For students interested in a career in special education, finding the right field of specialization can be critical to success in their chosen path. Most specialty fields require the completion of a master’s degree at a minimum to ensure that special education teachers acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to provide support for their students.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts steady growth in the field of special education, making this a solid choice for those entering the job market in the next few years. Here are five up-and-coming areas of specialization for students pursuing a special education degree.
Special Education for Early Childhood
Providing children with the right help in early childhood can enhance their ability to learn throughout their later academic careers. This is even more critical for children with special needs; the right start can make all the difference in their ability to assimilate into the traditional classroom setting. A master’s degree is usually required for this specialization. Topics covered typically include assessment, methods and strategies, developmental psychology and direct experience in classroom settings. Practical approaches are emphasized in these courses to ensure that teachers are prepared to take on the real-world challenges of working with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with special needs.
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Autistic Spectrum Disorders
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data indicating that 1 in 68 children in the U.S. may be affected by autism spectrum disorders. Demand for teachers in this specialty field is likely to grow over the next decade. Coursework typically includes assessment topics, behavior support, characteristics of autism spectrum disorders and sensory strategies for students in the academic setting. Communications are also a primary focus because of the challenges faced by students with autism or related disorders in social settings. Some master’s degree programs in this specialty can be completed online for added convenience and flexibility.
Gifted and Talented Student Education
Supporting the growth and achievement of gifted students can be a rewarding career path for educators. The curriculum used for these master’s degree programs typically focuses on assessment and includes coursework in research methodologies, assessment and evaluation, the needs and behaviors of the gifted child and a practicum that allows aspiring special education teachers to work in the classroom setting. Depending on the program chosen, students may qualify for certification or licensing as required by the state in which they intend to work. Development psychology courses will also be part of most programs and will provide the background needed for success in teaching gifted and talented students in elementary or secondary school environments.
Applied Behavior Analysis
Students with behavioral disorders can present challenges in traditional classroom settings. Obtaining a master’s degree in this specialization can help special education teachers provide the best possible support for these students in the academic environment. These curricula usually focus on behavioral assessment and intervention; additional coursework may include assessment and measurement, ethics, theories of experimental design and practical experience in clinical or classroom settings. By providing students with the tools and strategies needed to control their own behavior and to face everyday challenges effectively, teachers specializing in applied behavior analysis can often make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of their students.
Students who suffer from serious visual impairment or blindness require special help in completing their academic journey. Special education teachers who choose this specialization typically complete coursework in basic and advanced Braille, the physiology and anatomy of visual disorders, assistive technologies, support for students with multiple disabilities and orientation and mobility issues. These programs typically lead to a master’s degree in special education and a career in private or public education environments. A practicum period may also be required to ensure that teachers have the skills and competencies necessary to assist visually impaired students in the classroom setting.
Choosing a specialty in the field of special education can open doors of opportunity for students and can allow a greater degree of success in the job market. By pursuing a master’s degree in one of these in-demand specializations, aspiring special education teachers can make a positive difference in helping students achieve their goals despite the obstacles in their path.