Teaching is a stressful profession by nature, but it is even more so in the field of special education. Working with special needs students is a challenging situation even for those teachers with a lot of academic and real-life preparation.
High Attrition Rate
High-stress professions are plagued by high burn-out rates, and educators are not exempt from this situation. Teachers who deal directly with the special needs population face situations that challenge their confidence, self-control and personal choices, including that of choosing choosing to go into teaching. The attrition rate in this field is remarkably high compared to other professions. About 50 percent of teachers in special education settings leave their positions in five years. Another 50 percent of those who persevere through the challenges during the first five years of their careers will find themselves seeking employment elsewhere in the next 10 years. Both of these factors support the fact that the turnover rate every 10 years is about 75 percent for special education teachers based on a study published in the International Journal of Special Education. Compared to general education teachers, special education teachers are twice as likely to leave the profession based on annual attrition rates.
Identifying the Stressors
Heavy workloads can be a drag on teachers’ time and resources. However, in the case of special education teachers, the emotional aspect contributes to high turnovers in a job that is mentally and physically demanding. Finding a positive, healthy outlet for stress is a key element in relieving the less than positive aspects of a trying career as a special education teacher. Often exercise and creative pursuits (like painting, writing, reading, etc.) are great for helping alleviate stress. Talking with other professionals – like colleagues or even therapists – also helps. Sometimes even taking a “mental health” day or even hour is good at keeping stress under control. And as hard as it may seem, staying positive and in the moment is perhaps a special education teacher’s greatest means of keeping stress at bay.
In an educational system that measures teachers’ competencies based on students’ achievements on standardized tests, special education teachers are underappreciated because their students are typically exempt from these requirements. Special needs students cannot be assessed on the same standards as traditional students, and special education teachers should not be held to the same measure either. These teachers, as are all teachers, are operating on overdrive to cope with the demands of the children they teach and the system should reward these efforts rather than marginalize them.
Different Skill Levels within a Classroom
In an integrated classroom, special needs students receive extra support through paraprofessionals or teaching assistants who are assigned to the classroom. In a special education classroom, the children will have different capabilities and disabilities. The teacher is expected to create an environment that is conducive to learning and supportive of all students regardless of their skills and mobility level. Each student should have an individual education plan or IEP as required by federal laws. Special education teachers should follow the requirements outlined in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) regardless of the classroom format.
Managing Children with Behavioral Issues
Children with special abilities require sensitive yet firm attention. They are prone to overstimulation and are easily upset over stressors that would be minor annoyances to other children. Make sure to have a calm-down area in the classroom. This section should provide a safe yet comforting atmosphere to allow students to find their balance. It should not seem like a time-out corner but rather one that is cozy and peaceful. This way, teachers can carry on with the rest of the class even in the face of distractions.
Documenting the Issues
Children react differently to different circumstances. Special needs children express anger, sadness, joy and other emotions just as well as other children although the triggers may be less obvious. It is important to document these instances judiciously to understand the factors that may trigger aggression and emotional breakdowns. These records may also be useful to counselors and parents.
Various studies have shown that special needs children thrive in an environment that respects their patterns and need for consistency. A minor change in the pattern of activities can be upsetting to special students. Make sure to create classroom schedules ahead of time and maintain a pattern of activities that children can easily get used to while ensuring a calm atmosphere.
Communication channels between parents and teachers of students with special needs and abilities should be open, honest and supportive at all times. Communicate by phone, email or written notes to provide parents with an update on their child’s progress or an insight into the child’s behavior patterns. Encourage parents to keep teachers informed about any factors that may be affecting their child’s temperaments.
Fostering a Collaborative Environment
Special education teachers are at the front line of a very trying function: educating and nurturing learning children who have disabilities. This is a task that requires patience, persistence and dedication. Make the most of available resources, including tapping into the expertise of general education teachers, therapists, counselors and administrative support. Collaboration generates creative solutions while lightening the burden on special education teachers.
Parents 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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
Special education, also referred to as special needs education, focuses on addressing the needs of children who experience a range of difficulties in learning, communicating, and managing their own emotions and behavior. They may also be facing challenges associated with physical disabilities, sensory impairments and development disorders.
Learning Strategies for Special Education
It’s imperative for parents, guardians, caretakers, teachers, and trainers to find both effective strategies and useful resources to help these students to do well in life. Moreover, the field of special education is far from static, new research and new laws change perspective. While a day-to-day common sense approach does help children with special needs, research-based strategies have proven time and again to be extremely effective. For this reason advanced training and certification is recommended for professional teachers.
Legal Protection for Special Education under IDEA
However, apart from improved educational methodology, there is also another component to the special education field that it is important for both parents and teachers to know well, the federal laws governing this field which is covered by the disability act known as IDEA. So, in most educational jurisdictions, special education is overseen by federal law under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Under the law, special education must provide support, services, and placements to all educational needs without any cost to the parents.
The categories under IDEA include sensory impairments like deafness, hearing impairments, blindness, visual impairments, and speech and language impairments; mental and emotional impairment like autism, developmental delays, emotional disturbance, mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, and traumatic brain injury; and physical impairments like multiple disabilities, orthopedic disabilities, and other health impairments. Additionally, some jurisdictions may include a Gifted category as children with extraordinary talent also have considerable difficulty fitting into the curriculum of regular schooling.
With that in mind, we have researched free online classes that address either educational techniques or legal issues. It wasn’t easy to find the best of ten free online classes available for parents and special education teachers from leading universities, e-learning providers, the autism society, and from online education databases but we did. Without further delay, here are the Top 10 Free Classes Available Online For Special Education Teachers and Parents of Special Needs Children:
Special Education Classes from Leading Universities
There are innumerable free online classes offered by some of the world’s best universities available at your fingertips. These cover everything that is available through the regular educational system and they are taught by leading professors. The courses are delivered through video lectures, articles, and online tests.
In the field of Special Education, we found two highly informative courses from the University of Southern Queensland and Yale University.
1. Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management from the University of Southern Queensland
The University of Southern Queensland, formerly called the Queensland Institute of Technology was established in 1967. As the name indicates, it is located in Southern Queensland, Australia. Its main campus is on Toowoomba and it has campuses in Springfield and Fraser Coast.
In Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management, students are shown a number of methods to help special needs children in different age groups and educational levels. The course explores researched teaching methods and discusses various researched techniques to maintain attention in a classroom.
This course includes the following themes and is most suitable for special education students:
• Classroom teaching, management, and procedures • Comprehensive methods to positively influence children • Cooperative learning strategies • Tutoring by peers
The course also provides in depth lectures on the following behavior management theories:
• The Kounin model • The Behavior Modification model • The Assertive Discipline model • The Reality Therapy model • The Logical Consequences model • The Social Skills training model
For more, visit Teaching Students with Special Needs: Behavior Management here.
2. The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders from Yale University
Yale University is ranked as one of the top private Ivy League universities in the world. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, it has developed a formidable reputation as one of the best places for students interested in advanced research.
Yale University has a YouTube Channel that offers free courses. In the field of special education it has an excellent class called, “The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders.”
The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders covers some highly important and relevant topics on legal issues in considerable depth.
The course includes the following themes:
• A brief history of how special education laws evolved over time • How the law gets involved in the life of a child after he or she is diagnosed with autism or another related disorder. It covers the law’s involvement in school, home, and adult life • What legal rights pertain to education, therapy, medical services, and social services • How parents and guardians can get assistance from local, state, and federal agencies
This course is most suitable for parents as it explains legal issues in a straightforward way without trying to comprehend complicated legal jargon.
For more, visit The Legal Rights of Children with Autism and Related Disorders here.
Special Education Course from E-Learning Providers
E-learning providers are pioneers in the field of learning education. They provide cloud-based learning solutions to thousands of people all over the world. Although not universities or colleges per se, they still offer most educational courses available through formal education.
In the field of Special Education, we found three excellent courses from Alison, Open Learning, and LD online.
3. Working with Students with Special Education Needs by ALISON
ALISON is an acronym for Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online. This e-learning provider was founded in 2007 by Mike Feerick in Galway, Ireland.
Working with Students with Special Education Needs discusses the requirements for meeting the individual needs of special education students. Teachers who work with special educational needs students need to learn certain skills and specific strategies to deliver the most effective classes.
This free course introduces teachers to the following themes:
• The core requirements of special education • Changes in educational legislature, particularly in the U.S • Teacher and trainer responsibilities • An individual educational plan (IEP)
The course also provides a description of the following disabilities:
Besides a description of each disability, it also goes into practical strategies teachers can use to assist students with each one.
The course is suited for special education teachers.
For more, visit Working with Students-with Special Educational Needs here.
4. The Nobody’s Normal Series by Open University
The Open University is a British University. It is open to people who don’t have formal academic qualification.
The Nobody’s Normal series is a collaborative venture between the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the OpenLearn team, which is a program and web team at The Open University. It is a documentary series to help educate families about the special needs and challenges of disabled people. It covers the five most significant stages in their lives, namely birth, schooling, dating, leaving home, and aging through real-life case studies.
Here are the themes covered in the series:
• Program 1 is titled, “Baby Love.” It covers birth and the early years • Program 2 is titled, “Education, education, education.” It covers the school years • Program 3 is titled, “Love is in the air.” It covers adolescent dating • Program 4 is titled, “Moving on.” It covers early leaving home as a young adult • Program 5 is titled, “Who cares.” It covers old age
This course is suitable for parents as it provides a non-academic perspective on all the social issues around raising a child with disabilities.
For more, visit The Nobody’s Normal Series by Open University here.
5. Advocacy in Special Education by LD Online
LD OnLine is an authority website on learning disabilities. It is a valuable resource for both parents and teachers.
Andrea Sherwin Ripp, Ed.M., MS, OTR/L, has created a free course on Advocacy in Special Education for parents. The program is built around her approved study doctorate thesis for research in special needs education.
The course is structured to offer:
• 2 surveys • 3 readings • Self-study questions • A short answer assignment
It provides the following lessons on Special Advocacy:
• Special education documentation • Legal rights • Practical strategies to get support and services • References to nationwide parent support networks • References to special education resources
The course is suitable for parents. Parents who complete the course receive a course certificate and a comprehensive resource list. They are also entered into a drawing for one of five Amazon.com gift certificates valued at $25 each.
For more, visit Advocacy in Special Education here.
Special Education Classes from the Autism Society of America
Dr. Bernard Rimland and Dr Ruth Sullivan founded the Autism Society of America in 1965 to support parents with children who had autism or related disorders. The Autism society offers two useful classes for parents: Autism 101 and Autism and the Environment 101.
6. Autism Society: Autism 101
Autism 101 is principally for parents, but may also help those working with autism as caregivers. This course covers the autism spectrum, treatment options and assistance, transition to adulthood, and what parents can do every day. Participants can download a certificate of completion in PDF format to have a reminder of their course experiences.
7. Autism and the Environment 101 by the Autism Society
Autism and the Environment 101 expands on the ideas introduced in the Autism 101 course to give a much broader understanding of Autism. This course covers a new model of autism, why there is a noticeable rise of autism spectrum disorders, and the role of government in helping children with autism. The course concludes with what parents and caretakers can do every day. Participants can receive a printable PDF certificate of completion.
For more, visit Autism and the Environment 101 here.
Special Education Classes from Open Education Database
Open Education Database (OEDb) may very well be the most comprehensive collection of both online university and free courses available in the world. Founded in 2007, it has been a pioneer in the open education movement. In fact, it offers information on as many as 10,000 free open courses. We found three course on special education offered by Liberty University. Liberty University is a private, Christian institution in Lynchburg Virginia. On campus, it has 12,600 residential students. Its online division has 90,000 students and is hosted on iTunes as part of the iTunes U course collection.
8. Current Trends in Special Education by Liberty University
Current Trends in Special Education includes the following themes:
• Legal and ethical issues • Documentation procedures • The Individual Education Plan (IEP) • The Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSP) • Service delivery in school, church and community locations
For more, visit Current Trends in Special Education here.
9. Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University
Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University includes the following themes:
• Trends influencing special education • How to research, analyze and evaluate controversial issues when it comes to exceptionalities.
This course is most suitable for special education teachers.
For more, visit Issues and Trends in Exceptionality by Liberty University here.
10. Learning and Behavior Problems by Liberty University
Learning and Behavior Problems includes the following themes: • Characteristics of children with disabilities • Learning and behavior problems • Remediation goals
This course is suited for special education teachers.
For more, visit Learning and Behavior Problems here.
Bonus Links, Information, and Resources
In addition to these 10 free online courses there are many other helpful online resources. Classes, videos, podcasts, and articles on special education provide detailed knowledge about the characteristics of various disorders, the legal aspects of advocacy and assistance, and creative teaching methods.
Here are some additional resources for special education teachers to consider:
When you have a child with special needs, you want to make sure your child is still able to get the most out of their education. Many government programs exist to help children of all ages further their development. Children with special needs will not be able to take advantage of all of the programs that schools and the government have to offer. However, there are many programs that were created specifically for special needs children. Being aware of these programs will help you to make sure your child is included in the many beneficial services available.
1. Public or Private School
Your school will be the first resource for helping your child get the most out of his or her abilities while gaining access to education. Your special education representatives should sit down and create an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, for your child. They will take into account your particular child’s needs and challenges, and create a plan for incorporating them into the school and helping them to succeed. With your IEP, you can feel more confident that your school is going to take good care of your child.
For those who don’t know where to start in taking advantage of the services available to their special needs child, the DoD Special Needs Parent Toolkit is a great resource. While this program is especially geared towards families in the military, their website has many resources and informational documents that will help you to visualize the amount of resources available to you. On their website, they list the links to even more resources for your child, including financial resources, community support, and educational services.
To see the DoD Special Needs Parent Toolkit and more, go here .
3. Autism Society of America
Certain programs exist to help bring awareness for children and adults with specific disabilities. For example, the Autism Society of America (ASA) educates the public about the particulars of autism, and lets them know how they can be more aware and more sensitive to the disability. They sometimes hold activities for special needs children, where families can meet each other and develop a support network. These awareness events also bring families together with community supporters of the disability. These type of programs exist for many different disabilities.
Visit the the Autism Society’s website by going here .
4. National Organization for Rare Disorders
Even for those with disabilities that aren’t so common, the government has support networks in place for families to find one another and get access to the resources they need. The National Organization for Rare Disorders collects and distributes information relating to rarer disabilities. Their information is geared towards helping people with rare disabilities find health resources, information, and services relating to their disabilities.
Some states have developed funding programs to relieve the burden of educational costs on special needs families. Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship program is one good example of this. Similar programs exist in other states; check with your local or regional education department to see what exists in your state.
To view Georgia’s program, click the following link .
6. Opening Doors program
The national government also has programs in place to disseminate information and provide resources to children with specific disabilities. One example of this is the Opening Doors program, which was designed for children with hearing loss problems. This program maintains up-to-date information on services for hearing loss indivuals, as well as providing technology resources to help these children cope with their difficulties in communication. National programs like this one exist for many individual disabilities, and they can be found through a simple internet search.
For more information on the Opening Doors program, go here .
7. Social Security Administration
The US government is sensitive to the additional costs related to caring for a child with special needs. For those families who need it, special financial assistance is available. Extra health benefits, Social Supplemental Income (SSI), and social security benefits may be available to families who qualify for special needs assistance.
To see the requirements and to apply for this assistance, follow this link to their website.
8. Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program
Medical expenses can be a major burden for those with special needs. Fortunately there are programs to help families get help in covering these costs. The Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program helps individuals with disabilities understand how health care coverage works, and allows them to find resources to help them cover their medical costs. The center is very knowledgeable about health insurance and the health care system, and they provide informational pamphlets and consultations.
9. Consumer Center for Health Education and Advocacy
The Consumer Center for Health Education and Advocacy is a resource that helps families gain access to health services and information. They have awareness programs and information for many different disabilities. They can guide you to the appropriate local resources that will help you get the best health care for your child, and help you find financial assistance for health care.
The Consumer Center for Health Education and Advocacy website is at this link .
10. Center For Emerging Leadership
Many programs exist on the local and regional level to help children with special needs to develop their leadership potential and higher functioning. The Center for Emerging Leadership is one such program. This program helps teens with disabilities to learn life skills and develop their leadership abilities. Parents can learn how to foster these qualities in their children on a daily basis.
The PACER center is an example of a regional program that helps your child make the most out of the opportunities that are available for individuals with special needs. They keep their community aware of events and opportunities that are accessible to special needs chidlren, and encourage the families to help their child participate as much as possible in local activities. While the program is based in Bloomington, MN, they can guide individuals in other locations to similar programs that may exist in your area.
Partners in Policymaking is an example of a program that wants to help families with special needs children to become more involved in helping lawmakers choose policies that will help, or at least not hinder, their children’s futures. The center offers training for parents in how to become more active in the local and national governments, how to create community support networks to advocate for their issues, and how to address regional and national policymakers to voice their concerns with the most effect.
For more information on this program, you can visit here.
13. 3E Love
3E Love is a program that was developed to help children with disabilities to feel included and to have high self esteem despite their challenges. The program fosters self-love, as well as community awareness. Their community building efforts help children with disabilities to embrace the diversity that they bring to the world, and to find others like them. To find out more about their initiative, click on the link here .
14. Team of Advocates for Special Kids
The Team of Advocates for Special Kids is another program that provides community links to programs that help children with special needs. This California based program gives referrals for health, education, and financial resources, and they also sometimes host activities for awareness and community support.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the programs available to children with special needs and their families. By contacting one of the programs above, you may also gain more information about the programs that are available to you and your family. Building a community of knowledgeable individuals is important to allowing your child to grow and take advantage of many opportunities. The programs above are a great start to getting the help and benefits that your child needs.