Careers in Occupational Therapy

Careers in Occupational Therapy

Welcome to the world of occupational therapy (OT). You are about to learn about a profession that can truly make a difference in a person’s life.

As a practitioner in OT you can improve the lives of people, from newborns to the elderly, by providing them with the knowledge, skills and abilities to achieve independence and enjoy life to its fullest.

“I truly enjoy my profession because of its uniqueness,” says Kashala Erby, OTR/L, who works for Sundance Rehabilitation’s Montgomery Village Health Care Center in Gaithersberg, M.D.
“I think the fundamental knowledge that we learn, coupled with clinical reasoning and creativity, makes us a distinct profession,” Erby continues. “I value occupational therapy as a means to influence, restore and rehabilitate.”

A Career in OT: Challenging, Rewarding

Occupational therapy, or “OT” as it is often referred, is a health care profession that uses occupational, or “purposeful,” activity to help those individuals whose tasks of daily living are impaired by developmental delay, physical injury, medical or psychiatric illness, a behavior problem, or a psychological disability. Practitioners in OT evaluate function through an analysis of human performance, relationships and situations. They also engage clients in experiential learning and problem solving activities. Specialties within the field include, but are not limited to: gerontology, pediatrics, developmental disabilities, mental health, prosthetics training, spinal cord rehabilitation, school-based practice and hand therapy.

OTs need to be both people-focused and science-oriented. They must be creative, innovative and well trained in the functions of the mind and body.

Good communication skills are also a hot commodity in the OT field. Brushing up on such skills will greatly benefit all prospective or current OT employees. Emily Groth, who is in the process of completing her master’s degree in OT and serves as the South Carolina representative to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Representative Assembly, agrees that communication skills come in handy in occupation therapy, especially for OTs working with children.

“I greatly enjoy interacting with the families and teachers [of my young patients] in order to determine the best placement for them in the school system,” Groth says.

There is no question that occupational therapy is challenging work, however, there are plenty of rewards that come from making a dramatic impact in patient’s lives.

“I really enjoy finding the modification to an environment or activity that will allow a child to be as successful as possible,” Groth adds.

If occupational therapy is an area of allied health that you’re interested in pursuing, you’ll be please to know that this is a great time to enter the field. As the number of middle-aged and elderly individuals increases, the demand for therapeutic services, including occupational therapy, also multiplies. Currently, job growth within nearly all health care disciplines are projected to increase at a much faster rate than other field, but the job outlook for practitioners in OT in particular is expected to increase by 21-35%, according to the U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salaries for practitioners in OT are also on the rise; according to the ADVANCE 2003 Salary Survey, full-time practitioners in OT salaries show an average increase of $9,000 in the past four years. The new national annual average salary for OTs is $51,352, which takes into account professionals in all work settings and with all degrees of experience and education. Occupational therapy assistants, based on all settings and levels of experience, show an average annual salary of $35,635 in the past year $8,000 higher than the average in 1999.

An OT Overview

Occupational therapy is a career for individuals who care about people and have a desire to learn, achieve, and contribute their best to society and the profession. OT’s ultimate goal is to help their clients lead independent, productive and satisfying lives.
“Occupational therapy allows me to interact on a deeply personal level with people from every walk of life and with all levels of ability,” Groth says. “I am able to assist them regain independence in activities of daily life that are easy to take for granted, such as dressing, bathing, eating, and participating in play and leisure activities.”

Practitioners in OT may implement physical exercises to increase the strength and dexterity of their patients, or paper-and-pencil exercises may be chosen to improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns. A client with short-term memory loss, for instance, might be encouraged to make lists to aid in recall. One with coordination problems might be assigned exercises to improve hand-eye coordination. Practitioners in OT also use computer programs to help clients improve decision-making, abstract reasoning, problem-solving and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing and coordination, all of which are important for independent living.

For those with permanent functional disability, such as a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, therapists instruct in the use of adaptive equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing. They also design or make special equipment needed at home or at work. Therapists develop and teach clients with severe limitations to operate computer aided adaptive equipment that helps them to communicate and control other aspects of their environment.

Some occupational therapists, called industrial therapists, treat individuals whose ability to function in a work environment has been impaired. They arrange employment, plan work activities and evaluate the client’s progress.

Practitioners in OT may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group or with particular disabilities. In schools, for example, OTs evaluate children’s abilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and in general, help children participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities.

Groth, who works with children aged three to 18 with various levels of ability ranging from severe autism and orthopedic handicaps to mild coordination disorders and difficulty with handwriting, says, “Educating the child, the family and the educational team on how to improve fine and visual motor skills, self-care and sensory processing skills is the biggest component of my job.

“The children I work with bring me incredible joy and often teach me things about life that I’ve never considered before,” she adds. “The first time they can form their name independently or fasten the button on their pants or play with a special toy all by themselves is a very cherished moment.”

Practitioners in OT in mental health settings treat individuals who are mentally ill, mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed. To treat these problems, therapists choose activities that help people learn to cope with daily life. Activities include time-management skills, budgeting, shopping, homemaking and use of public transportation. They may also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders or stress-related disorders.

Recording a client’s activities and progress is an important part of any practitioner’s job. Accurate records are essential for evaluating clients billing and reporting to physicians and others.

Practitioners in OT are employed in a wide range of workplaces hospitals, schools, nursing homes and home health care programs and they serve as employees of public or private institutions or as private practitioners.

Groth has worked in acute, sub-acute and outpatient hospital settings, as well as in an assisted living facility for the elderly. “The diversity of practice areas insures that one will never be bored or lose interest [in the field],” she asserts. “No matter what the setting is, the goal of the therapist is to help restore [their patients] to their highest level of independence.”

Choose Your Role

Along with registered occupational therapists, OT assistants and aides are in increasing demand to assist a ever-growing elderly population. Insurance carriers are also encouraging more occupation therapy to be delegated to OT assistants and aides because it helps reduce the cost of therapy.

In the field of OT, education determines at what level one will work. Those who complete an associate’s degree or certificate program work under the direction of a registered occupational therapist as occupational therapist assistants. Occupational therapist aides however, receive most of their training on the job. Since aides are not licensed, they have more limitations on what they can do in comparison to the range of tasks an occupational therapist assistant is required to do.

However, both OT assistants and aides generally provide rehabilitative services to persons with mental, physical, emotional or developmental impairments. Their ultimate goal is to improve clients’ quality of life by helping them compensate for limitations. For example, a therapist assistant will help an injured worker reenter the workforce through improved motor skill development or may assist a client with learning disabilities increase his or her independence.

Occupational therapist assistants record their client’s progress with rehabilitative activities and exercises outlined in a treatment plan and report back to a registered OT. They make sure clients are performing the exercises and activities properly and provide encouragement. The aide prepares materials, assembles equipment used during treatment, and is responsible for a range of clerical tasks. Duties can include scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, restocking or ordering depleted supplies, and filling out insurance forms.

Those entering at the assistant or aide level of OT should also be aware of the physical endurance that is necessary on the job. Assistants and aides will need some strength in order to lift patients, and they may be required to kneel, stoop or stand for long periods of time. For most, however, this is a minor concern and is overshadowed by the thrill of watching patients succeed and improve through proper care and encouragement.

Occupational therapist assistant candidates interested in improving their admission chances should make sure they have mastered high school algebra, chemistry, biology, English, computer skills and have completed volunteer hours in the field. Training to be an OT assistant includes an introduction to health care, basic medical terminology, anatomy and physiology. During the second year of school, course work will involve mental health, gerontology and pediatrics. Students will also complete 16 weeks of supervised fieldwork. Upon successful completion of academic coursework, assistants must pass a national certification examination in order to receive the title of certified occupational therapist assistant.

Becoming an OTR

Presently a bachelor’s degree is sufficient as a minimum education requirement for entry into the OT profession as an occupational therapist registered (OTR). Starting in January 2007, however, all new occupational therapists registered will be required to complete a master’s degree. In both cases, however, candidates must also pass a national certification examination in order to become an OTR and then receive licensure in the state where they will practice.

Occupational therapy course work includes physical, biological and behavioral sciences and the application of occupational therapy theory and skills. Completion of six months of supervised fieldwork is also required.

Volunteering in a variety of OT areas during one’s education is a critical step in deciding where one would like to work in the field. When students understand what role they want as a therapist, it can make their OT education experience more focused and enjoyable. Kashala Erby, who was a grad student intern and practice associate at the American Occupational Therapy Association, advises practitioners in OT to find a mentor in the field, volunteer in various practice areas, and get involved with the AOTA as a student member.

Erby also brings up the issue of lack of diversity in the occupational therapy field. She believes that the profession needs to embrace and encourage more minorities to enter OT. “While this is a female dominated profession,” Erby says, “as a minority woman in [OT], I face some of the same challenges I would have to face in any other profession.”

The ADVANCE 2003 Salary Survey shows that women greatly outnumber men in the profession. However, men report higher average salaries. The male survey respondents reported average salaries of $55,216 for occupational therapy and $37,425 for occupational therapy assistants; women reported an average salary of $48,763 for OTs and $32,927 for OT assistants.

Paving the Way to a Career in OT

Of course not everyone who ends up in OT initially starts out pursuing the field. When Emily Groth graduated from high school, she aspired to become a pediatric physical therapist. “I went to the University of Central Florida and enrolled in the appropriate prerequisites, however, I soon realized that it wasn’t a perfect fit for me,” she explains.

“My school guidance counselor gave me a test [to determine a more appropriate field]. Occupational therapy was in my top ten fields, and after I job-shadowed an occupational therapist at work, I knew it was for me.

“Engaged with people on such a personal level, the ability to truly help them regain independence, and the diversity of the practice areas drew me into this field,” Groth says.

As she asserts, the diversity of work environments is a plus for many in the OT field. According to the ADVANCE 2003 Salary Survey, most OTs reported that they are employed in schools or in skilled nursing facilities, but therapists can work in hospitals, offices, clinics, home health agencies, nursing homes, community mental health centers, adult daycare programs, job training services and residential care facilities. As an occupation therapist, your career options are truly never-ending.

Those who will succeed in OT are individuals who have patience and strong interpersonal skills to inspire trust and respect in their clients. Practitioners in OT have ingenuity and imagination in adapting activities to individual needs, a strong commitment to serve people, and an interest in social and biological sciences. And, according to Groth, no matter what area you choose, a career in occupational therapy is “so valuable to society.”

Sesame Street Introduces First Character with Autism, Julia

Sesame Street Introduces First Character with Autism, Julia


Honestly, it has been a while since a news story actually evoked a smile on my face. While I was cooking dinner, I was kind-of listening to Lester Holt on NBC’s Nightly News. As I sliced some tomatoes, a mere sentence stopped me in my tracks. Holt reported that Sesame Street was adding a new character Julia, who has autism. To some readers, this statement may seem trivial. However, as a nurse, I believe that this is a huge step forward for the media and most importantly the general public. It’s great to see that a beloved and iconic show take a positive step forward by introducing a character that is representative of children with disorders like autism.

Characters like Julia give children with autism someone to look up to because he or she sees someone that goes through similar experiences. Even more, children without autism can learn that kids like Julia are not that different from them. As a new NP, I am always searching for educational shows to share with my pediatric patients and their families that embrace diversity and introduce important social themes. Without a doubt, I am so excited to share this resource with anyone that is willing to listen. I have talked about how awesome Sesame Street is with my coworkers and family. I can’t wait for my next pediatric case to show up so that I can whip out my iPad and share this cool interactive book that provides free of charge. Check out this interactive book below and share it with your friends, family, and patients. Thanks for checking out this blog. I can’t wait to read your responses and learn from your stories.

Child Abuse and Autism: How Nurses Can Help

Child Abuse and Autism: How Nurses Can Help

According to 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 American children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The National Institute of Mental Health defines ASD as “a group of developmental brain disorders,” with a “wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability.” Children living with ASD can show minor or severe impairment.

Child Abuse

Ever since Bruno Bettelheim came out with pioneering Freudian theories concerning ASD, researchers have tried to uncover this ailment’s mysterious origins. In the 21st century, Bettelheim’s theories blaming maternal alienation are considered dated. Researchers now look to genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors.

In the May 2013 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, two researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in Cambridge, Massachusetts—Andrea Roberts, PhD, and Marc Weisskopf, PhD—presented a new, intriguing theory. The HSPH researchers found that women who experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as children had a higher chance of bearing children with ASD than women not abused as girls. The most severely abused women had three-and-a-half times the risk, and even women who endured more moderate abuse as children had a higher risk of bearing children with ASD—a 60% higher risk. The authors of the study had gathered data from more than 50,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. The findings suggest that childhood trauma not only affects the victim but her offspring as well.

“Our study identifies a completely new risk factor for autism,” said Roberts in the school’s press release. She then called for further research to understand the connection between a woman’s experience with abuse and her child’s autism. Such research will be used to treat preventable risk factors.

Traditionally, the “face” of ASD has been white, middle-class children. Organizations like New York City-based Autism Speaks work with clinicians around the country to make care available to children and families of all backgrounds. Even with the numerous stories of minorities breaking through the “concrete ceiling” to middle-class success, a third of black American children remain in poverty—and poverty is one factor that leads to child abuse, according to a 2011 Washington University study on race and child-abuse statistics. As the HSPH study implies, child abuse is partly responsible for America’s high ASD rate.

Alycia Halladay, PhD, is senior director for clinical and environmental sciences at Autism Speaks. On the job for nearly nine years, she entered the field back when few services existed for any autistic child.

“The average age of diagnosis was eight,” says Halladay. “We thought it could only be diagnosed by age seven. Now, we know it is much lower.”

Halladay’s focus is on helping minority children become diagnosed as early as possible. Despite the changes in treatment in the last 10 years, minority children living with ASD still get diagnosed less often and later in life. “Seeing families receive help they deserve . . . is incredibly gratifying, but challenging,” says Halladay. “For every one person we help today, there are hundreds of thousands that need the same help.”

In Autism Speaks’ Early Access to Care Program, families receive scientific information and tools, health care providers are trained to refer families with a concern, and culturally competent material is created to reach underserved groups.

“We can’t expect people in the community to find us,” says Halladay, urging health care providers, including nurses, to reach out. “Please contact us, and we’ll work together to help your families get the help they deserve.”

Kathryn Smith, BSN, MN, DPH, works as a registered nurse and nurse care manager at the Boone Fetter Clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in California. What drew her to pediatric nursing? “I like working with children and their families,” says Smith. “Plus, the kids are so cute.”

For Smith, working with cute kids brings a bit of levity to a condition as perplexing as ASD. “Parents come to the Boone Fetter Clinic with concerns about their child’s behavior or development, and they are afraid,” she says. Smith and her colleagues take parents through a process where parents describe their concerns, and the clinicians at Boone Fetter provide a comprehensive, interdisciplinary assessment.

Smith hasn’t seen a direct link between child abuse and ASD, as theorized by the HSPH study. However, she talks about young patients coming from families with additional stressors, like poverty or drug abuse. She believes that nurses can help women of all backgrounds. They can help women optimize pregnancy health, take time from busy schedules to take care of their own health, prepare and eat healthy food, and exercise.

“[This] may be particularly important,” says Smith, “for those women experiencing other life stressors.”

Dorothea C. Lerman, PhD, currently directs the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CADD) in Texas. After volunteering and working at facilities with mentally disabled people, Lerman decided to make the field of psychology her life’s work.

Lerman teaches graduate and undergraduate students in practicum activities, conducts research, administers the behavior analysis graduate program, and directs CADD. Most of CADD’s services are offered at no cost, a godsend for Houston’s low-income families. The waiting list for the early-intervention program runs about two years.

While Lerman is not a clinician, the graduate students at CADD provide clinical services, all while learning on the job. With a grant from Autism Speaks, CADD has started a program for Spanish-speaking families. In the program, the families learn how to communicate with their autistic child, and they also receive English-enhancement classes.

“Making services more accessible to non-English-speaking families, minorities, and those with low-income is very important,” says Lerman.

Since the days of Bettelheim, academics have advanced research into autism, advocates continue to educate, and nurses show families ways to live with their child’s disability. As the HSPH study suggests, maybe the first step in reducing the autism pandemic is respecting our daughters before they become mothers.

Behlor Santi is a freelance writer based in New York City.


Careers in Biological Sciences

If you’re interested in an allied health career, you have a lot of options beyond the traditional health care jobs. To figure out if you’re interested in an allied health career with a particular focus in biological studies you’ll need to evaluate your interests further. You may be drawn to a particular type of health care work because of prior experiences. Someone whose family has been affected by an inherited disease might decide to be a genetic counselor, for example.

Or, if you’re a big fan of one of the CSI shows or other shows related to true crime on television, you might be interested in working as a forensic scientist.

Considering your own personal interests is a good start, but you need to do more. You must factor into your decision information about current work opportunities, longer-term job prospects and earnings potential. Some jobs require extensive education, but some do not. You might be able to get a job with a two-year degree, but some employers prefer a four-year degree. You need to decide if the additional training is worth it to you.

Consider on-going training and certification requirements as well. We will discuss the specific educational requirements required to pursue careers in biological science fields later in this article.

Careers in Biological Sciences

Did you know that some biologists work with drug companies to research and test new products? They also wind-up in government organizations to study the economic impact of biological issues like the extinction of wild animals, the protection of natural resources and environmental pollution. Biologists in areas such as bioinformatics and computational biology use mathematics to solve biological problems, such as modeling ecosystem processes and gene sequencing. Journalists and writers with a science background write articles about up-and-coming biological issues. Open up one of your biology textbooks; an artist with a strong background in biology undoubtedly created those illustrations.

Clearly, those with a background in biological sciences are needed in a variety of different fields.

There are so many directions to take an interest in an allied health care career that it may be difficult to narrow down your choices to a few. Once you do, however, you can begin to investigate the educational requirements and schools that offer programs for training in these fields. If you know you’re not sure what you want to specialize in, look for a training school that offers a big variety of possibilities. That way, if you do change your mind, you may be able to switch careers without changing schools.

Genetic Counseling

Every day science is learning more about human genetics and especially about how a person’s genes can affect their health. And you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in genetics to get involved. You could be a genetic counselor—someone who works with people who have genetic disorders, inherited diseases, or those who are at risk for genetic disorders. Genetic counselors work with other people in the medical profession such as medical specialists. Many provide prenatal counseling to people, but other types of jobs are also possible.

The work pays well, but not as much as some allied health care jobs. In 2002 the median income for counselors with a master’s degree and five years experience ranged from $47,000 to $56,000. Specialization in a specific disorder might help increase the range.

As a genetic counselor, your workday may include one-on-one sessions with people who are frightened or upset because they are discovering information about their genetic disorder. Therefore it is important that you posses a good bedside manner. Often you will have to explain, in every-day language, patients’ options and convey information about their disorder. If the problem has not yet been identified, you may work with them to learn more about their family’s medical history and order testing.

Some genetic counselors spend the majority of their time educating people and serving as a resource for patients and other health care professionals. Others research specific genetic diseases—and not necessarily in the laboratory. Genetic researchers sometimes work in communities of people who have close genetic ties, such as the Amish communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio. By talking to people in these communities, the counselors are able to track the spread of inherited diseases.

As a genetic counselor, you could also find work at a biotech company researching, designing or selling tests related to genetic disorders. As more becomes known about genetic diseases, demand for people who are able to do this kind of work will continue to grow significantly.

Working conditions for genetic counselors vary with the type of work they do. If you work with people as part of a health care team, you might spend most of your time in an office environment, even if the office is located in a hospital. Weekend and night hours aren’t required. On the other hand, going out in the field may require you to meet with people in their homes at their convenience.

Fulfilling Requirements

To become a genetic counselor, you will have to get a master’s degree from one of 23 accredited U.S. graduate programs. (For a listing, go to listings/menus/genetic_cnsl_menu.html.) To become a certified counselor you must complete enough documented clinical work and pass the American Board of Genetic Counseling’s certification exam.

To be admitted to one of the master’s degree programs, you must first complete your undergraduate training. A relevant major such a biology or chemistry will help because it will help you meet some, if not all, of the graduate program pre-requisites. Undergraduate degrees in allied health including nursing or public health also provide a good foundation. The prerequisites for master’s degree programs in genetic counseling vary, so you have to research the requirements of particular colleges or universities. To be admitted to the Arcadia University (Glenside, Pa.) program, for example, you need to have taken biology, chemistry, statistics and psychology as an undergraduate. There are other requirements such as a satisfactory score of 1,000 or higher on the Graduate Record Examination.

If you know you’re interested in a career as a genetic counselor, the best approach is to start checking out master’s degree requirements while you’re still an undergraduate. Doing so will help you avoid having to take extra classes to meet pre-requisites.

Some programs have a specific emphasis. Brandeis University’s (Waltham, Mass.) master’s degree genetic counseling program has a special emphasis on inherited diseases that can cause disabilities. It is one of the few such programs in the country. Beth Rosen Sheidley teaches in the genetics program at the University, but worked for years as a genetic counselor working with under privileged people. She was interested in severely disabling diseases in which genetics are known to play a part such as autism and bi-polar disorder. Of her experience at the college, she says she chose Brandeis because of the focus of the program. “Among all of the genetic counseling programs in existence in 1992, Brandeis was the only program that focused on disability awareness issues. Today it is still the case that Brandeis puts an emphasis on exploring the perspectives of individuals and families living with disability.”

Real World CSI

If you have ever watched any of the CSI programs on TV, you probably have an idea about the kinds of work forensic scientists do. Whether that idea is totally accurate is debatable, but if you find the shows fascinating, then it’s worth exploring this kind of work in the real world. You’ll find the majority of jobs are with local and state governments, and you won’t spend much of your time in a routine office environment. You’ll either be in the crime lab, a morgue or on the crime scene.

The word “forensics” actually means “according to the law,” so people who do forensic work apply scientific methods to all kinds of legal issues. There are forensic accountants who examine company financial records, but most of the people who work in the forensic field examine physical evidence. There isn’t a lot of information about salary ranges for people who work in this field, but beginning salaries for crime scene technologists can start at $20,000. More experience means more money—experienced crime lab or crime scene personnel can make as much as $85,000. Lab directors and medical examiners can earn $100,000 or more. The bigger the city or state, the more money they pay. A lot depends on a particular city’s budget and crime rate.

According to Dr. Dale Nute, adjunct faculty member of the school of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, there are six general areas of forensic science practice: medical examiner, crime laboratory analyst, crime scene examiner, forensic engineer, psychological profilers, and people who provide specific forensic technical assistance (composite drawing, etc.).

He says that, of the group, medical examiners make the most money. They are the people who conduct autopsies of suspicious deaths, which can mean working odd hours and requires a medical degree. If you’re interested, get started in medical school, he says. “Select a residency that provides a forensic emphasis.” Taking a crime investigation and detection course is also a good idea and probably won’t be available in medical school.

Crime laboratory analysts are the folks who hang out in the crime lab looking at samples taken from a crime scene, including body fluid, tissue, hair and fibers. The work can be routine, but the hours are reasonable. Doing this kind of work usually requires a four-year undergraduate degree in a natural science. Nute recommends a degree in chemistry unless you’re interested in doing DNA analysis. In that case, a biology major with an emphasis in genetics would be required.

Crime scene examiners (also known as crime scene investigators) spent most of their working hours making detailed studies of crime scenes. They often try to reconstruct the crime using blood spatter patterns, examining bullet holes, and looking for other clues. After making the on-scene analysis, they usually need to write up their findings. So, people who do this kind of work have to like paying attention to detail and be willing to put the detail down on paper or testify to them in court.

Nute recommends a four-year degree in “either a natural science with an emphasis in law enforcement and crime scene processing or a criminal justice degree with an emphasis in natural science.” He doesn’t feel that an undergraduate degree in forensic science is necessary because he feels that learning how to do science as an undergraduate is the best preparation for a long-term career. Specialization can be done in graduate school. That said, however, there are a few dozen colleges and universities that offer bachelor’s degrees in forensic science.

You don’t need a bachelor’s degree at all for some of these jobs. You can get started as a crime scene technician, though, with as little as a certification earned online. Kaplan University offers such a program. There are also two-year programs that will get you on the crime scene in a legal way. To get a job as a crime scene examiner, though, a four-year degree along the lines of what Nute suggests is the way to go. Check local and state requirements carefully for additional requirements. Some require you to be a police officer first or require certification.

If you want to spend more than a few years studying, you’ll be preparing yourself for some of the best paying jobs, such as a lab director. With a Ph.D. in forensics you can consult, go into administration or teach at the college or university level. To find out more about forensic science careers, visit the Web site of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences at

Good Jobs, Excellent Prospects

Pretty much all allied health careers are on track to chug along at a healthy pace for the foreseeable future. But not many areas of allied health are as exciting as those in forensic science or as potentially life-altering as the work done in genetic counseling. And that’s just the beginning of the fields you can explore in biological science. You can travel to locations all over the world to research the natural world; develop public health campaigns against life-threatening diseases; work towards environmental management and conservation; or dedicate your life to educating others in the classroom, lab or in the field. Or as a biotechnologist you could work to improve the products we use everyday, or enhance the technology we to adapt agriculture, food, science and medicine.

From the very beginning, the study of biology teaches one to ask questions, explore the world around them and solve existing problems. If you possess that innate interest and curiosity, then this is the field for you. And no matter what career you choose in the biological sciences, you will be pursuing a career that is immensely satisfying and inspiring.

Culture and Autism

When my son Ziyad was three, he began to regress in his development. He lost his ability to communicate and socialize. My little boy had stopped talking and had started to act socially detached. First, Ziyad walked on his tiptoes and swayed back and forth while staring out into space. Then he became obsessed with his toy trains. For hours he would line them up in circular and linear patterns.

I am a Filipino American who is married to a Jordanian American. When I began to notice the change in Ziyad’s behavior, many of my husband’s Jordanian family members told me, “He’s fine. Boys develop slower than girls.” My own Filipino family and I knew something was wrong. But the word for autism doesn’t even exist in either of our cultures.

Cultural traditions, values and beliefs affect how people deal with difficult situations. In our family’s struggle to deal with our son’s disorder, my husband and I have learned firsthand that culture affects the way people think about, cope with and adapt to autism.

The American Psychiatric Association defines autism as a developmental disorder that severely affects the development of a child’s social interaction and communication skills. The child has a limited range of interest and insists on sameness and repetitive, nonfunctional routines and behaviors. Symptoms of autism are usually not noticed at birth but eventually become obvious, usually during the first three years of life, when some aspect of communication development is delayed. Autism is one of the most prevalent disorders in the U.S., affecting approximately one in 150 individuals. It occurs in people of all cultures, races, religions and social classes and is more common in males than in females.

Two Different Views

The way people view autism varies from culture to culture, and even within cultures, as my husband and I discovered. In the Filipino culture, having a child with a disability is viewed in a positive way. As a Filipina mother, I accept my son as a blessing or gift from God and I am grateful that I have been found worthy of this child. My spiritual and religious beliefs strongly affect my personal view of Ziyad’s autism. I see my child as normal and a valued member of the community, regardless of his disabilities. In the Filipino culture in general, we all share a common concern for the well-being of each individual.

Some older-generation Middle Easterners, even if they now live in the United States, believe that a disability is a form of punishment for sins or perhaps the result of a curse. They often feel ashamed and embarrassed to have a child with a disability in the family. Because my husband is from the younger generation of Jordanian Americans, he understands and accepts autism as a medical disorder that affects our son. My husband’s parents and their generation are more acculturated to the U.S. than the Jordanian elders who adhere more to traditional cultural values, but they still share some of the same beliefs.

Before Ziyad was diagnosed with autism, my husband’s family demonstrated a cultural attitude that a three-year-old male who is not yet verbal may be considered normal, since boys often develop language skills later than girls. Some older-generation Jordanians may be more willing to overlook developmental differences in their children because they may be trying to avoid the stigma of autism, in which the child is perceived as imperfect or needing to be fixed. Unfortunately, this often causes delay in diagnosis until the child is of school age, preventing early intervention which is crucial to the treatment of developmental disorders.

It was difficult to make my husband’s family understand the meaning of autism. In their culture, they believe that Ziyad will eventually talk “normal,” that he will “grow out of it.” But with the help of family discussions and autism awareness campaigns in the media, they now have a better understanding of our son’s disorder. They are very supportive in his care and follow Ziyad’s structured behavior and educational plan prescribed by his child study team and pediatric developmentalist.

Cultural beliefs about family roles also play an important part in how families cope with and adapt to autism. Once Ziyad was diagnosed, I received strong support from my extended family, because the Filipino American family is built on cooperation and allegiance. We believe that individual desires are sacrificed for the benefit of the family. My family guided me to the appropriate medical and organizational resources. When difficulties arose, we pulled together and tried to work things out in a way that would benefit everyone.

Most Filipinos believe that providing care to a dependent family member is a responsibility to be shared among siblings and extended family. A child or other family member with a disability is often cared for in the family home setting instead of being sent to an institution.

Stress and Support

Regardless of one’s culture, autism causes stress to families. But here too, culture can affect the way they deal with the stress, how they view it, their ability to use problem-solving and coping skills, and their willingness to seek support from sources outside the family. Relying on their culture can either help families cope with and adapt to autism or create even more stress.

Middle Eastern families in the U.S. who experience high levels of stress in raising a child with a developmental disability may seek and need more social and organizational support to adapt to their situation. However, those Middle Easterners who believe there is a stigma attached to autism tend to access services provided by professional organizations less frequently. They are more likely to rely mainly on family, friends and religious support.

In the Filipino culture, reliance on organizational support varies according to many factors, including the amount of family support received. Filipino families may take upon themselves the responsibility of raising their autistic child with little professional support.

Our own family’s experience with autism has been a multicultural journey. With both sides of our family now having knowledge of what autism is all about, we are all working together to raise Ziyad to develop his full potential. With family cooperation and the willingness to adapt to having a child with a developmental disability as part of the family, I know Ziyad will exceed all of our expectations.