Working with children who have disabilities can be both rewarding and frustrating. It takes a special kind of person to build an entire career around kids with special needs. Those special needs vary depending on the disability and your level of involvement, but no matter where your career leads, when you choose a path that includes this special population, you will experience many challenges yourself -- as well as many gifts.
Your title alone indicates the level of commitment you need when you become a special education teacher. "Special" doesn’t begin to emphasize the kind of opportunities you’ll be presented with in your role as teacher of kids with mental and/or physical disabilities. You’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree and a state teacher’s license to work in private or public schools. You may specialize in a certain kind of population and work with blind, deaf or mentally challenged students. You may teach regular class curricula or devote more time to independent-living skills and basic literacy, or work with kids in their homes.
A wide range of therapeutic options exist to serve children with disabilities. You might become an occupational therapist and help students adjust to recent debilitating accidents or teach kids how to use assistive technology. You could work as a physical therapist and help handicapped kids adjust to new braces or learn how to use prosthetics. Physical therapists need to earn a doctorate or professional degree and a state license. You need a state license and at least a master’s degree to work as an occupational therapist.
Children with disabilities and their parents need someone to act as a go-between for them when dealing with outside agencies, doctors, special-needs requests and school systems. That’s often where the school social worker comes in. You can do things like help parents find a support group of other parents with kids who have similar disabilities, find the right program for kids that need special services, and ensure funding is available for necessary technology. Licensing varies from state to state, but most social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree. You do need a master’s degree however if you counsel children as a clinical social worker.
Doctors, nurses and aides all can specialize in caring for kids with special needs. Pediatrics is a field of medicine that offers opportunities for all kinds of medical support. Instead of moving children to a number of different practices and facilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics promotes a type of medicine that is all-inclusive for kids with disabilities. You could build your career as a medical professional with the associated degrees and licenses to work with other specialists in treating children in one location through a pediatric specialty practice, or work in a hospital, clinic or wide range of rehabilitation programs and long-term care facilities that cater to children with special needs.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."