Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that negatively affects early brain development. Children diagnosed with ASD typically have difficulties in social interaction, communication, and motor coordination. Some youth with autism have intellectual disability, whereas others excel with gifted skills. The most obvious symptoms of ASD generally appear before age three, so early intervention with proven behavioral therapies is important. That’s where autism support teachers come in. Autism support teachers are licensed special educators who specifically work with children on the spectrum. Ranging from PreK through 12th grade, autism support teachers ensure that students with autism have the optimal learning environment. It’s their duty to adapt general curriculum to meet the unique needs of students with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS).
According to the BLS, the median yearly salary for the 450,700 special education teachers, including autism support teachers, in the United States is $55,980. On average, autism support teachers are paid $56,490 at elementary schools and $57,820 in secondary schools annually. The highest paid autism support teachers work in health practitioner offices at $63,040.
When just starting out, autism support teachers often land in the bottom 10th percentile of earnings with a yearly salary around $35,170. However, autism support teachers with years of experience and teacher leadership responsibility can eventually make over $84,320 each year. Teachers who advance as school administrators make an average salary of $91,780.
Autism support teachers have the primary responsibility of developing Individual Education Programs (IEPs) to tailor teaching for accommodating the needs of autistic children. Teachers will evaluate students’ skills and test their knowledge to organize lesson plans suitable for their abilities. Autism support teachers typically work one-on-one or in small groups to educate students diagnosed with ASD. After lessons, teachers must assess students’ learning and track their progress. Autism support teachers will work closely with parents, general education teachers, special educators, school psychologists, and counselors to ensure IEP goals are met. In secondary grades, teachers may also help autistic students learn life skills to successfully transition into adulthood.
Becoming an autism support teacher requires all the skills of a general education teacher and then some. Autism support teachers must have the organizational skills to create a structured routine for students with ASD. Teachers must possess the pedagogical skills to change lesson plans and teaching styles for every student. Creative problem-solving skills are essential to teach students a complex concept from several directions. Autism support teachers must have the analytical and critical thinking skills to evaluate students’ progress. Communication skills are a must for teachers to collaborate with other school staff and keep parents informed. Autism support teachers should also have even-tempered patience for whenever students struggle.
Degree and Education Requirements
Working as an autism support teacher requires holding at least a four-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university. Most aspiring autism support teachers major in elementary education, special education, early childhood education, or psychology. If you’re interested in secondary education, you’ll likely pick a content area major, such as mathematics or English, and minor in education. Most autism support teachers return to graduate school for a master’s degree. Earning a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in special education is popular. Choose a concentration or pursue a certificate in autism spectrum disorders for specialized training. Going the extra step for a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) may be beneficial for administrative jobs.
Pros and Cons of the Position
Like other education careers, being an autism support teacher will come with both rewards and challenges. On the positive side, autism support teachers bring home a decent yearly salary with excellent benefits. Those working in traditional schools will enjoy holiday vacations and may have summers off. Autism support teachers can work in various settings though for flexibility. Demand is steadily growing as the ASD diagnosis becomes more prevalent, so job prospects are good. Autism support teachers also have the ability to significantly improve lifelong outcomes for their pupils. However, teachers must invest heavily in their training and continuing education. Children on the autism spectrum can have mild to severe disabilities, thus meeting their very unique needs can be tough. Completing all the paperwork for IEPs can become tedious. Autism support teachers may work long hours to write progress reports, create lesson plans, and attend parent conferences.
While enrolled in college, future autism support teachers can begin building their resume by acquiring experience with children with ASD. Volunteering at a community center, working at a summer camp, or simply babysitting an autistic child can help. If possible, spend your student teaching semester in a special education classroom. After graduation, contact your state board of education to learn about licensing requirements. Most states require passing the Praxis exams and a criminal background check. An initial teaching license will help you secure your first special education job. Don’t forget applying to private schools because they’re usually more lenient with qualifications. Earning your master’s degree online or during evenings is advised while you continue teaching full-time. Additional training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is wise. For your graduate internship, ensure there will be children with ASD in your classroom. Through the IBCCES, you can then become a Certified Autism Specialist (CAS).
Over the last decade, the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in U.S. youth has increased by 119 percent. As America’s fastest-growing disability, ASD now affects one in 68 births. More than 3.5 million U.S. citizens live with ASD. Enrollment in special education programs is expected to increase for autistic children. Better screening and diagnosis tools have made early intervention very popular for autism. Yet, government funding has limited the number of positions in public education for autism support teachers. The BLS predicts that the employment of special education teachers will grow by six percent through 2024, thus creating around 31,000 jobs overall. Autism support teachers can find jobs in schools as well as childcare centers, hospitals, health practitioner offices, residential facilities, and students’ homes.
There’s no cure for autism, but the work of autism support teachers helps children and teens diagnosed with ASD overcome their developmental delays. These special educators plan, organize, and implement lessons tailored to autistic students’ needs for optimal learning. If you become an autism support teacher, you’ll have the rewarding opportunity to help children with autism spectrum disorders deal with anxiety and gain independence in the classroom.
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