A resource guide for jobseekers who are passionate about helping children and adolescents with autism
With 1 in 44 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there is an undeniable growing need for highly trained support givers to help children with developmental differences build more natural, meaningful connections with their families and communities. For compassionate individuals looking to make a difference in the lives of others, a career as a developmental autism specialist can be an excellent option.
Learning more about this position and the developmental approach can help you determine if it’s the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss the six steps you can take to begin your meaningful and dynamic journey as a developmental autism specialist.
1. Explore your education options
If you’re interested in the developmental model approach as it applies to ASD, one of the first things to consider is how much education you need. Depending on what state you reside in and which company you are applying to, the requirements may vary. Some states require a bachelor’s degree while others require just two years of undergraduate work. Additionally, some companies look specifically for a completed AA in fields related to Psychology, Education, Child Development, etc.
Choosing the right major is always an important step when researching how to get started in this field. Many students start out as a developmental autism specialist while working toward a bachelor’s degree, and after being exposed to other therapeutic disciplines such as speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and mental health therapy, they choose to go back and earn a master’s degree. This is a common trajectory, especially if you are working as a DAS with a company that emphasizes a transdisciplinary team approach.
2. Get experience working with children and/or adolescents
If you don’t have any experience working with children, volunteering is the way to go, and your local school system is a good place to start. Working in schools exposes you to all grade levels, various learning styles, diverse methodologies, and numerous networking opportunities. Volunteering as a tutor or aide in different child/family-focused community groups is another option that can help you gain key skills. This could be through your local library, church, not-for-profit program, or community center.
You may also consider volunteering at a government-funded daycare to help families that need assistance. If you are interested in learning how to manage many children at once while developing leadership skills, coaching a youth sports team could be the right fit for you!
Just starting to work with children? Consider asking your neighbors, family, and friends if you can babysit their children or assist them as a “mother’s helper.” By supervising and playing with children in their home environment, you can begin to experience some fundamental tenets of the developmental play model which includes purposeful play and following the child’s lead.
Another approach to gaining the experience you need for this role is to take an entry-level position at a youth center or summer camp program. These types of roles are an excellent way to develop skills essential to understanding the developmental approach such as observation, reflection, and connection. Finally, securing a job as a nanny allows you to gain one-on-one experience with children, and at the same time, hones a very important skill: communicating with parents.
3. Build your professional network
One of the first things candidates can do to upstart their career is to become actively engaged online. Start with a fully built LinkedIn profile that highlights your education as well as your experience working with children. Ask for endorsements from prior supervisors and employers that you have both worked for and volunteered with. Don’t be shy about showcasing your strengths, accomplishments, and passions! Make sure to include the profile banner “Open to Work” and start connecting with others in the industry: clinicians and recruiters who work in the fields of autism care/support, education, and healthcare.
Next, reach out through social networks and build relationships with paraprofessionals, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and mental health professionals who work with children with ASD and other developmental differences. Connect with your mentors, professors, and other educational professionals in the autism space who can help you stay abreast of new developments in the industry and best practices. Keep in mind that you can learn a lot about a company through social platforms and also network with their team!
Lastly, don’t forget the power of word of mouth and in-person networking events. The best way to find a job you love is to find someone who loves their job—and can recommend you!
4. Prepare your resume
When creating your resume, be sure to include your “why.” This means explicitly defining the reason you are drawn to working with neurodiverse children. When did you discover you wanted to work in this field and what led you here? Have you experienced autism first-hand with a family member or friend, or did you simply know you’ve always wanted to work with children? Whatever your passion for this field is, tell your story! If you don’t know where to begin with writing your resume, there are resources available through your Career or Student Services Center that can assist.
5. Apply, Apply, Apply!
Once you have checked the skills and responsibilities for this role and crafted your resume, you can begin actively searching for and applying to developmental autism job openings. The following are a few tools to get you started in your search:
· University/college job boards
· University/college recruiting platforms such as Handshake (job postings, educational webinars, school-specific in-person and virtual career fairs)
· Jobsearch websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and ZipRecruiter
· University/college-hosted job fairs, recruiting events, information sessions, and tabling events
· National professional organizations such as the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET), and the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA)
· Student organizations and clubs (e.g., Psychology Club)
· Local and community employment agency and/or resource center
· Student Success or Career Services Center
· Company-specific recruiting events - Look for these on the websites of companies you follow on social media and networking platforms or simply Google “autism services near me”
· Referrals- Do you know someone already working as a Developmental Autism Specialist? Ask to be referred! It’s likely their company has an incentive for employee referrals. It’s a win-win situation!
6. Keep in touch
If you’ve completed the interview process and it’s a perfect match, congratulations! If not, follow up at a later date because even if it’s not a match now, it may be in the future. New positions, locations, and career changes arise on both ends, and you never know what other opportunities will turn up!
At Positive Development, our mission is to help children and adolescents with autism build more natural, meaningful connections with their families and communities as they achieve greater growth, independence, and joy. Few jobs provide the opportunity to change lives meaningfully while allowing you to work as your true, authentic self. We embrace diversity and difference among our staff and respect you for who you are – just as we do our clients. Best of all, we have so much fun together!