Though I am a speech-language pathologist, when I was an undergraduate student I enrolled in special education classes to earn endorsements in various areas of special education. I earned my mentally retarded (now cognitive disorder) endorsement which also allowed me to teach pregnant students, my emotionally disturbed and learning disorder at undergraduate. I started my master program in generic special ed which allowed you all areas of special education, but I think they did away with that, only to change my major to educational diagnostics. Not sure if they still have diagnosticians as most want Licensed Specialists in School Psychology.
Anyway, to work with special needs children in public schools you must first receive your elementary or secondary teaching certificate. You then work on earning endorsements at the same time as your undergraduate certificate. Your last semester you will student teach for 8 weeks in regular education and 8 weeks in special education. After graduation you will take teacher certification testing by the state. I believe you will have the general education exam and then you will take exams in all the other areas you wish to acquire. I believe this might be true, but I cannot be sure but you can challenge a test. This means that you may not have course work in the field but have knowledge and you may pass the test to become certified. This is only for teaching credentials.
Good luck. Though I am a speech pathologist, my love was working with autism, cognitive disorders and multi-handicapped students. You really have to have a special heart to work with this population.
Academically, you will need to obtain a degree in special education, maybe a masters degree depending on the state you want to work. However, book smarts don't always translate to being able to interact well with this population. I have found the best special education teachers have non-educational experience with special needs individuals. You can volunteer with Special Olympics or Best Buddies, get a part-time job working as a teacher assistant/after school program with an associate degree, camp counselor during summer vacation, or work in a group home with developmentally disabled adults, See what is in your local community, even your college may need mentors for students with disabilities. Ultimately, just show compassion and ask questions and you will learn a great deal.
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I admire their dedication and patience when I watch how they help kids progress!
As I related in my answer to your other question, it all depends on how you might want to create a focus, as the area of special needs education has broad applications, and it is important for you to determine which might be most suitable for you.
Hi Michael G.
Well, I'm not a special needs teacher, but I'd like to help with some steps open your as follow:
1- It's very important to have a clear objective definition. ex: What kind of special needs teacher you wanna be? Does it specific or generic job?
2- Find 1 persone minimal that have this job in order to give you more visibility about technical + soft skills.
3- Remeber one thing: Emontional Intelligence is the most important skill for any job. check the link below:
4- As a teacher you need to communicate very well with other using body language, speek and feelings.
I hope that help you. have a great