An autistic support teacher plans and delivers educational instruction to students with autism spectrum disorders and emotional disabilities. They may work for a school, counseling center, or other special needs facility. The overall goal is to help autistic students learn mechanisms for coping with their disorder and techniques to help them adapt to their communities. Usually, they teach reading, writing, math, comprehension and communication skills to disabled students. In their role, autistic support teachers also serve as mentors to special education teaching assistants and other staff. They also help instill basic life skills by promoting classroom structure, rules and procedures. For example, students are taught to follow directions, interact with classmates and communicate effectively. Sometimes, the teacher may be part of a clinical support team that assesses student progress and perform evaluations.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current data indicates the average salary is $55,060. The lowest reported salary was $37,000, while the highest exceeded $80,000.
Starting salaries for autistic support teachers fluctuate between $37,000 and $46,000. The actual rate of pay depends on geographic location and type of employer.
Key responsibilities will vary depending on the employer. In a counseling or clinical setting, they may perform evaluations to determine the severity of disability, create IEP plans or make referrals depending on each student’s individualized needs. Autistic support teachers also assist students and parents with managing behavioral difficulties. In a school setting, duties include delivering curriculum, ensuring every student’s IEP needs are being met and monitoring compliance with state mandated standards. They may work with small groups or individuals to deliver lessons based on each student’s ability.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders can be challenging to work with. In order to support them adequately, teachers need patience and a high degree of empathy. The job typically requires a reasonable level of physical fitness. Lifting, positioning and helping students dress is occasionally required to ensure student safety and teach self-care. Since they spend most of the day interacting with the public, good verbal and written communication skills are essential. The ability to keep detailed and accurate records is needed to ensure compliance with employer and state mandates.
Degree and Education Requirements
Autistic support teachers need a bachelors or masters degree in teaching and a certificate in autism spectrum disorders. There are two types of certificates. A graduate certificate in autism is a post baccalaureate program for teachers and other professionals. Approximately 16 units of additional autism specific coursework are required. Certification as an autism specialist requires a masters degree. Applicants need two years of hands-on experience working with autistic individuals and families. Biannual continuing education is necessary to maintain a specialist certificate. Every state requires a teaching license. However, individual states have varying standards for obtaining special education licensure. For example, California mandates that candidates must complete an education specialist program for moderate to severe learning disabilities. They must also complete additional courses in health education and computer education. Professionals with degrees in related fields, such as psychology or early childhood development, may also qualify for certification.
Pros and Cons
Special education teachers are among some of the highest paid non-administrative educational professionals, particularity in secondary education institutions. In addition, there is a great deal of job satisfaction. Since autistic support teachers have a direct impact on quality of life for their students, many report a high level of emotional satisfaction. It is also a respected position, in large because of the dedication needed to be successful. The downside is that teachers also face a great deal of stress. They may deal with underachieving students that refuse to work or don’t respond to intervention. They also have more responsibility regarding paperwork and may experience frustration from an administration that doesn’t understand the nuances of autism theories. The profession has a turnover rate of approximately 75 percent every ten years (Dage, 2006). The stress can be offset by good management skills and long breaks during summer and winter holidays.
Once the educational requirements are met, candidates can get started by contacting their state board of education to find out what type of licensure and endorsement is needed. Passing a state board examination is usually mandatory. Additional testing is needed for a special endorsement. Many states issue a temporary or preliminary license that permits new teachers to work while fulfilling additional requirements. The candidate will need to secure an entry level job at an institution that provides interaction with autistic individuals. Such positions can be readily found using online job boards and local listings, or contacting institutions directly. Schools will also have resources for qualified individuals. Since private schools don’t rely on government funding, they are often more flexible regarding qualifications. For those that hold a masters degree, the International Board of Credentials and Continuing Education Standards offers a specialist credential after two years of work experience. Alternatively, teachers can present standard certification to prospective employers.
Autism awareness has grown significantly over the years, increasing demand for teachers that specialize in this area. Diagnostic procedures have also improved, resulting in better rates of detection of students with autism. In addition, recent changes in laws that mandate better public education for disabled students will result in more jobs. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth rate is six percent annually. This translates into approximately 26,000 jobs each year. These programs are mainly funded by the government, which has spurned an increased interest in early education strategies. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs are predicted to see the largest increases in available positions. Outside of educational institutions, there are other employment opportunities for autistic support teachers. Private counseling centers, child care and development providers, occupational and therapeutic facilities, hospitals, insurance companies and residential facilities all offer additional employment opportunities.
A career as an autistic support teacher is best suited for people with a high degree of patience, empathy and dedication. The demand for quality teachers is steadily increasing across the United States, providing diversified opportunities for employment. While it can be a very challenging career, it also proves to be very rewarding for many.