How are Early Childhood Special Education Programs Funded?


Early childhood special education programs are essential to providing families the first line of service in detecting in developmental concerns with regards to their children. These services are provided and protected by federal legislation, state agencies, and other authorities but require massive funding in order to function and serve. By proving to be an expensive task, school districts and local early intervention providers often must continually seek other funding revenues to ensure that families’ and children’s rights are protected while providing the most appropriate early childhood special education services. This requires teams of people – from grant writers to special education teachers to physical therapists and beyond – to help ensure that children with developmental delays, disabilities, and illnesses get the help that they need as the following sections indicate and illustrate.

What are Early Childhood Special Education Services?

Early childhood special education services programs are for children 0-5 years of age. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), private grant organizations, states, and the federal government assist in providing funding for these services. According to the IDEA law, families and their children have rights that cover the initial screening process through receiving services that must be adhered to by all involved parties. Being that the children are so very young at this stage, unless there have predominant features or physical impairments that prevent them from developing as that of their peers, these children typically will receive global services under the umbrella of developmental delay. Developmental delay is mostly determined by how far behind the child may be according to a child their age developmental progress. However, the more pervasive delays such as hearing, vision, eating, oral language, and fine/gross motor impairments will warrant direct services from a credentialed individual qualified to provide specific services.

How Children are Identified for Early Childhood Special Education Services

One of the key goals of all early childhood special education programs is to detect potential delays as early as possible and provide the necessary interventions. All states are required to provide parents with opportunities to find out about early intervention services locally. Children can be referred to the local early interventionist by their pediatricians or based upon the inquiry of a concerned parent. Early intervention or Part C services can begin as early as when a child leaves the hospital after birth or neonatal intensive care units. Part C services are usually for children ages 0-3. Once assessments are completed, the family and early intervention agency will determine whether or not the child qualifies for services. Once the decision is made that the child qualifies to receive services, a plan to service the child will be created that includes as much of the family as possible. Early interventionist programs may often call this a family services plan. The child is usually assigned an in-home case manager that comes to the parent’s home and demonstrates skills that are outlined in the family education service plan. If the child requires more specific services, the service provider may also come to the home. If the child has severe challenges, they may need to receive services at a facility.

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If the child is tested and found eligible for services through a school district, they will receive their education at one of the school district’s preschool special education classrooms under Part B services. Here, the student will attend a classroom setting with a special education preschool teacher and specialists such as physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech pathologist will provide services for the child during their school hours. The family is included in the development of services based upon the child’s individualized education plan. Children are eligible to receive early childhood special education service ages 2-5. Whether the child receives services from their early interventionist program or the school district, families have legal rights to be included in every part of the process.

How Early Childhood Special Education Programs are Funded

In most states once a child turns two years of age, parents can either decide on whether or not their child will be screened to possibly be found eligible to receive special education services through early intervention or their local school district. The local government’ budget and grants makes up most of the early intervention funding. Unlike general education, special education programs require staff with specialization skills and certain credentials to work with the children. Therefore, the school systems and local government will need to pay these specialists competitive wages to provide services. The local government receives less than a fourth of federal funding actually needed to make sure that the services are provided according what the child education plan. Consequently, if the school district and early intervention programs were to short cut the services offered based upon budgeting restrictions, they would stand in jeopardy for breaking federal law on behalf of the child.

When applying for federal funding, all local school districts must complete an application through their state’s department of education office. Once the application has been approved at the state level, it is submitted with all other school district applications to the federal IDEA funding office for review and allocation of funds. If approved at the federal level, funds will be handed over the state’s education department to then be dispersed to the local school districts. Money is also available for the early interventionist through the federal Office of Special Education Programs. The early interventionist agencies must submit a public application for grant funding to their state government office. Once it is approved by the state, the application then goes to the Office of Special Education Programs. The grant is awarded to the state, followed by the state releasing the allocated grant funds to the various early intervention agencies.

When considering other funding opportunities, these grants have more flexibility in allowing the agencies to apply directly rather than through their state’s government.

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Other funding options include:
Autism Society of America – Scholarships for schools and service providers serving students with autism
Federal Grants – Offered by the U.S. Government
– Itaalk for Autism – Grants for communication devices
The United Way – Provides charitable donations to early intervention programs
Little People Association – Provides funding for individuals with dwarfism
The Morgan Project – Offers small grants, gently used equipment
Hands to Angels – Gives grants for identifying and preventing rare genetic disorders

Can I Receive College Credit for Social Work Experiences I Have Already Completed?

experienceStudents interested in earning a social work degree will benefit from both classroom theory and hands-on practice with actual case studies. If you already have work experience in this field, it is possible to receive some form of college credit for it in many cases. The exact number of work experience credits usually depends on your total years spent on the job, the policies of your college or university, and the level of degree you plan to complete. The following options may be open to you for obtaining college credit in exchange for previous experience working in the field of social work.

Submitting an Academic Portfolio

Since social work courses are outside the scope of general education courses, credit by exam isn’t available for these classes. Some college social work departments will accept a portfolio as an alternative. Documents to include are detailed letters of recommendation from work supervisors, any related licenses or credentials and any other awards earned on the job. The advising faculty reviews each portfolio before making a definite decision to grant credit. Some schools that offer the portfolio option may require new students to first enroll in a course on how to put together a professional portfolio in a specific format.

Enrolling in an Assessment Degree Program

A few accredited universities offer these types of degree programs that combine past documented social work experience with classroom or online learning. You will usually need to demonstrate past fundamental knowledge acquired on the job. You also may need to complete at least one capstone course and an internship. Admission to these assessment programs also relies heavily on written recommendations from past supervisors or managers. The two most successful and reputable online college assessment programs are found at Excelsior College of New York and Thomas Edison State College of New Jersey.

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Credits For Undergraduate Degrees

When enrolling in an undergraduate social work program, you may be able to receive credits for past work experience. According to most policies within social work school departments, the same credit is not granted for graduate level social work programs. The good news for prospective graduate students is that an undergraduate major in social work is generally not required for admission to most social work graduate degree programs. Credit for work or life experience can be applied to an undergraduate degree in another field before you finish and apply to graduate school.

Considerations for Social Work Degree Programs

Not all colleges and universities grant credit for past social work towards an undergraduate degree, so do your research carefully on several schools. Credits are determined on a case-by-case basis, and many social work departments have varying evaluation criteria for giving work experience college credits. Holding a current social worker license can count toward college credits at some specific schools.

When making your decision to earn a social work degree, make a list of schools that may be a good fit for you. Find out the names of the advising faculty and contact them by phone or email. Ask questions about the social work department’s policy on granting credit for social work experience. Be specific about your past experience and any licenses or certificates you currently have. Write down the information you get from the advising staff about getting credit for your work experience and use it for making your final choice of a social work degree program.

What Are Some of the Best Books About Special Needs Children?

booksspecedParents of children with special needs will naturally want to read every book the hits the shelves about their child’s specific need, but who has the time for that?

Here is a list of good reference and resource books for parents, siblings and special-needs children:

Attention Deficit Disorder

“Commanding Attention: A Parent and Patient Guide to More ADHD Treatment” by Tess Messer, MPH

Written by a physician’s assistant and parent to an ADHD child, “Commanding Attention” explores the many conventional and unconventional treatment options for ADHD children and offers a personal insight into the world of ADHD from a clinical perspective while delivering the information in an entertaining and objective manner.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Mrs. Gorski, I Think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets (Adventures of Everyday Geniuses)” by Barbara Esham, Mike Gordon and Carl Gordon

Written for young grade-school aged children, “Wiggle Fidgets” tells the story of David and his struggle with ADHD in school.

Purchase it at Amazon.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

“A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome & High-Functioning Autism, Second Edition” by Sally Ozonoff, Geraldine Dawson and James McPartland

This guide is written for parents with children who have high-functioning forms of autism, and the text is filled with information for parents to help focus their child’s energies and talents into the appropriate channels and assist with social nuances and situations.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book” by Celeste Shally

An autistic boy and his friend navigate social situations together and demonstrate that friendship has not limitations. Easy to read for young children.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew: Third Edition” by Ellen Notbohm

This book offers a hopeful perspective from an author that has first hand experience as the mother of autistic children. The text encourages working with the autistic child and their way of doing things rather than attempting to force the child to act in a manner that is contrary to their nature.

Purchase it at Amazon.


Blindness and Visually Impaired

“The Seeing Stick” by Jane Yolen

The daughter of Chinese royalty was born blind but with the help of doctors and men of magic, she will discover a new way to “see” the world without the use of her eyes. Fairy tale-like depiction for children to enjoy.

Purchase it at Better World Books.

Deafness and Hearing Impaired

“The Deaf Musicians” by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs

Book for young children about a musician having recently suffered loss of his hearing but discovering he can still create and enjoy music. Written by real-life musician, Pete Seeger.

Purchase it at Better World Books.


“Raising Teens with Diabetes: A Survival Guide for Parents” by Moira McCarthy, Jake Kushner MD and Barbara J. Anderson PhD

A guide for parents raising teenagers with diabetes. Includes strategies to get the teens to adhere to their diet and medication schedules and other recommendations and advice dealing with this difficult age and the disease.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Even Little Kids Get Diabetes” by Connie Pirner

little kids
An easy-to-read book for children that explains the disease in simple terms and helps the reader understand what it means to live with diabetes.

Purchase it at Amazon.

Down Syndrome

“Why Are You Looking At Me? I Just Have Down Syndrome” by Lisa Tompkins

A children’s book about a girl with Down Syndrome that teaches acceptance of others. Help children discover how to embrace a relationship with people who are different.

Purchase it at Amazon.


“Fasten Your Seatbelt: A Crash Course on Down Syndrome for Brothers and Sisters” by Brian Skotko and Susan P. Levine

A guide written for older children and teens about their role as sibling to a person with Down Syndrome. Packed with lots of important information and provides a reference for older children with questions about their sibling in a Q&A format.

Purchase it at Amazon.


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Emotional Disorders

“The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children” by Ross W. Greene PhD

There are many emotional disorders and psychological issues but “The Explosive Child” covers one of the most difficult emotional problems: the angry, violent child. This book explores different strategies and approaches to dealing with, disciplining and understanding a child that is prone to outbursts and unresponsive to limitations or traditional rule obedience.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Sometimes I’m Bombaloo” by Rachel Vail

A book written for young children about a girl who loses her temper. The book helps the reader understand that becoming angry and expressing that feeling is normal, but calming down and behaving appropriately is part of the emotional journey.

Purchase it at Amazon.


“Thank You, Mr. Falkner” by Patricia Polacco

A real-life story for school-aged children about a girl who struggles to learn how to read. Recognizing her difficulty, a teacher works with her to overcome her dyslexia and learn how to read.

Purchase it at Amazon.

Physical Disabilities

“Harry and Willy and Carrothead” by Judith Caseley

Book for children about a boy born without a left hand that shows his classmates that his disability does not keep him from doing the same things they can do.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Look What Kate Can Do: One Hand Works as Well as Two” by Katie Leatherwood and Paul Leatherwood

Kate was born with symbrachydactyly, which means upper limb differences. Here’s how she explains it to others.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Susan Laughs” by Jeanne Willis

A book written for young children about a girl enjoying all the activities every children loves only for the reader to discover at the end of the book that the little girl uses a wheelchair.

Purchase it at Amazon.

“Views From Our Shoes: Growing Up With A Brother or Sister With Special Needs” by Donald Meyer

A compilation of essays written by children who are the siblings of children with a variety of special needs. The essay writers range in age from 4 to 18 and offer a unique and personalized glimpse into the world of growing up a person with special needs.

Purchase it at Amazon.

What Kind of International Special Education Jobs Are Available?

intljob Special education is one of the most rapidly growing careers in the United States, Canada and many other countries. (I had special education teachers myself when I was in high school; I am what you call I high-functioning autistic. It is amazing that such a person can write an article such as this one.) This article will deal specifically with international careers in the field of special education.

Teaching overseas

Handicapped children live in every nation in the world, so an individual who has a certificate in special education can find a job almost anywhere that he or she searches. According to the State Department, there are two main types of special education jobs open to the international teacher: that of the general teacher, and that of the tutor who works with children living in areas where the special education programs at the schools are not enough to suit their needs.

The Department of State has two teaching programs for those who would like to go into special education abroad. One is the FAST TRAIN (Foreign Affairs Spouses Teacher Training Project) program, which began as a collaboration among three different institutions: the Office of Overseas Schools (part of the State Department), the Virginia State Department of Education and George Mason University. Special education is one of two certificate programs offered by FAST TRAIN (the other being in international business). A training program for tutoring the learning disabled is also available each fall from the Lab School of Washington, a small private school for disabled students in all grades.

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The FAST TRAIN program

At FAST TRAIN, the training program for becoming a special education teacher abroad is one that leads to an M.Ed. (Master of Education) degree. It consists, first, of five core courses with a total of twelve credit hours:

  1. Education and Culture: teaches how to analyze educational contexts and extend strategies to address “puzzlements” in the practices of students
  2. Inquiry into Practice: fosters “systematic and thoughtful inquiry” into the practices of the classroom
  3. How Students Learn: how to increase the ability of students to learn by studying a variety of learning systems and understand each student “in the context of the learning process itself”
  4. Designing and Assessing Teaching and Learning: developing strategies in the curriculum and teaching process in response to what the students both need and in what they are interested; also covers the ways of knowing brought by teachers into the classroom
  5. Educational Change: examines the various factors that influence changes in educational systems on all levels, from federal to classroom; helps students reflect on their own learning experiences

Then there are numerous specialization courses which total eighteen credit hours, divided among the following areas of concentration:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis: The titles of five of the seven courses in this area include the course name followed by a colon (Principles, Procedures and Philosophy; Empirical Bases; Assessments and Interventions; Applications; and Verbal Behavior).
  • Assistive Technology (There are two programs in this area, each including a slightly different set of courses.)
  • Teaching Students with Autism: Students with this condition typically have a limited ability to relate socially to other people but may possess special skills such as an ability to memorize various lists (I memorized all the states, capitals, U. S. presidents and chemical elements when I was eleven!).
  • Visual Impairments Licensure, PK-12
  • Students with Disabilities who Access the General Curriculum Concentration
  • Students with Disabilities who Access the Accepted Curriculum Concentration

Some of the courses are offered only during the spring, summer or fall.

Lab School of Washington

The lab operates under the belief that each student, despite his or her handicap, is capable of achieving great things and gears every aspect of its teaching process towards accomplishing that end. There is a global learning program here in which students discover discover the food, music and customs of other nations and study poets and other writers from around the world. A study program is also included, and students have gone to China, Ecuador, France and other places.

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Do Private Special Education Programs Exist?

privpubMore often than not, special education programs are found in public schools that receive funding directly related to serving students with special needs and learning disabilities. Special education programs in private schools are fewer and further between. In part, this is because of the lack of designated funding, and in part, because most private educational institutions have smaller class sizes and are more readily able to cater to the special needs of any given student. There are, however, private school and private tutorial options at all levels for students with special needs.

According to the National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC), there are 6.6 million students being served through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and 3.4% of those students are being served by a private schools of some sort. A group like the NAPSEC connects parents and students with private schools and organizations that serve special needs students from preschool to adulthood. Some of these learning centers are more traditional private schools, and some of them are organizations that offer tutorial services from private educators.

Private institutions like The Summit School in Edgewater, Maryland provide a range of educational services to special needs students with dyslexia and other learning differences. Summit educates students in grades one through eight and works to integrate students into traditional high schools. The tuition is $28,472 for the 2013-2014 academic year, which is comparable to many traditional private schools. Also, like most traditional private grade schools, financial aid is available in different forms.

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An excellent resource for finding private preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools in any given state is the site Private School Review. This site allows you to narrow your school search to find private special education schools in your home state. An investigation of these institutions will show schools with small student populations – for example, their list of private special needs high schools in Missouri shows a range of student totals from 6 to 194 while elementary school student totals range from 11 to 194 – that allow teachers greater freedom to concentrate their attention on the individual needs of each student. Schools on this list focus on providing education to students with vastly differing special needs, from mild learning disabilities to severe mental handicaps. Many offer individualized learning programs geared towards specific needs students. In addition to fairly traditional classroom settings, many of these schools offer tutoring and other services from education professionals who are trained to help special needs students. The yearly tuition rates at most of these schools range from $10,000 to $30,000 and many have financial aid opportunities.

There are also plenty of options for special needs students preparing for college. Colleges designed exclusively to serve the needs of these students are far more rare than are private preschools, elementary, middle, and high schools. However, many colleges have programs that are designed to meed special educational needs, and some are better than others. The website Best Colleges Online ranks twenty colleges that excel at catering to students with special needs. The University of Iowa, which tops the list, has designated residence halls and community-based internships for students with intellectual, cognitive, and learning disabilities. At West Virginia Wesleyan College, students with learning disabilities, attention disorders, and other special needs can make use of the Mentor Advantage Program which offers a wide range of support to help with the college transition. Other colleges have special programs to assist students with autism, Down Syndrome, dyslexia, and physical impairments like blindness of hearing-impairment. The assistance often includes services that help with specialized study skills, job placement, and even self advocacy and social skills. These colleges and universities are all subject to ever increasing tuition costs, and some of these special services are fee-based.

There are many options for private schooling and tutoring from preschool through high school for students with special needs. When college is in view, the specialized options become more limited. However, many college programs work to ensure that their special needs students are equipped study, work, and social skills to help them succeed.

What are the Highest Paying Jobs in Special Education?

caerersjobsMany people are motivated to work with special-needs students due to their sincere desire to enrich the quality of their lives. When considering a career, however, many believe that in addition to personal fulfillment, there are other factors to consider like salary.

Earning a decent living is especially important in today’s tough economy. Many professionals working in the field of special education spend years getting college degrees and completing  licensing requirements, and then continue their studies within specialized certifications and advanced educational/training programs. But ultimately, people do the job because they love it, not for the money. That being said, some jobs pay more than others. And any of these rewarding careers will ensure individuals get to do what they love while still being able to make ends meet, paying back student loans and building a future in education.

Speech-language Pathologist

Speech-language pathologists, also known as speech therapists, assess, diagnose and treat students with speech and communication disorders. Special education professionals interested in this field must earn a master’s degree in speech and language pathology.

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An education typically takes about six years to complete and includes classes in special needs, speech disorders and alternative modes of communication. In most states, speech and language pathologists must obtain a license. In addition, they seek certification through accrediting bodies such as American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

The median annual salary for speech and language pathologists was $79,120 for 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The job outlook for 2019-2029 projects growth of 25%, or 40,500 jobs, which is much faster than average.

Featured Programs To Qualify As Speech and Language Pathologists

  1. The Top 10 Master’s of Speech Pathology Degree Programs
  2. The Utah State University’s Online Bachelor of Communication Disorders
  3. Top 10 Bachelors of Communicative Disorders Degree Programs
  4. Top 10 Special Education Masters Degree Programs
  5. Top 10 Special Education Masters Degree Programs Online
  6. Top 15 Accredited Special Education Masters Degree Programs Online

Educational Audiologist

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in special education, some students decide to spend another four years in college, learning to work with hearing impaired students. Educational audiologists typically hold a doctorate in audiology. Typical coursework includes anatomy, physiology and communication development.

As of 2013, all states required educational audiologists to earn a license. Typically, they also seek certification through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association or the American Board of Audiology to add to their credibility and fulfill part of their licensing requirements. Educational audiologists visit students at school and take referrals in their clinics to assess clients’ degree of hearing loss and help manage hearing disabilities in the classroom.

Educational audiologists earned a median annual salary of $77,600 as of May 2019, according to the BLS. Job outlook projections are positive for the next decade as more audiologists will be needed as the Baby Boomer generation ages. BLS projects growth at 13 percent from 2019 to 2029.

Featured Programs To Qualify As Educational Audiologists

  1. University of Western Kentucky’s Online Masters in Speech Language Pathology
  2. Top 15 Accredited Online Special Education Doctoral Degree Programs of 2016
  3. Top 15 Accredited Schools Online Offering Doctoral Degrees In Special Education
  4. Top 10 Online Special Education Certificate Programs
  5. Top 10 Doctor of Audiology (AuD) Degrees

Special Education Teacher

Special education teachers work with children with a wide range of disabilities including autism, emotional disorder, behavioral disorder, learning disability or speech disorder. To become a special education teacher, you’ll need to earn your bachelor’s degree in education, special education or a specialized field, such as math or biology. During college, you’ll also complete fieldwork, including student teaching. Every state requires public special education teachers to have a license, which typically requires providing certified evidence you completed your degree and passing an examination.

The median pay for special education teachers as of 2019 was $61,030, according to the BLS. Salary greatly depends on the grade level an individual teachers with teachers at the secondary level typically making more than at the elementary level. The BLS estimates 3% employment growth during the decade from 2019 to 2029, but Education Week said that 17% of special education teachers left the field from 2008 to 2018.

Featured Programs To Qualify As Special Education Teachers

  1. Western Governor’s Online Bachelor’s of Arts in Special Education
  2. Top 10 Special Education Masters Degree Programs
  3. Top 10 Special Education Masters Degree Programs Online
  4. Top 15 Accredited Special Education Masters Degree Programs Online

Adaptive Special Education Teacher

Adaptive special education teachers enjoy helping people with disabilities overcome their challenges to achieve physical goals. These professionals develop, implement and monitor a special needs student’s physical education program.

Approximately 13 states require adaptive special education teachers to have a separate license in addition to a teaching degree. While requirements vary by state, typically you have to demonstrate taking a certain number of semester hours in adaptive physical education and pass an examination. Once you are hired, adaptive special education teachers must follow the adapted physical education national standards.

As of 2021, the average salary for adaptive special education teachers was $45,726, according to Glassdoor.

Featured Programs To Qualify As Adaptive Special Education Teachers

Early Intervention Specialist

If you’re interested in helping small children with disabilities, consider parlaying your special education career into a rewarding career as an early intervention specialist. These special education professionals work with children and young adults to diffuse crises, help problem-solve before a situation escalates and teach new skills. You’ll focus on problems including academic difficulties, teen pregnancy and behavioral issues.

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After achieving your certification as a special education teacher, earn your certificate in early intervention by taking a college course, which is typically about 15-20 semester hours. This training typically requires an internship. As of 2021, the median salary for early intervention specialists was $61,172, according to Glassdoor.

Featured Programs To Qualify As Early Intervention Specialists

What are Inclusive Special Education Programs?

inclusion Inclusion is a term used to describe one option for the placement of special education students in public schools. These inclusive programs are sometimes referred to as mainstreaming, which is the selective placement of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms. This controversial educational concept has its share of advocates on both sides and continues to be a source of contention with educators and parents. They all agree that schools must focus on meeting the needs of students with special needs in the most appropriate setting for each individual.

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The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires students to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). They must receive an education with supports set forth in their Individual Education Plan (IEP), which is different for each student. The federal laws that govern the education of special needs children do not require that they receive an inclusive education. They only require that all students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment and that their unique needs are met.

What Inclusive Education Programs Provide For Special Needs Students

Inclusive education programs provide educational services for all students including those with special needs. These programs serve all children in the regular classroom on a full-time basis. If a student requires extra services such as speech therapy, these services are brought into the classroom. This program allows the student to remain in the regular education classroom setting at all times. This program is intended to meet the objectives of IDEA by educating students in the regular classroom while still providing for their unique needs.

There are variables in inclusive education programs, which make a standard definition of inclusion misleading. Full inclusion is described as placing all students, regardless of disabilities and severity, in the regular classroom on a full-time basis. These students do not leave the regular classroom for services specified in their IEP, but these services are delivered to them in the regular classroom setting. Inclusion or mainstreaming refers to students being educated with non-disabled peers for most of their school day. A special education teacher collaborates with a general education teacher to provide services for students. The general education teacher is responsible for instructing all children, even those with an IEP. The special education teacher collaborates with the general teacher on strategies.

Another placement option places students with disabilities in the general classroom with the special education teacher providing support and assisting the general education teacher in instructing the students. The special education teacher brings materials into the classroom and works with the special student during math or reading instruction. The special education teacher aids the general education teacher in planning different strategies for students with various abilities.

When the IEP team meets to determine the best placement for a child with disabilities, they must consider which placement constitutes the least restrictive environment for the child based on individual needs. The team must determine which setting will provide the child with the appropriate placement. The primary objective of inclusive education is to educate students who have disabilities in the regular classroom and still meet their individual needs. Inclusive education allows children with special needs to receive a free and appropriate education along with general education students in the regular classroom.

Effectiveness of Inclusive Special Education Programs

Even though several studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of inclusive special education programs, no conclusion has been reached. Many positive signs have been observed with both special education and regular students. Some proponents of inclusive education programs argue that segregated special education programs are more detrimental to students and fail to meet their educational goals.

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Those who favor inclusion see some positive evidence that all students can benefit from these inclusive programs when the proper support services are enacted and some changes take place in the traditional classroom. Professional development classes, certifications and graduate degree programs for both special and general education teachers produce a better understanding of the concept of inclusive education. When provided with the proper tools, special needs students have the opportunity to succeed along with their general education peers.

What is Special Education Certification?

whatisSpecial education certification is a requirement for teachers working with disabled children. The certification qualifications required for each state vary, and different types of degrees are available. Specifics regarding each state’s legislation on education topics can be found here.

Since the No Child Left Behind act of 2001, U.S. states have had to redefine their special education teaching certification systems. In order to be involved in the teaching of special education, a teacher must acquire certification(s) depending on which state is involved. Different levels of education will result in different possible teaching degrees and specialized areas of certification can be utilized depending on the state in which it will be used.

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Types of Certification

There are three classifications of certification systems generally recognized, and each state’s system can be categorized accordingly. They are:
States with this classification do not require specialized certification in order for their teachers to work with children that have specially categorized disabilities, but many states that fall into this classification have endorsed programs where additional certification can be utilized. These include, but are not limited to, certificates for early childhood education, blind/visually impaired education and deaf/hard of hearing education.

This classification applies to states that make a distinction between educators with general certification and those with certifications specialized to help children who are severely disabled.

States that require specialized certification for all of their special education teachers fall into this classification, though each state determines which certifications are recognized.

One very helpful resource produced by the Education Commission of the States breaks this information down many different ways. It shows each state’s classification, including which specialized certificates are recognized, as well as other pertinent information for anyone interested in teaching special education in the U.S.

The special certifications that states recognize include the following:

  • General Special Education Certification
  • Mild / Moderate
  • Severe / Profound
  • Early Childhood
  • Blind / Visually Impaired
  • Deaf / Hard of Hearing
  • Speech / Language or Communication (not pathologist)
  • Orthopedic / Physical Disabilities
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • Mental Retardation
  • Cognitive (Mental) Disability
  • Emotional Disabilities
  • Behavior Disorders
  • Autism
  • Adaptive Physical Education

Special Education Degrees

Depending on the type of educator one would like to be, there are a number of degrees attainable in the field of special education. Each state has different teaching requirements and each school offers differing courses which help special education students realize their long term goals.

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A teaching preparation program is required in addition to a Bachelor’s degree in order for someone to begin teaching prechool, elementary and secondary school students. Often an additional year of specialized studies will be needed depending on the specific state’s regulations.

A master’s degree is usually geared toward specialized certifications for teachers interested in specific areas of the field. Depending on the state in which certification is needed and the particular specialty chosen, either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Education (MED) degree would be attained.

Comparable to a second master’s degree is an Educational Specialist Degree (EDS). This type of degree greatly benefits those intending to become psychologists, school counselors, and reasearch and development specialists.

For those interested in teaching future special education instructors, doctorate degrees such as a PhD or EdD are available. Holders of these degrees often become leaders in the fields of teacher education and research.

With many degree choices and specialties available for study, working with individuals with special needs can be very fulfilling for teachers in this field.

Related Links/Resources:

U.S. Department of Education
Commission on Teacher Credentialing

What Training, Certification, and Licensure Do You Need To Qualify as a Special Education Teacher?

specialedteachCurrently, there are not enough licensed special education teachers to fill all open positions. Technical advances that have made it possible to better diagnose and treat learning disabilities have created a large pool of special education students, but there are not enough qualified educators to teach them. For someone with the desire to make a difference in the life of a child whose disability makes learning a challenge, a career in special education offers many rewards.


A career as a special education teacher requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. There are programs that offer training specifically in special education, but there are also programs that offer education degrees and an additional year of training in special education.

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Special education is a broad teaching area that encompasses many different areas based on the disabilities of the students. Special education teachers work with students who have learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, physical handicaps, behavioral challenges, and a combination of severe mental and physical handicaps as well as autism spectrum learners. Most state licensing boards will expect those looking to pursue a career in special education to choose an area of specialization, and their training will usually be geared toward that specialization.

Those who already possess a Bachelor’s degree in an area other than education have the additional option of earning a Master’s degree in special education while accepting a temporary teaching position with special education students. All special education training, whether at the Bachelor’s or the Master’s level, will involve some form of in-classroom training. Temporary credentials can be granted to those with Bachelor’s degrees in other areas who are taking special education classes.

For those who are still in high school, local Regional Occupational Programs (ROPs) may offer teacher’s aide classes that provide the opportunity to actually be in the classroom or other courses that would expose the student to a variety of children with different abilities. Another way to gain valuable experience before beginning formal training would be to volunteer either in a special education class or with an organization that provides services to special education students.

Certification and Licensing

All prospective teachers must take and pass the Praxis teaching exam, and special education teachers must take the Praxis II specifically for special education. The score needed to pass the exam varies by state, so it is important for test-takers to know what the passing score is for the state in which they intend to teach. The Praxis II may be taken as many times as needed to pass, and once passed, the new teacher may apply for licensure in that state.

Applying for a Job In Special Education

Licensed educators looking to work in special education will find the field wide open. Due to the high turnover rate and the decline in students entering this field, jobs in special education are readily available. Furthermore, the number of jobs in this area are expected to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of special education jobs is expected to increase by 20% from 2008 to 2018.

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Salaries for special education positions are also attractive and expected to increase. While they vary by geographic location and education level, the middle 50% of elementary school special education teachers will earn anywhere from $40,000.00 to $63,000.00 annually. The majority of special education teachers work in elementary schools, but there are positions available at the junior high school and high school levels.

Whatever the age level, degree of ability or part of the country where teaching is desired, a career in special education offers the chance to provide an essential resource to those who need it most.

What are the Challenges of Being a Special Education Teacher?

challengesSpecial education teachers have a higher rate of burnout than is found in most other professions. The burnout rate is the result of a number of issues that often culminate in these teachers leaving their jobs. It is estimated that 75 percent of those who teach special needs students will leave their job within 10 years of starting. The result of this turnover rate is a shortage of special education teachers and a lack of quality programs for the students they serve. While a special education teacher may start their career with the intention of helping students with disabilities become productive members of society, they face several challenges that make the task extremely difficult. The challenges of the special education teacher include:

1. The Widespread Misperception That Teaching is Easy

Teaching is a uniquely difficult job, one that comes with a set of huge responsibilities; however, many people fail to recognize the teacher’s role. The various disabilities of the students with whom special education teachers work multiplies the job’s difficulty. Special education teachers are largely unrecognized and unsupported by the public.

2. Non-Instructional Responsibilities

Many teachers are trained and willing to teach but find themselves burdened with responsibilities that remove them from the classroom. Special education teachers often find themselves being required to go to meetings, conducting assessments and dealing with loads of paperwork.

3. Lack of Support

At a time when many large school districts are experiencing high levels of growth, special education teachers are being asked to do more with less. Salaries are being cut in many districts, and there is often very little in the way of technical assistance provided by school administrations.

4. Dealing With Multiple Disabilities

A special education teacher’s classes may have students with various disabilities. Since each student is a unique case, the teacher must modify their lessons to suit each student with disabilities by providing individualized education programs.

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5. Handling Death

Among students in a special education classroom, there are often some with severe chronic illnesses that may result in death. Handling this is a challenge to which special education teachers will have to adapt.

6. Handling the Problems of an Inclusive Classroom

The concept of having classrooms that contain both special needs students and students who are developing typically is becoming a popular one. This type of education poses new challenges for a special education teacher. For example, many students who have no disabilities are unaccustomed to dealing with those who do. Teachers in these classes are charged with eliminating cruelty and insensitivity from among their students and ensuring that those with special needs are treated with respect.

7. Professional Isolation

The nature of a special education teacher’s work is very different from that of traditional teachers; the result of this is that standard classroom teachers may not view them as colleagues. There may be a professional stigma attached to the work of teaching “slow” students. Special education teachers often work with smaller groups and may focus on skills rather than content, thereby leading to the perception that their work is easier or less important.

8. Lack of Support From Parents

Some parents of special needs children are disinterested in the welfare of their children and fail to provide them with adequate care. Alternatively, they may be overly protective. Both can be problematic for the child and for their teacher. Disinterested parents may have no involvement with their child’s education or interaction with their teachers, whereas overprotective parents may have unrealistic expectations from the child and the child’s teachers. Both attitudes can shape children in negative ways. Parental disinterest may make special needs students less motivated and parents who are overprotective often diminish their child’s confidence and make it harder for them to learn.

9. The Difficulty of Discipline in a Special Needs Classroom

Children with disabilities may have behavioral issues including restlessness and moodiness. They may also exhibit problems like a short attention span or an inability to understand what is being taught. Special education teachers have to learn how to deal with these problems as well as how to take appropriate disciplinary measures.

10. Budget Problems

Across the nation, special education programs are facing increasing enrollment and decreasing budgets. The result is that there are fewer teacher assistants available, which results in a greater workload for special education teachers. They may also face shortages of essential resources and equipment for delivering effective lessons.

Any one of these challenges would make the work of a special education teacher incredibly difficult; as a group, they turn the job into a set of arduous tasks. Unfortunately, the result of the pressures placed on teachers is that the students suffer. Anyone seeking to go into this area of teaching should be aware of what they will face and have the mental and emotional fortitude to overcome the challenges in order to improve the prospects of their students.

As with any job, there are always challenges. To be better equipped for the challenges that you may face as a special education educator, check out our list of bachelor’s or master’s special education degrees

What Personality Traits Do Special Education Teachers Have?

personality spec edWhile children in general need plenty of love and attention from their parents and teachers, children with special needs are most benefited by people whose personality traits enhance the learning process. Both passion and concern for children with special needs are necessary to be a good special education teacher. In addition, a few commendable personality traits of special education teachers have been listed below. If you are considering teaching special needs kids prepare yourself for a challenging, life-changing yet rewarding career.

1. Love and Acceptance

In order to relate to any child, you must be able to love and accept them as they are. This is especially important for special needs children. Regardless of their capabilities or behavior each child is unique and worthy of your notice. Some special needs kids may demand excessive attention or completely disregard common etiquette, but it is important to respect and treat them as unique individuals with unique needs. By attempting to understand and encourage your students learning will be enhanced on all levels.

2. Organizational skills and Intuition

As is the case in any kind of education, students need structure to succeed. But with special needs students, structure is all the more important. The special education teacher must provide the class with a physical and academic structure favorable to learning.  Some students may be incapable of expressing their feelings or communicating their needs. The special education teacher will need to be intuitive and involved so that any students’ needs can be foreseen and addressed even when students lack the ability to tell you about them themselves.

3. Creativity and Enthusiasm

The ability to think out of the box and combine both creativity and enthusiasm are signs of the makings of a fine special education teacher. The ability to put difficult concepts in plain and interesting words or display a complexity in simple form is often the most effective trait a special education teacher can possess. The teacher’s creativity and enthusiasm will inspire the students to be creative and enthusiastic as well. By bringing creativity into the classroom the classroom environment will change from monotonous to inspiring.

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4. Confidence and Calm

Many special needs students suffer intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbances and when special education teachers are not calm, kind, confident and helpful, even in difficult situations, students can lose their tempers and become violent. It is important that the teacher keeps his/her wits and deals calmly with the situation. Teachers must be self-assured and take the lead at all times. The confidence displayed by the teacher will eventually calm the antagonized student and peace will be restored in the classroom.

5. Humorous and Easygoing

Special education teachers with a fine sense of humor and easygoing manner will more easily be able to cope with the stress of teaching special needs kids. Regardless of their disabilities, students can sense when teachers enjoy spending time with them and sharing laughter and fun. This is especially so as teaching special education can sometimes be frustrating especially for teachers who are overly sensitive to thoughtless negative comments. Developing ones sense of humor will protect you from becoming overly hurt due to personal quips.

6. Dedication and Optimism

Sometimes even the simplest task can become long and difficult for a student to master. It is at times like this that teachers must offer hope and encouragement by celebrating any and all victories no matter how big or small the accomplishment. It is important to remember how frustrating it would be for you to have to try so hard to master subjects, techniques or actions. This will enable the teacher to see things from the student’s point of view and remain optimistic and dedicated to the cause. The teacher’s dedication to the students serves as a huge confidence builder for them. A teacher’s dedication bridge the gap in meeting the needs of these unique students.

While there is no definite must have list of personality traits for special education teachers, the above traits point in the right direction. To build a rapport with ones students, trust is essential. And trust can only be cultivated by developing the personality traits discussed above. Someone once said every child is gifted; they only open their packages at different times. This is the perspective in which teachers must look at each exceptional student.

How Do You Become a Special Education Teacher?


Are you are compassionate, patient, caring and kind? Do you believe all children deserve an equal opportunity to succeed? Are you committed to seeing to it that children who have disabilities receive the instruction and individualized support they need to thrive? If you answered “yes” to all three questions, you might have what it takes to become a special education teacher.

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website, about 7.5 million children in the U.S. received special education services as of the 2018-19 school year.

Better screening tools for identifying and assessing children, coupled with federal laws (Individuals with Disabilities Act-IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) that ensure the funds are there to help cover the costs have resulted in a comprehensive set of policies and protocols all aimed at delivering the most effective special education services to children with disabilities.

In 2018, Education Week reported that the number of special-education teachers has dropped 17% during the preceding decade. Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled in special-education programs during that same time period only decreased 1%.

Becoming a special education teacher isn’t an easy path, but it’s one that is undoubtedly filled with endless opportunities to feel good about what you do every day while making a difference in the lives of children who are living with disabilities.

How to Turn Your Vision of Becoming a Special Education Teacher into Reality

While career opportunities in special education are favorable, only qualified candidates need apply. In other words, if you want to become a special education teacher, you must come prepared with the qualifications set by your state board of education. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree and Complete an Approved Teacher Preparation Program

First things first: you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university that is recognized by your state board of education as an approved teacher preparation program—a program leading to initial state licensure or certification. Your state board of education likely maintains a list of approved programs (or details which types of programs meet this requirement).

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Many states defer to the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP), the national accrediting agency for teacher preparation programs. CAEP accredits both on-campus and online teacher preparation programs.

So, what does a bachelor’s degree for the aspiring special education teacher look like? It will be designed as either a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Special Education, which prepares you to work with students in grades K-12 in general education classrooms, resource classrooms and self-contained classrooms.

Some programs require students to choose a specialization, while others offer specialization as an option. You might choose to focus your studies on students with mild/moderate disabilities, students with severe disabilities, or children from birth to age 5.

You may also complete dual bachelor’s degrees in both early childhood/childhood education and special education if you plan to work in the pre-K setting.

Both a B.S. and B.A. provide a foundation in the liberal arts, and both include a fieldwork component. Bachelor’s degrees consist of about 120 credits and four years of study.

Some of the core classes in special education include: Foundations of Assessment, which provides you with the theoretical and practical aspects of treating children who have disabilities; Instructional Strategies, which allows you to develop effective instructional practices; and Curriculum Development, which focuses on the principles of teaching students who have disabilities.

Student Teaching

An approved teacher preparation program must include a student teaching experience—a period of classroom training completed under the supervision of a mentor teacher. The student teaching experience provides opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate their pedagogical skills. Most student teaching experiences last a full academic year.

Earn Required State Licensure/Certification

Most states require that candidates take and pass a fundamental skills examination and a subject area competency examination to become state licensed. Many state boards use the Praxis Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications exam when licensing special education teachers.

All teachers in public schools must hold a state licensure/certificate through the state board of education. In some states, you may be issued a general special education license/certificate, while in other states, you may need to be licensed (or receive an endorsement) in a specific category of disability. Many states have various tiers of licenses, although an initial license is generally granted to those who have completed a teacher preparation program leading to state licensure.

Visit our list of best undergrad special education programs

Have You Considered a Graduate Degree in Special Education?

Your education as a special education teacher doesn’t need to end at the bachelor’s level. In fact, many states now prefer special education teachers to hold a master’s degree, and a select few even require a master’s degree for obtaining a professional license in special education.

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But master’s degrees in special education are also often the path of choice for career changers (those who have a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to become special education teachers), and current educators (licensed educators looking to make the switch to special education).

Even if you live in a state that doesn’t require a master’s degree for teaching special education, you may choose to pursue a master’s degree in order to specialize in a certain area. For example, many programs allow you to focus your graduate study on areas like high-incidence disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and emotional or behavioral disorders. Furthermore, if you want to transition to a career in administration, a master’s degree usually is a requirement.

Your previous education and training will often determine the type of master’s degree you choose:

  • Master of Education (MEd): The MEd is a professional graduate program designed for licensed/certified special education teachers interested in focusing their career on a specific area of special education.
  • Master of Arts in Education (MAed)/Master of Science in Education (MSed): Both the MAed and the MSed are flexible programs that allow students to pursue advanced study in a wide array of special education areas. Some programs also lead to initial teacher licensure/certification.
  • Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT): The MAT is a unique program designed for career changers who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field or practicing educators who want to make the switch to special education.

Master’s degrees consist of between 50 and 60 credits and about two years of full-time study. While admission requirements vary, most programs require a competitive undergraduate GPA (usually 3.0 or above). Depending on the program, you may also need a current teaching license and teaching experience, along with a current resume and professional letters of recommendation.

Many colleges and universities offer master’s degrees in special education partially or fully online to accommodate busy, working professionals who need the flexibility that online study provides. While these programs are completed through distance-based study, many schools offer dynamic, interactive learning platforms that provide students with plenty of  opportunities to connect with their professors and peers throughout the program.

Advance your career with a graduate degree in special education. We’ve listed the best special education graduate degree programs.

What is Special Education?

specialedSpecial education, in its simplest terms, centers on the education of children or adults who have special learning needs, such as low hearing or vision, autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and ADHD.

Teaching occurs in a manner that respects how these physiological, cognitive and/or behavioral differences affect a student’s learning. Special education teachers and other professionals have undergone training programs that prepare them in presenting a uniquely-designed curriculum that they are charged with helping their students master. Special education teachers and professionals make good use of tools such as individual and group lesson plans, modified equipment and materials, user-friendly accessories and equipment and other tools to help students.

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Special education students have needs that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Learning challenges
  • Deficiencies in communication
  • Behavioral or emotional issues
  • Physical disabilities
  • Developmental delay

In practically all of the civilized countries of the world there is an increasing trend of eliminating the barriers associated with special needs students. The goal of integrated and inclusive classrooms is to lessen the barriers between special-needs children and their peers, thereby rendering special education as a normal extension of the educational experience, rather than an separate learning experience.