Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that causes issues with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism may also suffer from chronic sleep disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, or epilepsy, according to autismspeaks.org. There are several levels of autism spectrum disorder, requiring a different amount of support, according to verywellhealth.com. Autismspeaks.org states that about one in 54 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to a 2020 CDC report. For more information, see our FAQs near the end of this article.
A master’s in autism can be an important step towards making a difference in the lives of those with autism spectrum disorder. Those with autism, depending on their level, will need support and may need help to learn how to perform basic tasks, or to learn how to interact with others. Some also need professional help to stop behaviors that are harmful to themselves or to others. Many of the autism master’s degree schools on our list offer graduate programs dealing with autism spectrum disorders, while others offer an autism degree in the form of a master’s in special education with a concentration in autism. These autism degree programs often focus on how to help children with autism thrive in a school setting.
We started with a list from College Navigator of around 50 colleges and universities that offered master of autism studies programs or other related graduate programs. We narrowed the list by including only schools that offered a full autism master’s degree, leaving out autism degree programs that only offered a certificate. We included only accredited schools that were also ranked by U.S. News & World Report. We then ranked the autism master’s programs according to affordability.
Note: We calculated the tuition based on out-of-state tuition; in-state tuition may be cheaper. See College Navigator for more information.
20. University of Missouri
Online Master’s in Autism
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $27,193
This master of autism studies degree from the University of Missouri is designed to give you the skills that you need to help young people with autism and give their families tools to succeed. This program is 100% online, making it a convenient option if you want to earn a master’s in autism spectrum disorders but don’t want to neglect your other responsibilities. The website lists several career options for those who earn this degree, including recreational therapists, career or technical education teachers, occupational therapists, school counselors, and special education teachers. The University of Missouri is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and it ranks #85 in best value schools with U. S. News & World Report.
19. Ball State University
Online Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis with an Emphasis in Autism
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $26,204
Ball State University offers an online autism master’s degree for those who want to make a difference in the lives of children and adults with developmental challenges. This degree is technically in applied behavior analysis with an emphasis in autism, which is very similar to a master’s degree in autism. Ball State University’s website invites you to consider their program as an excellent way to prepare for a career “in a field facing national shortage.” There is a high demand for the skills you will acquire in this master’s degree autism program. Ball State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges, and it ranks with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities and top public schools.
18. The University of Kansas
Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $25,007
The convenient online format of this master’s in autism degree from the University of Kansas makes it ideal if you have other demands on your schedule and want to learn asynchronously, which means not at a set time. The University of Kansas emphasizes the idea of putting “theory into practice.” You will learn the theoretical concepts behind helping those with autism, but you will also learn how to make practical use of that knowledge in the real world. This program involves 12 courses; each course is eight weeks long. The program consists of 36 credits and can be completed in under two years; this is among the best graduate programs autism spectrum disorders. The University of Kansas is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and U.S. News & World Report ranks it among best value schools, best national universities, and best schools for veterans.
17. University of St. Thomas
Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder
St. Paul, Minnesota
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $24,814
The University of St. Thomas offers an online master’s degree in autism spectrum disorders. This master’s degree in autism is a special education degree with the option to specialize in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The degree prepares you to work with autistic individuals from birth to age 21. There are different options in this ASD degree program for those who are already licensed special education teachers and for those who are not; see the program website for more details. This program offers year-round start dates. The University of St. Thomas is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and ranks with U.S. News & World Report among top performers on social mobility.
16. Oakland University
Online Master’s in Special Education with Concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Oakland County, Michigan
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $24,648
This ASD degree from Oakland University is 100% online, with one exception: students must visit campus for their ASD practicum. The website states that this degree is for certified teachers who are interested in teaching those with special needs, in particular those with autism. Courses include standards, practices, and research in special education; assessment in special education; overview of autism spectrum disorder; educational procedures for students with autism spectrum disorder; and communication and language issues in autism spectrum disorder. Oakland University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and ranks among best national universities with U.S. News & World Report.
15. Florida International University
Online Master’s in Special Education: Autism Endorsement
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $23,587
Florida International University offers an online master’s degree autism that takes 36 credits to earn. This master’s in special education with an autism endorsement focuses on helping you navigate the changing world of education, specifically related to meeting the needs of multicultural students who are living with disabilities. Florida International University’s website states that special education teachers are the “most sought-after professionals in the teaching profession,” and this degree will prepare you for this field. Florida International University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and it ranks among best national universities and best value schools, according to U.S. News & World Report.
14. University of South Florida
Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disabilities
Hillsborough County, Florida
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $21,126
Consider earning a master’s in autism from the University of South Florida. This degree prepares you to work with both autistic students and students with intellectual disabilities. The University of South Florida describes the degree in terms of quantity and quality. Quantitatively, the degree will prepare you to work well with growing numbers of students with these challenges. Qualitatively, the degree plans to change the way that education for these groups is approached. To earn this degree, 33 credit-hours are required. The University of South Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges and ranks #71 with U.S. News & Report in best value schools, as well as tying for #103 in national universities.
13. St. Thomas Aquinas College
Online Master’s in Special Education with a Specialization in Autism
Sparkill, New York
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,980
St. Thomas Aquinas College offers an online master’s in special education with two options for a specialization in autism. The first option is for special education with a specialization in autism for grades 1-6. The second option is for grades 7-12. If you prefer working with younger children, the first option may be the one for you. If you would rather work with teenagers on their way to adulthood, the second option might be better. Courses include introduction to autism spectrum disorders, assessing students with mild disabilities, developing learning environments, and literacy: reading and writing instruction. Students will also need to complete a practicum and comprehensive assessment. St. Thomas Aquinas College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and ranks #86 in best value schools with U.S. News & World Report.
12. University of North Dakota
Online Master’s in Special Education – Autism Spectrum Disorders Specialization
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $18,326
This online master’s in special education is offered through the department of teaching, learning and professional practice at the University of North Dakota. The online program offers the option of on-the-job fieldwork, and it also promises that your master’s project will be applicable to the field. The program is 100% online, meaning that no travel is required, and it does not require prospective students to take entrance exams. The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and U.S. News & World Report ranks this university among best national universities and top public schools.
11. California University of Pennsylvania
Online Master of Education – Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,563
California University of Pennsylvania offers an online master of education – autism spectrum disorders. This program will prepare you for the field of special education, specifically related to the area of autism spectrum disorders, where there is a shortage of qualified professionals. California University of Pennsylvania’s website mentions the growing number of students with autism spectrum disorders, as well as the changing nature of this field as new discoveries are made and new methods are developed. This program prepares you for the challenges and triumphs of this field. California University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and it ranks with U.S. News & World Report in best regional universities in the North, as well as tying for #98 in top performers on social mobility.
10. Slippery Rock University
Master’s in Special Education: Autism
Butler County, Pennsylvania
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $16,739
This master’s in special education: autism from Slippery Rock University is designed for those with an undergraduate degree in special education, or for those working with agencies that help people who have been diagnosed with autism. This convenient degree is entirely online, requiring no campus visits, and it can be completed in a year. Students choose either a practicum or a thesis option. Courses include developing integrated language and literacy programs for students with disabilities, contemporary issues in special education, advanced study of autism spectrum disorders, and communication and social competency. Slippery Rock University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and ranks with U.S. News & World Report, ranking #57 in best value schools and tying for #83 in best universities in the North and #45 in best colleges for veterans.
9. Bowling Green State University
Online Master of Education in Special Education – Autism Disorders
Bowling Green, Ohio
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,823
This master’s in autism program from Bowling Green State University is for those who want to be employed as educators, psychologists, therapists, medical personnel, and speech and language pathologists. The program, which is one of the best autism master’s programs available, is entirely online and requires 12 courses; it can be completed in 36 months. The program does not lead to an initial teacher license. It can be earned as a master’s in special education with an embedded ASD certificate, or as a stand-alone ASD certificate. To fulfill capstone requirements, students may complete either a master’s project, a comprehensive exam, or a master’s thesis. Bowling Green State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and ranks with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities and top public schools.
8. University of North Texas
Online Master of Education with a Concentration in Autism Intervention
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $15,618
For the online master of education with a concentration in autism intervention from the University of North Texas, you have the option to earn the degree in 15 months, or go at a slower pace, if that fits your schedule and other commitments better. There are five different starting points at different times of the year; the program offers two eight-week terms during the fall and spring semesters, as well as three-week, five-week, and 10-week terms during the summer. Courses include educational programming for students with autism spectrum disorder, assessment of autism spectrum disorder, positive behavioral interventions in educational and related settings, and transition education and services for exceptional learners. This university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges and ranks with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities and top public schools, as well as tying for #44 in top performers on social mobility.
7. Russell Sage College
Online Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis & Autism
Troy, New York
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,190
Coming in at seventh on our list, this online master’s in autism from Russell Sage College also includes elements of applied behavior analysis. Applied behavior analysis is the study of behavior, which is used to improve people’s lives. It is often used to help with communication or language skills; it also often helps decrease problem behaviors and increase behaviors that will help an individual get along well in society. It has been shown to be highly effective with autistic individuals. This is why Russell Sage College combines applied behavior analysis and autism studies in this online master’s program. The Association for Behavior Analysis International has approved this program as meeting the coursework required for graduates to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst examination. Russell Sage College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and it ranks among top national universities with U.S. News & World report, as well as ranking eighth in top performers on social mobility.
6. Mary Baldwin University
Online Master of Education in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $13,140
Mary Baldwin University’s autism master’s program is entirely online, and it offers other benefits. According to the program website, fieldwork can in some cases be completed on the job, if that would be most convenient for you. Another benefit is that you will earn an ASD certificate, embedded in the master’s program. The faculty in this program have experience working in the real world in this field. This program requires that you earn 34 credits, and it usually takes 18-24 months to complete. Mary Baldwin University’s website states that this is the first online program to be endorsed by the Virginia Council of Autism. This university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges, and it ranks with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities, as well as tying for #29 in top performers on social mobility.
5. University of Massachusetts Global
Online Master’s in Special Education, Autism
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,540
The University of Massachusetts Global, which was once known as Brandman University, offers an online master’s in special education with a focus on autism. To be admitted to the program, you will need to complete an application, present two letters of recommendation, and either hold a special education teaching credential or take a course on collaboration for inclusive schooling. There are also options for meeting the GPA requirement. There are 18 credits of core courses, in addition to the autism specialization component. Courses for this section of the program are introduction to autism spectrum disorders: etiologies and characteristics; assessing students with autism spectrum disorders; and autism spectrum disorders: programming and strategies, I and II. Brandman/UMass Global is accredited by the WASC Senior College & University Commission and ranks with U.S. News & World Report as having tied for #118 in best online master’s in education programs.
4. Grand Canyon University
Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $11,436
Grand Canyon University offers this online master’s in autism spectrum disorders to equip professionals who want to work in the field of autism. Those who want to work with autistic students in educational settings must be well prepared, and they must understand the development and unique challenges of this group of individuals. Grand Canyon University promises to prepare you for this field. The degree will teach you to help autistic individuals to make the transition from school, where there will be many people who are there to guide them, to living on their own. Both applied theory and research are important in this program. You will also learn about legal policy as it relates to special education, assessment and evaluation techniques, instructional planning ideas, and tools for intervention. Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and it ranks with U.S. News & World Report as having tied for #39 in top performers on social mobility, as well as ranking among top national universities.
3. Northeastern State University
Online Master’s in Education – Autism Spectrum Disorders
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $10,600
This online master’s in autism from Northeastern State University is made up of three parts: professional education, special education, and enrichment courses. These parts are combined in a capstone experience at the end of the program. The degree is available at both the Tahlequah and Broken Arrow locations, as well as in an entirely online format. This program aims to educate those who will, in turn, become educators themselves and improve the education and lives of those with ASD and other disabilities. The university’s website states that its mission is to “empower individuals to become socially responsible global citizens by creating and sustaining a culture of learning and discovery.” The online master’s in autism, which is one of the best online master’s programs autism, strives to align with this goal. Northeastern State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. U.S. News & World Report ranks this university as having tied for #48 in top public schools, #93 in best regional universities in the West, and #87 in top performers on social mobility.
2. Lindenwood University
Online Master’s in Education – Early Interventions in Autism and Sensory Impairments
St. Charles, Missouri
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $9,550
Lindenwood University’s online master’s in education – early interventions in autism focuses on what can be done to help young children with autism and sensory impairments. Some of the career options that the program website lists are pre-grade-eight teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, speech and language therapists, and early childhood professionals, among others. This program encourages graduates to employ family-centered practices and offers the opportunity to learn from professionals on the job. Lindenwood University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and ranks among top national universities with U.S. News & World Report.
1. Arizona State University
Online Master’s in Special Education (Autism Spectrum Disorders)
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $6,724
Arizona State University is the number-one university on our list of the top online master’s in autism programs. Offered through the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, this program offers two options for a final project. You can either complete a capstone course or an applied project; either way, the program requires that you complete 30 credits. Courses are delivered entirely online and include foundations of autism spectrum disorders, family-centered practices, consultation frameworks and issues, and applied behavior analysis in inclusive settings. Multiple enrollment sessions are available at different times during the year. Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and it ranks with U.S. News & World Report among best national universities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is autism?
As stated at the beginning of this article, autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that causes issues with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism may also suffer from chronic sleep disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, or epilepsy, according to autismspeaks.org. There are several levels of autism spectrum disorder, each requiring a different amount of support, according to verywellhealth.com. Autismspeaks.org states that about one in 54 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to a 2020 CDC report. Most sources agree that, in total, around one in 68 people in the U.S. have autism.
According to autismspeaks.org, there’s no one known cause for autism. It develops from several different genetic and environmental influences. However, the website points out that just because someone has some of these influences in their life, they will not necessarily have autism. The genetic changes that are often present in those who have autism only increase the risk of having autism but do not cause autism by themselves; environmental factors include the age of the parents, pregnancies being spaced less than a year apart, and pregnancy or birth complications.
Living with autism is a unique challenge, and this is made harder by those who don’t understand what it is like to have autism. In an article found on researchautism.org, Ethan Hirschberg, a high-functioning autistic teenager, writes about what comments are hurtful or helpful. Comments like, “I have social issues; I must have autism too!” show a lack of knowledge about what it’s like to have autism. Other comments to be avoided: “You don’t look autistic,” or “Do you take medication for that?” However, helpful comments include, “That explains why you do this behavior,” or “Can you explain what autism is for me?” Also, someone with autism will often be very happy to be included in a group, even though it is difficult for them to join the group themselves. Inviting them to sit with you or have lunch with you can be very helpful.
One common mistake about those with autism is that they all have savant skills. While many may assume that savantism occurs among most of the autistic population, it actually occurs in closer to 30% of autistic individuals. According to agnesian.com, a savant is someone who, either in contrast to their disabilities or in contrast to the general population, shows remarkable ability in some area. They may focus on their area of ability to the exclusion of all else, and they often have remarkable memory skills. Savant I, or talented savants, are those whose ability is remarkable in contrast to their disabilities; savant II, or prodigious savants, are those whose ability would be remarkable even if they had no disability. Savant abilities are also known as splinter skills, since they occur in a very specific, defined area. The area of focus or skill may be in the form of hyperlexia, which means extraordinary skills in reading, writing or grammar; memory; spatial skill; mathematical skill; athletic ability; computer ability; calendar calculation; music; sensory sensitivity; or other areas. (This list was taken from agnesian.com.)
As stated above, not everyone who has autism is a savant. Autismspeaks.org says that “31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70) with significant challenges in daily function, 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85).” In addition, it is estimated that 40% of people who have autism are nonverbal.
What do professionals do for someone with autism?
Many times, professionals in the field of autism studies, whether they are teachers, behavior analysts, therapists, or in another career, are helping those with autism to increase behaviors that are helpful and stop behaviors that are detrimental. This may include helping a child learn to talk, helping someone learn to better interact with their peers, or helping someone learn to focus on something other than their interests. Detrimental behaviors that may be present and need to be corrected might include biting, scratching, or self-harmful behaviors such as head hitting. Autistic children often have a tendency to wander away from safe areas, which tendency may be mitigated by a professional. Professionals often also interact with families, helping them to understand the way that their child thinks and what they can do at home to reinforce positive behaviors and help eliminate negative ones. What you will do, as a professional, to help someone with autism also depends on the career area that you choose. Below, several options are listed.
What can I do with a master’s in autism?
There are several career options for someone with a master’s in autism. Here are a few ideas. The items on this list were taken from teacher.org. Keep in mind that some of the careers on this list may require a specific type of autism master’s degree or additional training.
Special Education Teachers
This is likely the most common career for someone with a master’s in autism, especially since many autism master’s degrees are special education degrees with an autism specialization. Special education teachers work with students who have special needs when it comes to education. This may be because of social issues, where the student has trouble getting along with other students. It may also be because the student has below- or above-average intelligence and needs special attention because of this.
Some master’s in autism degrees focus on applied behavior analysis. This is the study of behavior used to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Applied behavior analysis has been effective for helping those with autism reduce negative behaviors and increase positive ones. To become a board-certified behavior analyst, known as a BCBA, you will need to find a program that has been approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, or BACB.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist
Appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com states that autism spectrum disorder specialists work with adults and children who have autism spectrum disorder. They may specifically work with children to determine, based on symptoms, whether the child has autism spectrum disorder. They may work as part of a team with other professionals. They often work with autistic individuals, either in groups or in a one-on-one setting.
According to indeed.com, behavior interventionists work with certain individuals to reduce problematic behaviors. Often, behavior interventionists work in an educational setting, to help those who are being disruptive or in some other way problematic to settle down. Other times, they may work with adults in settings such as prisons, or with adults with learning disabilities or substance-abuse problems.
While there are several different types of professionals that help to make the diagnosis of autism in the first place, psychologists are among those who diagnose autism. Usually, a developmental psychologist or a pediatric psychologist will make the diagnosis. This field may be similar to a career as a behavior analyst.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the most commonly used type of therapy for those with autism. However, webmd.com says that depending on the situation, other types of therapy may be needed. Occupational therapy, picture exchange communication system, social skills class, hippotherapy (horseback riding therapy), and/or speech therapy can be highly effective. These may require additional training, depending on the situation.
These are just a few options for someone with a master’s in autism or a closely related degree. It is very common for those with a master’s in autism to be employed in a K-12 public school; however, there are certainly other options if that does not fit your career plans.
What is the career outlook for someone with an online master’s degree in autism spectrum disorders?
Bls.gov projects the career growth for special education teachers as three percent, or about average growth; there is no specific data available for special education teachers in the area of autism. However, there are more and more individuals with autism, and this means that schools will need more and more special education teachers in the area of autism. Many schools are struggling to keep up with the demand for autism teachers. This is a rapidly growing field.
How much money will I make with a master’s degree in autism?
According to learn.org, individuals with a master’s degree autism make an average of $49,576 annually; this works out to $16.77 an an hour (this was calculated from the data available for applied behavior analysts).
Why get a master’s in autism online?
If you want to earn a master’s degree but don’t want to cut off all of your other commitments, this may be a good option for you. Things like work and family can deter some people from earning another degree, since typically, earning a master’s degree requires that you change location if your chosen school is not in the immediate vicinity of your residence. Additionally, earning a degree requires a lot of time, which is why online degrees are often designed to be flexible. They may only require that you attend classes in the evening, or they may be designed in an asynchronous format that allows you to finish coursework at your own pace. Usually, online degrees are designed with busy schedules in mind, which can make them ideal for someone who is already working.
What are the characteristics of someone who works well with autistic individuals?
Appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com lists the top 10 characteristics of a special education teacher, which also apply to those who work with autistic individuals. One important characteristic for a special education teacher is being adaptive. It is important for any teacher to be adaptive, but particularly one who will be working with those who have special needs in the area of education, since problems may come up regularly and need to be dealt with in creative ways. No two children are the same, which means that a solution that worked for one child may not work for another; this is especially true when the children in question have learning challenges.
Another important quality for someone who will be working with autistic individuals is empathy. Empathy is defined as being able to imagine what it is like to be someone else. While, as a special education teacher, you might not have autism yourself, or be able to fully understand what it is like, you need to show that you care about your students and make an effort to understand what they are going through.
Being patient is another important quality, and it plays out in two ways. One way is being patient in the sense of bearing with someone who might be irritating you. Those with autism or related learning disabilities may see the world in a different way than you do, and this can require patience on your part. Also, autism often comes with repetitive behaviors or other behaviors that make the need for patience stand out. If you spend much time with someone, no matter who they are, it is possible to get irritated with them. However, special education teachers must be patient even if they are irritated. In another sense, special education teachers must be patient in the sense of waiting for progress. Progress does not always come quickly; often, it may seem as if progress has been made in one session, only to be lost by the next. If you want to work with someone who has autism, it is very important to be patient.
Those with autism spectrum disorder are a unique group of people who see the world in their own way. They often have needs that others don’t have, and challenges with social interactions or learning. They often have a remarkable focus on their interests. The list above presents options if you want to earn a master’s degree in autism with the goal of helping people with autism while furthering your career. Autism studies is a focused field of study; nevertheless, it has a lot of variety, and special education teachers for autistic students are in high demand.
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