Autism refers to a group of complex organic brain disorders, usually first noticed in childhood when it is noted that autistic children have trouble communicating and relating to others, as well as their tendencies to engage in repetitive behaviors. Therapists working with children with autism focus try to focus on each child's individual strengths, teaching them to function to their highest potential. Working in such a challenging environment can be satisfying and rewarding. In addition to obtaining training in general therapy, many professionals working with autistic children acquire a master's degree in applied behavioral analysis or ABA, which requires additional education.
Get your bachelor's degree, with a major in either psychology, child psychology or human development and family studies. These majors can help you obtain a background in basic psychological principles that will help you in your graduate studies. Obtain the best grades possible, as graduate schools are competitive and good grades are one of the criteria they use to select applicants. Ball State University, for example, requires undergraduates to have a grade point average of 3 out of 4 on during the last two years of their bachelor’s degree and an overall GPA of at least 2.75.
Take a graduate school admissions test, such as the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, getting the highest score possible. The GRE tests your verbal, quantitative and analytical reasoning skills. Your scores are compared, using percentiles, to all others taking the test. Ball State University requires you to score at or above the 45th percentile.
Complete your master's degree in applied behavioral analysis at a school approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, or BACB. These programs typically require at least 30 credit-hours of multidisciplinary study in areas such as psychology, therapy and special education and typically takes about two years of full-time study to complete.
Obtain your graduate certificate in autism, which involves getting additional, specialized training and education working with autistic children. This certificate takes about one full-time semester to complete, and may be completed at the same time as your master's degree.
Obtain BACB certification by completing a certification application, passing your certification examination and producing a clean background check. Your classroom experience must include at least 225 hours with 15 in ethics, 35 in behavioral assessment and treatment, 20 hours in displaying and interpreting behavioral data, 45 hours in principles, processes and concepts and 20 hours in experimental evaluation of interventions.
- Autism Speaks: What is Autism?
- Ball State University: Master of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) with an Emphasis in Autism
- Educational Testing Service: Graduate Record Examination
- Behavior Analyst Certification Board: Eligibility Standards
- Temple University: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) / Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.