Opportunities are growing in the field of special education
By Jerry Webster
The career field of Special Education is made up of more than teachers, though they make up the largest group of professionals. Special Education professionals provide a whole range of services and support to children with disabilities, from mobility, feeding and hand over hand support to physical therapy. Preparation for these jobs can be on the job training for high school graduates to specific certification programs that require Master's or Doctoral degrees.
Job opportunities in special education:
Therapeutic Support Staff: Not all people who work directly with special education need to have a degree or certification in the field. Support staff, who work as "wrap arounds" or classroom aides, work directly with children but are not required to have college degrees or certification in special education. Some college can be helpful, and because support staff do not "take their work home"--ie. plan or write reports, it is often rewarding work with little stress. Some training may be required, but the district, school or agency who employs you will provide it.
The responsibilities of the classroom aides revolve around that single student. That child may have been identified as needing "wrap around" support because of emotional, behavioral or physical needs that require individual attention. They will see that the student stays on task, and that besides supporting the student in participating appropriately in class, they also sees that the student does not disrupt the educational progress of other students. They are often provided in order to help a student stay in their neighborhood school in a general education classroom.
Classroom Aides: Most school districts provide "para-professionals" who assist special education teachers by providing instructional support to individuals or small groups of students. Hired by school districts, they may require some college education. School district will hire classroom aides to assist special education teachers, occupation therapists or in full inclusion classrooms to provide support to students with disabilities. Classroom aides may be expected to provide toileting, hygiene or hand over hand support to children with more severe disabilities. Learning support children need less direct support: they need help completing assignments, checking homework, playing drill games, or working on spelling assignments.
Special Education Teachers: Teachers are required to have at least a special education degree from a college or university. Some states provide alternate routes to certification through post baccalaureate Masters Degree programs. Some states require Masters degrees. Another requirement since passage of the latest reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is that teachers are "Highly Qualified" which requires certification in another curricular field
Occupational Therapists provide services to children and adults with disabilities, or who have suffered from brain injury, stroke, severe injury or any other injury or life event that takes away a person's ability to perform everyday tasks. They help disabled individuals acquire skills they need to cope with everyday life or find employment. They teach dressing, feeding, shoe tying and help build fine motor skills needed for handwriting, typing and other tasks needed for school. In educational settings they also help with the sensory needs of children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Occupational therapists also support students and teachers with adaptive technologies, such as adapted spoons, weighted vests (for sensory integration.) adapted pencils, computer keyboards, and on and on.
Speech Pathologists/Therapists: Speech-language pathologists or speech therapists work with special education students to assess, diagnose and treat disorders related to speech, language, cognitive communication and fluency. Many years ago, speech therapists focused on speech articulation problems such as lisps, stuttering and difficulty with r's and t's. Speech-language pathologists now focus on language disorders that effect a child's academic and life-skill functioning. They focus on pragmatics (understanding language as communication,) receptive language, augmented communication, fluency and language production. As well as working specifically with children with language difficulties, they also work with children with developmental delays and other cognitive disabilities who have difficulty producing language, understanding language or communicating.
Physical Therapists: Physical therapists (PTs) help patients, including accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy, by providing services that restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. PT's also provide support for children with physical disabilities to help them with ambulation (walking or getting around in a wheel chair) and the other physical requirements of daily living.