What Areas of Specialization are Available in a Master’s of Special Education Program?

When pursuing a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree from an accredited graduate school, an increasing number of students are choosing a special education specialization to help fulfill a growing demand for teachers to work with children who have physical or mental disabilities. As the percentage of children receiving special education services continues to steadily rise, it is predicted that the demand for special educators will grow by about 35% over the next decade. Although universities are graduating around 22,000 teachers in special education annually, this is only around half of the professionals needed in the field. Below we will take a look at the most popular specializations available in special education that can help teachers find their niche in this growing area of teaching.

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Purdue University Request Info
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  • Online MSEd in Special Education (Ranked #11 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Program by U.S. News & World Report 2021)
Capella University Request Info
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  • 100% online MS in Special Education Teaching
Saint Joseph's University Request Info
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  • Online Master of Science in Special Education
Grand Canyon University Request Info
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  • M.Ed. in Elementary Education and Special Education (ITL); M.Ed. in Special Education: Moderate to Severe (ITL); M.Ed. in Special Education: Cross Categorical (Leads to initial teacher licensure)
Western Governors University Request Info
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  • BA Special Education (Mild to Moerate) - Leads to single licensure in K - 12 special education; MA Teaching, Special Education (K-12)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Many master’s degree programs in special education are now offering a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to teachers at the elementary or secondary level who are interested in focusing on students who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition to learning instructional strategies and classroom management skills in the major special education core, an ABA specialization will provide training for using behavioral principles to evaluate interventions and modify behavior. Since the specialization offers preparation to conduct educational and behavioral assessments for creating intervention programs, most will qualify graduates as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs).

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Early Childhood Special Education

For special education teachers who are interested in working with very young children, an Early Childhood Special Education specialization is a popular choice to receive the training needed to specifically teach children from birth through grade 2. Using an interdisciplinary, family-centered approach, this specialization will prepare graduates for working with infants, toddlers, and preschool children with a wide range of disabilities as well as for coaching and suppporting their families. Due to the demand for early intervention programs, early childhood special educators are provided an in-depth understanding of childhood development to make adaptations for maximizing potential. Master’s programs in early childhood special education will concentrate all coursework and applied practical experiences on fostering the abilities needed to meet the academic, social, emotional, and developmental needs of students under 8 years old.

Mild/Moderate Disabilities or Severe Disabilities

Within many Master’s in Special Education programs, graduates are given the option to specialize in Mild/Moderate Disabilities or Severe Disabilities depending on the student populations that they are interested in teaching. With a focus on Mild/Moderate Disabilities, individuals will focus on building the skills needed to work in inclusive classrooms with students who have learning disabilities, communication disorders, emotional or behavioral problems, and other higher functioning disabilities. On the other hand, a Severe Disabilities specialization offers preparation for teaching in self-contained classrooms with students with autism, traumatic brain injuries, intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, or other health impairments who need extensive assistance as well as life skills instruction.

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In the United States alone, approximately 13.8% of students receive special education services and are relying upon teachers who are well-trained for working with children with disabilities. Whether offered in an on-campus or online degree format, master’s degrees in special education are an excellent option for teachers to advance career options in this in-demand teaching field. When you choose a special education specialization, you will have the valuable opportunity to continue building on what you have achieved and receive more in-depth training in your targeted teaching niche.