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Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™

CAREER: How to Further a Career in Art Therapy
Letter #: 390201
Category: School

Original Letter

Hello! I am a student in college who is about to graduate. My undergrad studies are in philosophy and theology, but what I want to pursue in graduate school is art. I have spoken with a few professors and high school teachers about this and while some say it shouldn't be a problem to navigate across disciplines this way, others say I will have a lot of hard work to catch up on what I missed if I decide to study art at the graduate level, having not had art classes while in undergrad. 

What I want to do with this art graduate degree is teach art to kids and adults who are on the autism spectrum. I have put some thought into the fact that I might be able to help teach to those on the spectrum even without a graduate degree in art, so long as I spend a lot of time in my community with art galleries, art shops, and summer art programs. I don't mind volunteering my time, and I think I could still learn a lot from this kind of experience. I just don't know what to do. Graduate school will put me in more debt but will give me a big boost in order to pursue exactly what I want to pursue - volunteering my time won't put me in debt, or earn me money, but will get me on the ground and relating to the people I want to be in contact with the most, without spending three years at school to do so. I feel lost and confused, and scared for my future because I just can't decide which would be the better option. Thank you in advance for reading about my issue.

Elder Response

I appreciate everything you have thought out and offer you my personal thank you for wanting to help those on the autistic spectrum. Given the turmoil surrounding the Affordable Care Act and the uncertainty of focusing much needed dollars on the disabled going forward, the autistic community will need all the teachers, volunteers, advocates and interested parties that it can muster. It is a unique and special calling you are taking up.

That being said I think your first consideration should be getting the required teaching credits and certifications to be hirable as a special ed teacher focusing on those with autism. If you want to make a career out of your interest, then you will have to be qualified and certified.

My next door neighbor is completing her 31st and final year (she is retiring in June, 2017!) teaching special education. It was her dream job and she would never have been able to land it if she hadn't taken the requisite special education teaching classes so she could be hired.

Your interest in incorporating art as your tool for reaching autistic youth and adults will be a bonus which you can layer on top of your special education certification.

I have to agree with your teachers who are alerting you to the challenges of pursuing a graduate degree in such a specific field without the undergraduate, rudimentary art courses already under your belt. I don't think you will be able to gain the same type of background by hanging around art galleries, art shops or in summer art programs to meet the rigors of a graduate art degree program.

I suggest you check out your current university and see what teaching certification credits you will need in order to take whatever test your state requires to be certified. You may have to take some post-graduation courses in education during the summer, for instance.

Another possibility is to pursue counseling and perhaps become a certified counselor, hirable by a school district, for instance, with a focus on their mainstreamed autistic children. Once again you want to check with your university's career department to see what you may need to take prior to graduation, to qualify for such a position.

Meanwhile I would look for some type of experience working with autistic children either as a volunteer or in some sort of paid position so that you have a better feel for exactly what is involved in working with this segment of our society.

Best Regards,



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