By: Mary E. McDonald, Ph.D., BCBA
This is the dream.
Well, let me start by giving my disclaimer here: I support people with autism, I love people with autism and I have enjoyed every moment of my career learning from people with autism and hopefully making a difference in their lives.
Okay, so that being said, I hope that maybe I can convince some of you to consider a career in which you can wake up every day looking forward to going to work. I hope that you can feel as though you have never worked a day in your life because when you LOVE what you do — you actually WANT to do it- it does not feel like work! This is the dream.
I have some friends who went on to careers in business and related fields. They may make more money but money isn’t everything right? What are their outcomes, and where do their efforts lead them? Most often they spend their time making money for the company and there is often pressure to make more money over time. They lose sleep, they feel anxious, and they worry sometimes about losing their job due to the competitive nature of the field. This is not the dream, well not mine anyway.
If I could go back and rethink my career choices and my decision-making over the years, I would still choose this path, and I believe I am the one who is richer for it because I make a difference every day in the lives of people with autism and their families and that is… PRICELESS.
Are there days that are more difficult than others working with individuals with autism? Of course, there are always days that don’t go as you hoped. But when you help solve an issue or support the student through the behavior you feel a great sense of accomplishment. And then there are the good days: the first time a child imitates a sound or word or says Mommy to his Mom without your help. There’s the day when a job site calls and asks for your student to come, and volunteer, today because they really need his help. Or when a student graduates and goes on to work independently or to take college classes or to live on their own… it’s adulting in it’s purest sense. I especially love when a parent contacts me to tell me that their child was truly able to enjoy a family vacation for the first time because of the intervention that he has had. The good days go on and on. That is what motivates me.
I have been known to say that I like people with autism better than people without autism. Why? Because they are honest, kind, and loving and they work harder than anyone I know. I love seeing them make accomplishments and the smile on their face or hearing the pure joy in their laughter.
At this point in my career, I support Directors and Coordinators, Behavior Analysts, and other clinicians in their work with individuals with autism. It is so rewarding to know that I can help support them and in turn help the child and their family.
I am also a faculty member at Hofstra University and have the opportunity to reach so many students who then become teachers or behavior analysts and make an impact on their students. I, myself began working 1:1 with individuals with autism and have over the years moved into positions that allow me a broader reach and I believe a larger impact. But I continue to work on the clinical end either within advocacy, clinical cases or consulting with clinical staff or families, or by teaching about how to support individuals with autism in Higher Ed.
The moral of the story is that there is plenty of opportunity for growth within the field and if you are interested and want to learn there is always a path for you. I hope some people reading this are considering taking the career-changer leap or just starting a career with individuals with autism. It is truly an honor to support such amazing people and it is a worthy career choice; well in my humble opinion. Take a look at www.eden2.org/employment if you are in the New York area or feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to try to help connect you to someone in your area if I can.
Originally published at https://www.marymcdonald.org on November 1, 2022.