If you are passionate for changing the lives of children and young adults and have a gift for teaching students with specific needs, enhancing your skillset by choosing an area of specialization in the field of special education can provide unique benefits and make you more marketable in today’s workforce.
Here’s some guidelines to help you figure out exactly what it takes to earn your special education degree and explore some of the possible special education degree specializations that you should consider in 2018.
In Demand Special Education Degree Specializations
The demand for special education teachers has surged across the United States as a Master’s degree in Special Education is currently ranked 6th in popularity of the 50 most popular online master’s degree programs. Below are several specializations gaining increased interest for students wanting to concentrate their talents for students with specialized needs.
While most master’s program do not require students to select an area of specialization, there are significant benefits to doing so. Specializing your education not only makes you more valuable — it also makes the education you provide to students and clients more valuable.
Here are several specializations that have especially gained popularity for students beginning their degrees in 2017 & 2018:
This specialization prepares you to effectively teach students with varying exceptionalities to include, autism spectrum disorders, emotional and behavioral difficulties, specific learning and language impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and orthopedic and other health impairments.
Coursework will likely include:
- Curriculum, Assessment and differentiated instructional practices
- Language Development
- Research based practices in Math and English Language Arts
- Behavioral, Social and Communication disorders
- Classroom Management
Typical program of studies for mild/moderate disabilities range from 30-40 required hours of credits once an elementary or secondary teaching certification is obtained. This specialization applies to students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, up to the age of 22.
The core curriculum of the online MSEd in Special Education from Purdue University focuses on mild intervention for high-incidence conditions to intense intervention. The program offers several options to meet your career needs.
- Master’s only: Intended for those seeking knowledge in the area of special education. No practicum is required; an additional elective course is taken in its place.
- Master’s with initial special education licensure: Intended for those seeking a master’s degree as well as an initial license in special education in mild intervention or mild and intense intervention. This track requires practicum and student teaching field experiences.
- Master’s with advanced special education licensure: Intended for those who already have initial (teaching) licensure and are looking to add an advanced licensure in mild intervention or mild and intense intervention. This track requires practicum experiences.
- Master’s with advanced special education licensure – intense intervention only: Intended for those who already have a special education teaching license in mild intervention and looking for advanced licensure in intense intervention. This track requires practicum experiences.
Deaf or Hard Of Hearing
The DHH specialization qualifies general education teachers, special education teachers, speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, and sign language interpreters to work with students with varying levels of hearing loss. Coursework can take up to 2 years to complete for you to gain competencies that will help support the learning and development of pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students.
Topics in coursework will likely include:
- Differentiated Curriculum and Instruction
- Language Acquisition and Literacy Development
- Sign language systems in Education
- Adaptive and Assistive Technology
Saint Joseph’s University’s online Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing PK-12 program of study uniquely prepares students in the latest technology to facilitate engaging learning experiences, as well as plan specialized curriculum, effectively manage a classroom, and provide opportunities to enhance sign language interpretation skills. The last course in Saint Joseph’s University program involves field experience comprised of a 14-week student teaching assignment intended to immerse you in the deaf or hard of hearing teaching experience.
Early Childhood Special Education
You’ll assist children with both mild/moderate and severe emotional or learning difficulties. You’ll also learn how to teach children who have suffered brain injuries/damage.
However, unlike the other areas, you’ll only be able to teach children from birth to pre-kindergarten.
Throughout your coursework, you’ll study several forms of developmental psychology, learn how to assess different needs and disorders, and even learn how to arrange your classroom so that it can best benefit your students.
You’ll likely also spend a lot of time learning the basics of child psychology, and undergo on-the-job training so that you can handle emergency health situations and behavioral issues in the classroom.
The online Master’s Degree in Special Education from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota focuses on developing the ability of students to:
- Create an inclusive environment in a mainstream classroom, allowing each student to learn to their full potential
- Reach students across all levels and types of disabilities by developing understanding of various student backgrounds and disabilities
- Every course touches upon intercultural competence
Coursework in this specialization will prepare you with the skills and knowledge to effectively address the unique educational needs of students with visual impairments or blindness. Candidates take core courses in general education, special education and specialization courses in visual impairments.
Specifically, teaching balance, sensory/spatial awareness, as well as body awareness are key life skills in addition to teaching students how to read and write in Braille.
Knowledge of specialized equipment and interactive software programs enhance the learning experience and compensatory skill development for students with visual impairments.
Course topics include:
- Literary Braille
- Communication Systems Used by Persons with Visual Impairments
- Instructional Systems for Utilization of Low Vision
- Assistive and Adaptive Technology
- Orientation and Mobility
Applied Behavior Analysis
If your interest lies in how to better understand human behavior to help people achieve their maximum potential, then obtaining this next certification will prove beneficial. The field of Applied Behavior Analysis has an expected growth rate of 33% by 2020. Hence, the expertise of ABA specialists is critically in demand of social service organizations, public education programs, non-profits, and other industries where understanding and improving human behavior are crucial.
Saint Joseph’s University offers an online Applied Behavior Analysis Concentration that prepares individuals to address the demands of challenging behaviors seen in Special Education settings. The courses are intended to prepare students for the BCBA certification exam.
The assessment of individuals with behavioral challenges, developing behavior intervention plans, and studying the environmental impact on behavior are among the skills learned.
Coursework will likely include:
- Behavioral Development
- Clinical Behavioral Analysis
- Ethical Principles in Behavioral Analysis
Graduates of a certificate in applied behavior analysis are prepared for positions such as behavior specialists, criminal justice professionals, human services professionals, and substance abuse counselors.
Every state has different standards for credentialing the role of an Occupational Therapist — but across all of them, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement for entry to the field. In school environments, occupational therapists are part of ESE Support Services that work with students to assist in all types of activities from caring for daily needs to using a computer or participating in physical exercises to increase strength and dexterity.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Coursework will likely include:
- Theoretical Basis of Occupational Therapy
- Assessment of Patients
- Design and Implementation of Therapy Plans
- Applicable Laws and Standards of Professional Ethics
- Supervised Clinical Experience
The median annual Occupational Therapist salary is $83,901, as of January 30, 2018, with a range usually between $76,854–$91,415, however this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors (including geography).
Licensing requirements by state vary, but typically require candidates to graduate from an accredited program in occupational therapy and pass examinations. Certification is optional but desirable, and is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
How Much Can You Expect To Earn?
While salaries vary county-to-county and state-to-state, here is a quick breakdown of the (national) median annual special education salaries across different tracks now:
- Preschool Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $50,000
- Elementary Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $50,000
- Middle School Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $53,000
- High School Special Ed Teachers: Roughly $55,000
Find An Online Master’s in Special Education Degree That’s Right For You
These in demand special education degree concentrations allow you to gain the knowledge and expertise in helping students with varying exceptionalities who may learn differently and respond to approaches other than conventional methods of teaching. Click here to find a special education program or use our job finder board to connect with the right opportunity for you.