Careers at Special Education

Most people do not think beyond teachers, principals or cafeteria workers when they consider job opportunities at a school. However, a team of professionals is required to help students at special education schools succeed. In addition to classroom teachers, these facilities frequently need occupational therapists, speech therapists and support staff in order to further their mission of educating children with physical or learning disabilities. Job-seekers who want to work with children in need of extra academic support may find working at special education schools to be particularly rewarding.

In addition to special education teachers, programs designed for children with learning or physical disabilities require the skills of other professionals with specialized degrees. Many students with a learning or physical disability require help with everyday tasks, including tasks associated with learning and playing. Occupational therapists evaluate skills for playing, school performance and daily activities and compare them with appropriate developmental milestones for their age group. Students receiving therapy may need help with basic everyday tasks like brushing their teeth, combing their hair, or getting dressed. An occupational therapist can also help those with physical disabilities with the coordination skills needed to function in a classroom, such as how to use a computer or how to increase the speed of handwriting without sacrificing legibility. Students with behavioral disabilities can also benefit from occupational therapy. The therapist can teach him or her about positive ways to deal with their anger, such as journaling or participating in a physical activity.

Special education schools often need speech-language pathologists. These specialists assess, diagnose and treat disabilities related to speech, language, cognitive communication and fluency. Speech-language pathologists help students communicate or understand language in order to interact with their classmates and teachers. In an academic setting, they focus on how to use language in order to communicate, which can include leading exercises in articulation, developing receptive language and producing language.

Classroom aides are also a very important part of the academic support team for those with learning or physical disabilities. These team members work with directly with children but do not write reports or create plans for the students. Classroom aides perform a number of tasks, depending on the environment. They might provide hygiene assistance to disabled students, or help children in need of learning support with homework, drills or other assignments. Therapeutic support staff members are often assigned to a single student. They provide emotional, physical or behavioral support to a child in need of individual attention. The primary responsibility of the therapeutic support staff is to ensure that the child stays on task, participates and does not disrupt his or her classmates. Although these positions do not require an advanced degree, classroom aides and therapeutic support staff are essential to helping the teacher maintain order in the classroom.

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