10 Skills Needed in Careers Working with Special Needs Children

female teacher working with special needs girl

Careers working with special needs children are not only meaningful but also in high demand. In fact, special education preschool jobs are expected to grow up to 21 percent through 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This shows that professionals trained to work with special needs children will be a hot commodity for years to come.

So how can you gain an edge in this promising field? By pairing an early childhood education (ECE) degree with a specialization in special needs, you’ll acquire the skills and experience needed to succeed in this field, according to Dr. Cecelia Westby, academic director of early childhood education at Collegis Education.

“The more tools in your toolbox, the better advocate you can be for children and families,” Westby says.

To help you decide which tools are worth focusing on, we used real-time job analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to identify the top skills needed for careers working with special needs children. Here’s what we found:

Top 10 skills needed for working with special needs children

“The more tools in your toolbox, the better advocate you can be for children and families."

Below you’ll find the 10 most important skills employers are seeking when hiring for careers working with special needs children. Determine which of these skills you already possess and which you are interested in developing in order to become a desirable candidate in the workforce.

1. First aid

Most professional child care providers must know CPR, though each state has different requirements. The same standards will apply to applicants for positions with children with special needs. First aid training is also an important skill in your personal life, considering 50,000 yearly deaths could be prevented and drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in young children. CPR certification courses are available to anyone online or in a classroom through the American Heart Association.

2. Case management

Case management is the process of taking care of a client’s health and human service needs, according to the Commission for Case Manager Certification. Identifying children’s problems and working with families will take a liaison familiar with the ups and downs of family life—just like you! Case managers act as a support and resource for families in crisis. Examples of specific duties can include assisting with family, school and transportation problems, evaluating unique needs and working with families to achieve goals.

3. Psychology

Knowledge of psychology can be beneficial to students when applied in the classroom. This skill can help you understand why a child is acting in a certain way. That means when you face a challenging situation in the classroom, you will have the skill to get to the root of the problem and respond appropriately.

You don’t need to earn a master’s or PhD, just be sure to make use of any previous psychology credits you may have. You might also consider supplementing your degree with psychology classes, although many ECE programs have them built into the curriculum. In some states a certain number of psychology classes are required.

4. Child care

Knowing the ins and outs of child care from your own children or from previous work experience will prepare you for working with special needs children. But it’s important to note that tactics for disciplining special needs students are different from other students. You must be able to understand and juggle many different student needs and school requirements. However, certain aspects are no different from your own home: consistency with rules is critical and all children must learn to be accountable for their actions.

5. Record keeping

Don’t associate this skill with sitting in an office all day, but maintaining diligent records is a critical ability in these careers. Children with disabilities must be tracked for progress and improvement in development. There are also state reports that must be filed on behalf of each child. If you are already confident about your record keeping abilities, don’t forget to draw attention to those skills when applying for teaching positions. You can highlight a time you assisted a friend in organizing small business records or how well you’ve kept track of family and life events, whether for fun or to help assess and plan for important things like financial needs.

6. Therapy

You don’t need to be a licensed therapist but experience in therapy could help you identify physical or mental handicaps in the children under your care. If caught soon enough by someone knowledgeable, early intervention can have an extremely positive impact. This also benefits siblings of handicapped or gifted students, who can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Think of yourself as one more link in a chain that supports the entire family of a child with special needs.

7. Autism

One in 68 kids in America is on the autism spectrum and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, according to the Center for Disease Control. This means no matter where you work, you will inevitably encounter a child affected by ASD sooner or later. Knowing how to interact with an autistic child will show employers you can confidently handle yourself when the time comes in the classroom.

8. Lesson planning

Lesson planning is always a difficult skill to master because a teacher never knows how a classroom of diverse students will respond to a lesson. Designing a plan that is inclusive of learning disorders becomes even more challenging. Lesson planning is just one of the many responsibilities the U.S. Department of Labor lists for special education teachers. Even if you do not have experience with lesson plans, you’re used to coming up with creative activity ideas for your kids. You can draw upon this experience to keep children engaged in the classroom.

9. Mathematics

You’ve probably had to assist your child with a math assignment or two, so you know how difficult but important it is. The U.S. has been behind other countries in math and science for many years, despite the fact that the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) calls early childhood mathematics “a vital foundation” that all children need. Math skills are in high demand for all types of teachers, so it’s a desirable skill to highlight on your resume.

10. Office equipment

There are many technologies you may encounter as a preschool teacher, from email platforms to educational software, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Familiarizing yourself with these devices and programs means that a potential employer will not have to teach them to you. You will be able to hit the ground running at a new workplace.

Prepare yourself for success

Because of the massive demand, a field like special needs is a great choice for someone looking to leap right into a new career. When going back to school, don’t forget to draw on your existing abilities and experiences and apply them to your career working with special needs children. Highlighting these 10 skills can make you even more valuable in the eyes of a potential employer.

Hungry for more information? Visit the Rasmussen College School of Education’s special needs specialization page for details on what you need to do to begin your journey to an education career working with special needs children.


Celia Isaac

Celia is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student focused articles for Rasmussen College. She aims to inform and engage students at all stages of their educational journeys.

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