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Education Requirements for a Special Needs Therapist

by Maria OCadiz

People with special needs require specialized care from professionals who enjoy helping disabled and special needs persons to continue living their everyday lives normally. Therapists use different techniques to manage physical, behavioral, and psychological issues and enhance the dexterity of patients with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, scoliosis, development delays and disorders, chronic pain, cystic fibrosis and traumatic brain damages. Due to the sensitivity of their work, therapists must satisfy certain requirements before commencing practice.

Education

Entry into a physical therapist graduate school requires a bachelor’s degree from a four-year accredited college with a minor or major in applied behavior, sociology, languages, biology, psychology, anatomy, physiology, child development, or neuroscience. You also need high grades in science subjects and a grade point average of about 3.00. To qualify as a special needs therapist, you should meet a minimum requirement of a master’s program from an institution certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Occupational therapists in the same field are required to undertake a doctoral degree taking two or three years. There are also other post-graduate certificates that therapists pursue for between 12 and 15 credit hours to gain knowledge in specialized areas such as autism.

Experience and Training

A future therapist should go through an internship supervised by a licensed clinician or psychologist during graduate school. According to the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, therapists require supervised field internship for 1,000 hours. The student is also required to get a certification in Pediatric Physical Therapy through APTA-Credentialed Post-Professional Clinical Residency if he intends to specialize in children’s therapy. Students can also seek training from hospitals, government trainee programs, and schools with special needs children for placement under certified therapists.

Licensing and Certification

Licensing requirements vary by state. Generally, you need a degree from a licensed graduate program. After completion of a master’s program, special needs professionals must get certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board before assessing the behavior of persons with special needs. Potential child therapists that want to specialize in physical therapy of special needs, such as development disorders, must get additional qualification by taking the Physical Therapist Specialist Certification Examination on top of the license and specialist training. Physical therapists must take regular courses throughout their careers to update their licenses.

Skills and Personal Attributes

Therapists require a natural ability and a profound desire to work with people with special needs. The work of rehabilitating persons with special needs is challenging, especially when there is permanent impairment; therapists must communicate with compassion to affected children and persons. They should be able to motivate and encourage patients to pursue therapy to the greatest potential. It is also important to have patience to deal with frustrations and stress from children. Therapists stand for long hours, and so they should be physically fit.

About the Author

Maria OCadiz has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in Education. She is a former university professor, curriculum facilitator and teacher.

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