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Degrees for Autism Specialists

Autism specialists may work as special education teachers or autism behavioral specialists. A masters degree is often the required level of education, and there are both online and campus-based graduate programs available that focus on educational techniques for students with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder. Learn about common courses you will take and career options in the field.

What Degree Options Are Available for Aspiring Autism Specialists?

You can earn a Master of Education or a Master of Arts in Special Education with a specialization in autism. Some schools also offer autism specialist certificates, which can be earned through stand-alone programs or in combination with a master's program.

Master's programs typically take two years to complete, while you can usually earn an autism specialist certificate in six months to a year. Credits earned in a certificate program often can be applied toward a master's degree. Prerequisites for both programs generally include a bachelor's degree with some classes in education or psychology pertaining to children with special needs.

Degrees Master's degree
Course Topics Identifying signs of autism, behaviors of autism, special needs math and reading, communication skills
Online Options Online master's degree programs are available
Possible Job Titles Special education teacher, autism behavioral specialist
Median Salary (2018) $59,780 (for all preschool teachers
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 8% growth (for all preschool teachers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

What Will I Learn?

Introductory courses in an autism specialist certificate program can teach you to identify signs of autism in children. Other classes cover steps for handling issues that arise while interacting with autistic kids. You'll also examine the techniques used to teach math and reading to children with special needs. A final project or field-based practicum may be required.

In a master's program with a specialization in autism, you may study common behaviors in autistic children, including aggression and temper tantrums, that can make day-to-day interaction a challenge. Some classes explore teaching methods that can help autistic kids develop communication and knowledge acquisition skills. You'll likely need to complete a practicum to receive your master's degree.

How Do Online Programs Work?

Both certificate and master's degree programs are available online. Generally, you can complete core autism courses via the Internet, but some residencies and seminars must be attended on-campus. Most programs will expect you to complete a classroom-based internship. Course content may be delivered through streaming or prerecorded video lectures, as well as traditional textbooks. You usually can access assignments and take tests online. Web-based discussion forums may be used for interaction with professors and classmates.

What Are My Career Options?

With a certificate or master's degree in autism, you could work with autistic children in special education classrooms at the elementary, middle and high school levels. If you want to work in a public school, you must hold a teaching license from your state board of education. Licensure requirements vary by state, but common requirements include completion of a bachelor's program, student teaching experience and passage of a certification exam. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some states require completion of a master's program (www.bls.gov).

In March 2016, job listings on Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com indicated that a master's degree and at least a year of experience could also help you to land a job as an autism behavioral specialist. These specialists work individually with children and adolescents outside the classroom environment. They also create behavior treatment plans and consult with family members. Autism behavioral specialists often work for social service agencies or nonprofit organizations.