What Is Special Education? (Benefits, Skills and Careers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Special education requires various specialists and customised curricula to deliver effective instruction. Some children require special education to manage learning difficulties that result from disabilities or disorders. Understanding what special education is can help you determine if it's a career you want to pursue. In this article, we define special education, analyse the special education curriculum, discuss the benefits of it, provide a list of useful skills for special education professionals and highlight six roles in the field.

What is special education?

Special education refers to learning programmes or curricula that instructors customise and deliver to meet specific needs of students with learning difficulties. Educators usually deliver the curriculum in an environment with fewer restrictions to accommodate the students.

Some examples of learning disorders requiring special education are dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia. Students with medical disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may also require special education.

Where do special education professionals work?

Many special education instructors work in learning and health institutions. Learning institutions they may work in include special schools, home-school residences, mainstream classrooms, early intervention centres and preschools that adopt inclusion and self-contained models. Special education professionals can also work in hospitals, residential care facilities and health agencies.

Special education curriculum

A curriculum consists of instructions, learning experiences and performance assessments. A special education curriculum focuses on six main learning elements. These elements are academics, physical education and sports, daily living, social living, arts and vocational learning. There are two types of special education curricula, namely customised and national. The curriculum delivered depends on students' learning requirements.

The national curriculum is available in special education schools for students who have sufficient adaptive and cognitive skills. These students can enrol in mainstream secondary schools after they successfully complete the Primary School Leaving Examinations. There are also secondary schools that offer special learning support. A customised curriculum personalises the learning experience of children with special needs. It also aims to develop students' learning potential and help them gain essential knowledge and skills.

Related: How Much Does a Primary School Teacher Earn (With Skills)

Benefits of pursuing special education

Here are some benefits of special education for students:

  • Provides support to students with special needs. Special education helps maximise students' learning opportunities via curriculum modifications and remediation.

  • Utilises teachers trained in special needs education. Teachers undergo expert training to manage their students' special needs.

  • Provides extra resources and services. Additional resources and services include speech-language therapy, psychological and academic counselling, learning aids, physical and occupational therapy and tutoring programmes.

  • Assists students in interacting with others. Special education enables special needs students to interact with their peers, including those who do and don't have learning disabilities.

  • Enables teachers to address students' individual learning needs. Special needs students can engage in effective education because instructors address their unique learning requirements.

Related: How to Become a Special Ed Teacher (With Role and Salary)

Skills for special education professionals

Special education professionals require unique skills to support their students. Here are some abilities you may require in this field:

  • Behaviour and ability assessment: Assessment skills help determine a student's requirements and monitor their progress. You may use tools like observation, behaviour rating and IQ evaluation.

  • Compassion: Compassion helps you to develop trust and exercise patience with special needs students. It also helps you to encourage students to be compassionate towards each other.

  • Patience: Exercising patience allows you to accommodate the varying learning needs of special education students. It also enables you to adopt an individualised approach, maximising your students' learning.

  • Listening: Listening skills improve your ability to connect with students and understand their needs. They also enable you to teach students listening skills, which can enhance their learning.

  • Organisation: Organisational skills help you successfully manage learning materials and plan education experiences. You can also use these skills to maintain an effective learning environment.

  • Problem-solving: Problem-solving skills enable you to identify challenges and devise solutions. For example, you may notice that some students experience difficulty in reading lessons and change your approach to help them understand.

  • Adaptability: Adaptability skills help you modify curricula and instructions to accommodate your students' individual needs. For example, you may choose to adjust the difficulty of reading material when necessary.

  • Practical and theoretical knowledge: Practical and theoretical knowledge helps educate students with special needs. It also helps you to remain aware of special education advancements and use them to develop new teaching methods.

Related: 34 Director of Special Education Interview Questions

Careers you can pursue in special education

Here are some special education roles:

1. Occupational therapist

National average salary: $40,400 per year

Primary duties: An occupational therapist helps special education students to develop, maintain and rehabilitate their ability to complete everyday activities. They assess the home and school activities which are important to a student and teach them how to perform them independently. They also train the student's parents, teachers and caregivers to address the child's individual needs and use special equipment. Occupational therapists also develop treatment plans for students with disabilities and work with them to reach these goals.

Read more: What Does an Occupational Therapist Do? And How to Become One

2. Education consultant

National average salary: $43,468 per year

Primary duties: An education consultant is responsible for assessing student needs, designing, developing and implementing educational material and delivering workshops and special education programmes. They usually hold advisory roles in schools and universities. Education consultants give educators advice on specific requirements and educational methods. They help improve learning outcomes, teaching methods and curricula. They also visit classrooms, observe students, identify those with special needs and provide feedback to teachers and parents.

Related: What Does a Consultant Do? Key Duties for Each Speciality

3. Special needs teacher

National average salary: $43,687 per year

Primary duties: A special needs teacher educates students with learning disabilities. They work in various environments, including childcare centres and schools. They assess students' abilities, adapt teaching techniques and material, monitor students' progress and manage classroom activities. These teachers also inform parents of their child's progress and collaborate with other staff members to support their students.

Read more: What Does a Special Education Teacher Do? Duties and Salary

4. Reading specialist

National average salary: $45,802 per year

Primary duties: A reading specialist helps special needs students to develop their reading skills. They test students to understand their reading requirements and determine if they need support. They help teachers, caregivers and students to understand various reading challenges and provide steps to overcome them.

Related: Reading Comprehension Skills: Definition, Tips and Examples

5. School counsellor

National average salary: $65,563 per year

Primary duties: A school counsellor helps special education students to overcome their social and emotional challenges. They also regularly update parents, teachers and administrators on these students' progress. School counsellors help facilitate crisis prevention and intervention programmes. They foster non-judgemental relationships with students, help plan school programmes and events and advise students on important choices. School counsellors help students individually and in groups. They also test students to determine if they require individual attention in the classroom.

Read more: What Does a Student Counsellor Do? Role, Skills and Salary

6. Curriculum manager

National average salary: $98,956 per year

Primary duties: A special education curriculum manager helps to design and develop curricula, training programmes, materials and methods for special needs students. They determine staff training and development needs to help design an effective curriculum. When creating a curriculum, managers collaborate with faculty members to align it to their areas of expertise. Curriculum managers also research how well the special education students understand the curriculum. They use collaboration tools and education software to fulfil their responsibilities. They also design the logistics of classroom activities, such as scheduling instructors and ordering supplies.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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