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How can I find a degree to help kids with autism?

Dear Guidance Counselor:

I work with individuals who are mentally handicapped such as autism and behavioral issues. what would be a good degree for me to choose? I have a bachelor's degree. Thanks, Lynne.

Dear Lynne,

There is certainly a steady need for people who are trained to work with individuals who have autism or behavioral diseases. As you are probably aware, the incidence of autism in the population has increased dramatically, as have treatment programs. You are wise to think about what degree might be best as there are a number of programs that might be a good fit for your career wishes.

Master's Degrees in special education

Since you have a bachelor's degree and some relevant experience already, you are well placed to apply to a master's degree program. There are many possibilities to consider. For instance, a good degree could be a master's in special education. If you want to work in a school center or treatment center this degree would give you the chance to be properly certified. In addition, you can often choose a specialty and some schools will allow you to have a concentration in autism studies.

A new and interesting master's option is a degree in applied behavioral analysis with a specialization on autism. Or you might want to get a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, again focusing on autism studies.

If you are more interested in behavioral issues, there are some other options to consider. A master's degree in social work, psychiatric nursing, or counseling would allow you to work in clinical settings that treat children or adults with emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems. If you like the idea of doing therapy or social work with this population, these options might be a good fit. Some other career possibilities are occupational therapy and school psychology.

How to prepare for your master's degree program

When evaluating potential programs, you should look at the qualification of the teachers, whether you get live experience in a classroom or treatment center, and if the school is accredited for the career you are pursuing. Since a number of education careers require state licensure or certification, be sure to verify that your program meets state requirements.

Continue to get whatever experience in the field you can as it will help you in your career planning and also be useful background for your studies. Sometimes getting a more general degree and not specializing too soon can be a wise idea, especially if you think you might want to serve individuals with issues other than autism.

Good luck in your career explorations. There should be a great need for trained, dedicated professionals in this area.

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