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A midlife career change

After spending most of his adult life in sales and marketing, Ted Barrett finds his passion in helping children with autism.

As a self-described “good talker,” Ted Barrett started what he believed would be a lifelong career as a salesman. “I thought that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” he says.

To increase his knowledge and skills, Barrett attended Robert Morris College in Chicago, but had to drop out due to family and work obligations. He continued to work in different sales jobs, but when his daughter was in high school, Barrett began to question the work he was doing.

“I started thinking there’s got to be something better. The whole idea of selling myself so that people would buy my product just became tiresome. I dreaded going to work every day,” he says.

Fortuitous move

Then, six years ago, Barrett moved to Las Vegas to take care of his mother after his father passed away. He continued to work in sales but began to think about other options. While visiting a friend whose son has autism, Barrett watched with fascination as a therapist worked to help the child with life skills. After the session, Barrett sat down with the therapist, and they discussed her work. He was inspired by the conversation.

“When I saw that therapist, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he says. The next day, he got online and looked up psychology degrees at University of Phoenix®. A week later, he registered for school.

The next step toward his new career was to find a job in the field. He applied for an entry-level position at Southwest Autism and Behavioral Solutions in Las Vegas and was hired as a part time interventionist for the clinic. After a few months, he was given more hours and increased responsibilities. His superiors were able to see his enthusiasm for the work, and six months later, he became a trainer for new employees. He then moved up to a mentor (supervisor) position, and now works as the assistant to the behavioral consultant. He achieved all of these benchmarks while pursuing his degree.

Embracing change

Barrett admits initially he was a little nervous about returning to school, but says the University of Phoenix enrollment representative did a great job of preparing him. After Barrett started his degree program, any feelings of reluctance or hesitation were soon erased by his desire to move on with his life. “I had such tunnel vision. I recognized that this was something I wanted to do, and nothing was going to stop me.”

For anyone thinking about changing careers midstream, Barrett offers this simple advice: “Two words: Do it.” He suggests thinking outside the box and trying something new. “Test the water,” he says. “And once you find it, run with it.”

He also emphasizes that making a career change isn’t necessarily easy.

“Is your life put on hold? Yes. But it’s worth it because in the long run, you’ve rebranded yourself and you’re that much closer to reaching your goals,” he says. 

"Is your life put on hold? Yes. But it’s worth it because in the long run, you’ve rebranded yourself and you’re that much closer to reaching your goals." – Ted Barrett, BS/Psy ’15

Ted Barrett, BS/Psy ‘15

Ted Barrett, BS/Psy ‘15


Rising to the challenge

Barrett explains that working with children with autism requires patience and passion. It sometimes takes weeks to get through to a child and, with some children, it may never happen. With other children, it might only take three or four sessions, and then the child progresses to the next step.

Therapists, who usually meet with the child in his or her home, tackle many different issues children with autism face, including listening skills and following directions, as well as social interaction and communication.

“There are a lot of challenges. You may get sat on or may get punched a few times, and you have to be able to withstand that. If you can, then you’ll excel,” he says.

As an interventionist, Barrett uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a research-based therapy that uses techniques and strategies that are effective in treating of autism and behavioral disorders. “We look at positive reinforcement and try to adjust the behavior that the child may have,” he says.

For Barrett, the reward comes when a child who has been struggling for weeks or months with a particular issue, finally “gets it, and the light bulb goes on.”

“You want to scream for the parents to come and watch. It’s a milestone for the child,” he says. “That’s what drives me and will continue to drive me.”

In July 2015, Barrett completed his bachelor’s degree in Psychology at University of Phoenix. His goal is to eventually become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), but the certification requires a graduate degree. Once he finishes his master’s, he plans to operate his own clinic specializing in ABA therapy.



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