact in their own homes, since they are familiar with their surroundings — something that they might not feel if they were introduced to a new location.
ASD Specialists in Medical Environments
If a child or adult with autism spectrum disorder becomes ill or injured, they may need to spend time away from home in a medical facility such as a hospital. In certain situations, ASD specialists may be asked to visit and interact with patients in a medical environment.
If an injury or illness is serious enough, physical therapy could be required in order to achieve a full recovery. If this is the case, ASD specialists will be able to assess the patient’s needs and develop an appropriate plan to help them with physical therapy – whether it must take place in a medical environment, or if the physical therapy can be done at home.
ASD Specialists in the Applied Behavior Analyst Field
In addition to the roles they play in educational, residential and medical environments, ASD specialists also play a big role in the applied behavior analyst field in general. ASD specialists are an important part of the field because they specialize and work with one special group, which gives back to the field as a whole.
ASD specialists also spend a portion of their time (some more significant amounts than others) interacting with other specialists, whether through continuing education, networking, or collaborating on lesson and therapy plans. When it comes to the duties of an ASD specialist, there may be a great deal to keep track of, but they are all very rewarding.
Qualifications and Training for Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialists
Becoming an ASD specialist requires lots of study, work and training. Most positions require a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, although there are some entry level positions that only require a bachelor’s degree or a bachelor’s degree accompanied with other specialized training.
The ASDS field is not as competitive as others, though, so attaining a degree is manageable. Note: before getting a master’s degree, it’s required that students get their bachelor’s degree in applied behavior analysis, or in a field that is related.
Many employers also require a teaching degree or certification in order to become an official ASDS. On the journey to certification, one should be prepared to learn about and apply their training to the following:
- Child psychology
- Teaching methods for special education
- Crisis intervention
- Special communication methods
- Behavior analysis
- Treatment methods
- Theories related to autism spectrum disorder
Skills of ASD Specialists
Aside from education, ASD specialists must have experience working in clinical settings with individuals who have autism. The general skills one must have in order to be a successful ASD specialist include:
- Passion about their career and the people they serve
- In-depth knowledge about behavioral disorders, how to identify them and how to work with them
- Excellent skills in communication
- Friendliness towards clients
- Creativity to use in games and activities, and for problem solving as well
- Encouragement in all areas of therapy
Salary of Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialists
According to Payscale, ASD specialists’ salary is about the same as applied behavior analysts’. The median amount is $41,500, annually. Of course, this can change depending on the amount of years an ASD specialist has in experience, and they can expect it to increase after several years in the industry.
The entry level salary for an ASD specialist is roughly $29,000 – $30,000. Many specialists can also expect to receive promotions in the first few years of their career – and depending on their overall job description, could make even more.
ASD specialists can also add skills to their resume by investing in other opportunities that reflect their passions, interest and working styles. One in particular are special needs physical trainers. Since physical fitness is one of the biggest parts of ASD therapy, getting certified as a special needs trainer through programs such as Certify Strong is a great option for ASD specialists to consider. This certification adds even more value to an already valuable career.
Strong Education teaches personal trainers, parents, and professionals how to adapt fitness and nutrition for children, adolescents, and adults with autism, Down Syndrome, and other disabilities through our online special needs certification course.