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Special Education Master’s Degree Specializations

10 Nov
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One of the aims of curriculum and instruction specialists is to design curricula that leads to transformative educational experiences for every kind of learner. Since specific populations require unique and tailored approaches to learning that meet their needs and allow them to thrive, educators must rise to the challenge through specialization. These populations of students can include, but are not limited to, special education, English as a second language, students with dyslexia and language-based disabilities, gifted students and STEM education. While educators can have a broad understanding of all of these populations, narrowing the focus allows for greater educational support.

Here, we will explore special education specializations for master’s-level educators. There are several areas of special education master’s degrees that drill down to meet specific populations that fall under the special education categorization.

Special Education for Pre-K

The earlier the intervention for children with special needs, the easier it might be for them to acclimate to a traditional classroom. Special education teachers trained to work with pre-K students typically hold a master’s degree and are trained to administer assessments and know teaching methods and strategies to set students up to long term academic success.1 A master’s specialization in this area should teach educators to take practical approaches to the challenges they will face working with young learners. Educators who specialize in this area may find themselves working in inclusive preschools, which serves both students with and without disabilities in the same classroom.2 Benefits have been seen for both types of students when they are in the same space versus students in segregated classrooms. These benefits include increased compassion and empathy for non-disabled students, and increased language and social skills for students with disabilities.2

Special Education for K-6

Moving into kindergarten from the pre-K stage, students are still in a critical time for specialized educators to influence their current and future academic success. The need for qualified and adaptable educators to meet the needs of special education students in elementary and secondary schools is growing. Elementary students need educators who can create both an engaging and effective experience for them in the classroom, and their success in later years hinges on the attention and development they receive in elementary school. Coursework for this specialization should include topics in individualized planning, collecting and using assessment practices to foster change, reading and language education, teaching mathematics and behavior management.

Special Education for 6-12

Secondary school educators specializing in special education become critical for students at a significant moment in their lives as they transition into college or a career. The goal is to promote successful outcomes for students after graduation. Similar to the K-6 specialization, coursework for this specialization should include topics in individualized planning, collecting and using assessment practices to foster change, reading and language education, teaching mathematics and behavior management that is directed toward older students.

Special Education for Autism

There is a demand for teachers who specialize in working with autistic students. Coursework in this area will focus on assessment, behavioral support, understanding the various characteristics of autism and learning sensory and communication strategies for students when they are in an academic setting.1 These students will often come to you via ​​the Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP document outlines the student’s educational program for the year, and includes elements of accommodations in the classroom setting, services they will have access to, and goals.3 Educators who specialize in the area of special education can be excellent advocates for these students.

Special Education for Visual Impairment

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) notes that visual impairment can adversely affect a student’s educational performance.4 As such, students with vision impairment and blindness have special considerations that need to be taken into account for finding success in their academic career. Educators who specialize in working with these students will often complete coursework in Braille, the specifics of visual impairments (anatomy and physiology), technologies to assist students in the classroom and how to provide support for students with multiple disabilities, including mobility issues.1

Special Education for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

The IDEA notes that students with emotional and behavioral disorders will display one or more of the following characteristics:5

  • Inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors
  • Inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships with fellow students and teachers
  • Inappropriate behavior or feelings under otherwise normal circumstances
  • General pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • Tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems

These students can be challenging or disruptive in traditional classroom settings. Obtaining a master’s degree in this specialization can help special education teachers provide the best possible support for these students in the academic environment. A special education master’s degree in this area will focus on behavioral assessment and interventions, experimental curriculum design theories and hands-on practical experience.1

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