Becoming an Autism Specialist: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
Learn about an autism specialist's job duties, salary and training requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of an autism specialist career.
View available schools

An Autism Specialist Career: Pros and Cons

Autism specialists provide individual or group attention to autistic children and adults to help them improve. Continue reading to learn about the pros and cons of an autism specialist career, so you can make an informed decision about whether this is the career for you.

Pros of an Autism Specialist Career
Early intervention and treatment might lead to significant progress in patients*
Highest-earning professionals can make over $104,000***
Can work in many locations (schools, homes, hospitals)**
Provides the chance to assist young children and their entire family**

Cons of an Autism Specialist Career
Typically must have a master's degree**
Often need to earn board certification**
Usually need prior experience working with autistic children to find a job****
There is currently no cure for autism, which might sometimes make the work discouraging*

Sources: *Autism Society, **Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, ***PayScale.com, ****May 2012 Monster.com job postings.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

Autism specialists, more generally known as applied behavior analysts, design and implement training programs to reduce autism symptoms and promote early intervention for those who suffer from the disorder. According to the Florida Association for Behavior Analysis (FABA), behavior analysts usually specialize in one area, such as autism, and might work with only children (www.fabaworld.org). The FABA reported that specialists can work with team members to assess children's skills and behaviors to determine whether or not they are autistic, if their case is severe or mild and what treatment plans they can try. The plan you create must address deviant behaviors that are common in autistic children, such as non-social behavior, problems communicating and lack of response to smiles or gestures.

The NAA stated that on a daily basis, you could apply several different therapies to help your patients, including working with them on language, music and visual development. You also must conduct regular evaluations to determine their progress. According to the FABA, you may work with autistic children or adults at schools, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, treatment agencies or patients' homes.

Salary and Job Outlook Info

According to PayScale.com, most applied behavior analysts made $29,000-$104,000 as of July 2015. How many years of experience you have can affect your salary; for instance, the national median salary for applied behavior analysts is about $49,000. However, individuals at the entry level earn about 19% less than the national average, while those at the mid-career and experienced levels earn approximately 18% and 40% more, respectively.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in every 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (www.cdc.gov). The most recent data available from The Autism Society stated that autism was the fastest-growing developmental disability and that the prevalence of the disorder is increasing at a rate of 10-17% per year in the United States (www.autism-society.org). Although no one wants to see an increase in a developmental disorder, the demand for autism specialists has grown since parents and adults now look to early intervention and treatment as a way to improve children's progress.

Education and Training Requirements

According to the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training, autism specialists must hold a master's degree or higher (kcart.ku.edu). However, May 2012 job listings show that some employers require only a bachelor's degree in special education, with training specifically in autism spectrum disorders. Master's degree programs are available in applied behavior analysis or special education. After earning your graduate degree, you can become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) by passing an exam offered by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacb.com).

Through graduate-level training, you can study human behavior and analyze developmental disabilities to learn how they affect social and biological behaviors. You can explore how individuals with autism communicate and learn how to treat language development problems. You also might study the full autism spectrum and practice intervention methods. A master's degree program can help you develop skills that you can use as an autism specialist, such as:

  • Paying attention to subtle details like body language
  • Communicating effectively
  • Recording observations
  • Working well with others

What Employers Are Looking for

Due to the prevalence of both severe and mild autism, the demand for autism specialists and behavior analysts is growing. However, most employers look for professionals who have a background in special education, a master's degree and experience working with individuals who have autism. The following May 2012 job postings include common academic requirements and job responsibilities.

  • A health agency in Springfield, IL, wanted an autism specialist who holds a master's degree and has experience as a BCBA. The employee would work as part of a treatment team to implement intervention strategies and assess their effectiveness.
  • A Dallas, TX, autism center advertised for an autism behavior analyst who had a master's degree and BCBA certification to work with individuals who have autism and help develop their social, academic and functional skills. The ad mentioned that the specialist would need to create treatment plans and conduct skill assessments.
  • A company in California that develops new autism therapies looked for a behavior interventionist to help implement in-home programs designed to help autistic children and their families. The employer required a bachelor's degree and experience working with autistic children. Bilingual skills were also preferred.

How to Stand Out in the Field

As indicated by May 2012 job postings, most employers looked for specialists who have experience working directly with autistic individuals. You can gain this background by volunteering, teaching special education or by completing a graduate program that provides additional training in autism spectrum disorders. Graduate certificate programs with a specialization in autism or autism spectrum disorders can help you acquire real-world experience through clinicals and practicums. This training can prepare you to:

  • Diagnose autism in children
  • Assess where children fall on the autism spectrum
  • Improve linguistic skills
  • Provide support to autistic children and their families

Alternative Career Paths

Special Education Teacher

If you're put off by the training requirements needed for autism specialists, you might consider becoming a special education teacher. In this role, you could work with a variety of students who have many different types of developmental, learning, emotional and physical disabilities. You can enter this line of work with a bachelor's degree in special education and a teaching license, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that some public schools may require you to eventually earn a master's degree (www.bls.gov).

The BLS projected that the employment of special education teachers would increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020, which was average growth. The median annual salary for special education teachers varies by the academic level; elementary school special education teachers made about $53,000 as of May 2011, while secondary school special education teachers earned about $56,000 per year.

Clinical Psychologist

If becoming an autism specialist isn't for you, but you're interested in helping people overcome mental, physical or behavioral disorders, you could become a clinical psychologist. The BLS projected that the employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists would increase by 22% between 2010 and 2020, which was faster than average. However, you typically must earn at least a doctoral degree in psychology and pass a licensure exam to become a clinical psychologist. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was almost $68,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
      • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
    Certificate
      • Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Literacy
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
      • Ph.D in Literacy: Literacy
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
    Master's
      • M.A. in Autism Spectrum Disorders
      • M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross-Categorical
      • M.Ed. in Master of Education in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education-ITL
      • M.Ed. in Master of Education in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education-NITL
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • MA in Gifted Education
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
      • B.S. in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Christian Education
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation
    Master's
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: The Inclusive Classroom (SPED)
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Methods & Curriculum
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Education - Special Education
      • Ed.D. - Special Education
      • Ed.D. - Early Childhood Education
      • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - General Education
      • PhD in Education - Instructional Leadership
    Master's
      • MEd - Special Education
      • MAT - Special Education
      • M.Ed. - Early Childhood Education
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • MEd - General Education
      • MAT - Curriculum and Teaching
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Special Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Education in Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Special Education with Autism Specialization
      • MS in Education - Special Education - Master's Only
      • MS in Education - Special Education and Special Education Certification
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
      • MS in Education - Deaf and Hard Hearing Education PK-12 Certification
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Professional and Liberal Studies w/ an Autism Studies Concentration
      • BLS in General Studies - Autism Studies Concentration
    Certificate
      • Post-Bachelor's Certificate - Autism Studies
      • Certificate of Proficiency in Autism Studies
      • Autism Spectrum Disorder Endorsement
      • Certificate - Special Education
      • Pennsylvania PK-12 Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Certification
      • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    9. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
      • Master of Education - Elementary Education
      • Master: Education - Instructional Design
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

George Mason University

  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Master of Education in Special Education, specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder Certificate

What is your highest level of education?

Saint John's University

  • Ph.D. in Literacy
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Special Education
  • M.A. in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • BS in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)

What is your highest level of education?

Concordia University Portland

  • EdD Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation
  • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: The Inclusive Classroom (SPED)
  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Education - Special Education
  • MEd - Special Education
  • Education Specialist - Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Education in Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Special Education with Autism Specialization
  • BS - Professional and Liberal Studies w/ an Autism Studies Concentration
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate - Autism Studies

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Special Education

What is your highest level of education completed?