It takes a special person to teach children with special needs. It also takes special qualifications. Teachers who want to go into special needs education have to know more about childhood development than normal teachers because they have to be able to work outside of normal development. They also need to know all about various learning disabilities, such as autism, ADHD and Down’s Syndrome.
If you want to become a special needs teacher you need outstanding qualifications that just start with an undergraduate degree. Most special needs teachers have postgraduate courses in special education, including how to use specialised learning material and equipment and how to apply specialised educational techniques.
Teaching special needs kids can be roughly divided into three branches: teaching kids with learning disabilities like ADHD, teaching children with above average intelligence (gifted) and teaching children with more serious disabilities like autism.
Courses for Special Needs Education
You can start out your quest to become a special needs teacher by completing a BA in Education and then entering Special Needs postgraduate courses or by choosing an undergraduate degree that includes special needs teaching aspects.
Traditionally, the only way to obtain a degree in special needs education was to physically attend a university and complete coursework, but these days it’s possible to get your qualifications online. Bear in mind, however, that if you choose to complete your special needs degree online you will need to find a school that will allow you to complete the practical aspects of the course.
You can also take a more roundabout route to become a special needs teacher. You could, for example, take TAFE courses in education, such as TAFE Certificate III in Education Support. The certificate allows you to become a teacher’s assistant, which includes support for special needs teachers.
There is also the Bachelor in Early Childhood Education and Care, available from schools such as TAFE NSW with institutes around Sydney and which qualifies students to identify the needs for early intervention in children whose special needs are mild to moderate.
Special Needs Teaching Methods
Teaching methods for children with special needs vary according to the severity and type of the disability. Mild learning disabilities might require the use of extra visual cues in lessons or more physical activities that can still occur in a traditional school environment but more severe special needs could also include aspects of physical therapy and one-on-one classes in special schools.
It’s important to remember that even if you’re teaching special needs children in a traditional school, you need to customise learning programs to their individual needs. You also need to develop programs with parents – to the parent’s capabilities – so that they can continue to promote learning and development at home. Furthermore, your programs need to address children’s social, emotional and behavioural needs.
Teaching Gifted Students
Gifted students or students with higher abilities also have special needs. They don’t do well in ordinary classroom situations, as their special needs are left unattended and their gifts undeveloped. The challenge with gifted students is to keep them challenged and motivated with innovative lessons and creative teaching methods.
Gifted students generally have no end of questions about everything, so one of the best ways to help them reach their full potential is to have them try and answer their own questions. You provide the support and guidance necessary to allow this by exploring different methods of learning and different routes to knowledge. In many cases you will also have to help develop emotional and social development and you will definitely have to work with parents to help them understand their child’s potential.
All children are special, but not all children need intervention when it comes to learning. Becoming a special needs teacher is infinitely rewarding, but it’s also infinitely challenging and unless you have the patience of Job and an ability to look beyond the ordinary. If you think this is for you, start investigating the variety of teaching courses available now.