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What Kind of Studies Do I Need to Work With Special-Needs Children?

by Erica Loop, studioD

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in special education to grow by roughly 17 percent between the years 2010 and 2020. Working with children who have special needs in an education or intervention capacity requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in an area such as teacher education, special education or child development. Whether you choose to become a state-certified special ed teacher, work as an early childhood intervention specialist or pursue a health-care career, you'll need to take classes that provide you with the necessary knowledge to assess, plan for and instruct children who have delays and disabilities.

State-Specific School Certification

If your career goals include teaching special-needs children in a public elementary, middle or high school, you'll need a bachelor's degree and a state teaching license in the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That said, the specific classes you'll need to take may vary depending on your state's licensing requirements. In general, you'll need to take classes that train you to create lessons and instruct children with delays and disabilities, along with assessing their academic and developmental success. For example, Michigan State University requires elementary special education majors to take courses in literacy instruction for special-needs students.

Little Learners

A teaching certificate in elementary or secondary special education isn't likely to cover a state licensure requirement if you want to work with children who are less than school age. Some states may require specialized certification in early childhood or preschool special education to work in a public pre-K classroom. For example, West Virginia University's Bachelor of Science in Child Development and Family Studies: Preschool Education plus Preschool Special Needs Grade PreK-K degree prepares future early childhood educators to work with young children with delays or disabilities in the educational setting. This type of program includes courses in differentiated instruction specifically for young children, assessing young children with special needs and early intervention.

Early Intervention

Not every professional who works with children with special needs teaches in a school setting. Early intervention specialists work in a variety of jobs with young children who have a disability, delay or disorder, such as autism. These specialists may work at community centers, at social services agencies and in health-care environments. They need at least a bachelor's degree in the field or a post-bachelor's certificate. For example, the University of Dayton offers a certificate in early intervention specialist studies that includes coursework in assessment of children birth through age 8, collaborating with families and integrated curriculum.

Practical Practices

Whether you're choosing to work with older special-needs children in an educational setting, younger students in a community services agency or kids who are in a health-care setting, you'll need hands-on practice before becoming a professional. Practical courses, field placements and internships all provide students with the chance to work with special-needs children while under the supervision of an expert professor or mentor. For example, Illinois State University's bachelor's degree for specialists in learning and behavior requires students to complete 600 hours of clinical experience over two semesters, along with a student-teaching practicum.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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