What They Do
Special education aides have more responsibility than a typical teacher’s aide/assistant. They work alongside special education teachers and/or therapists to teach children with emotional and behavior disorders, intellectual disabilities, problems with communication, or physical disabilities. Special education aides work with children individually or in small group settings. Working under the supervision of a therapist or special education teacher, aides use methods like games and exercises to help children develop physically and behaviorally.
One of the primary job functions of a special education aide is to provide support to the teacher in a classroom setting. Though the other duties of an aide may vary depending on the needs of the students, all aides can expect to work directly with teachers on tasks like lesson planning and paperwork. Special education aides are also relied on to help students in the classroom with physical requests, such as eating, grooming, and toileting. Most important, aides ensure a safe environment and prevent students from hurting themselves or others. Other duties as needed could include preparation of classroom materials, lunch or bus duty, meetings, conferences with parents, or one-on-one tutoring.
Expected career growth for all teacher assistants, including special education aides, is 4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Special education aides who have two or more years of postsecondary education and those with varied job experience will likely have better career opportunities. Aides who speak a foreign language will have an advantage as well. Turnover for special education aides can be high in low-income areas.
According to the BLS, the median salary for all teacher assistants, including special education aides, is $24,000. Zip Recruiter reports an average yearly salary of $27,712 for special education aides, while PayScale reports an average salary of about $29,120 (or $14.16 hourly). With experience, professional development, and additional education, opportunities for career advancement are possible. Special education aides can advance at a faster pace by seeking out specialized training that will better equip them to support students with disabilities, especially health care.
Students interested in becoming special education aides should at least complete an associate degree program; Some states require additional skills tests or certifications for individuals who work with special needs students. Prospective aides should have a well-rounded understanding of physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities. Typically, employers prefer to hire aides with at least two years of experience working with children, but this experience can be formal or informal. On-the-job training for aides will involve an immersion in the rules and operations of the school where they work, plus a complete profile of each student and their needs. In most states, aides must pass a background check and drug test before being hired.
Special Skills and Qualifications
The nature of working with special needs students requires aides to calmly handle difficult and stressful situations daily. In addition to compassion, patience, and understanding, aides must be able to easily adapt and closely listen to detailed instructions provided by teachers, since numerous teaching methods are used in special education classrooms. Organization and initiative are necessary, as well as above-average communication skills—including speaking and writing skills. Knowledge of different cultural backgrounds is a plus, especially if an aide plans to work in an urban area. Experience with medical equipment such as wheelchairs, braces, feeding tubes, diapers, translation tools, catheters, tracheal tubes, and hygiene products could be needed.
If you would like to work as a special education aide/assistant, check out Concordia University, St. Paul’s online associate’s degree in early childhood education, bachelor’s in child development, or read more about a Master of Arts in Special Education.