What are the Different Types of Special Education Courses?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2020
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Those individuals who want to pursue a career in special education may choose to earn a bachelor's, master's, doctorate, and/or a teaching credential in special education. Students may take special education courses online, on campus, or in a combination program. Nearly all special education candidates complete similar core courses in disability basics, special education law, behavior management, assessment, evaluation, writing the individualized education program (IEP), and student teaching. Students in special education programs may concentrate in a variety of disability areas which may include mental retardation, orthopedic impairments, and visual impairments.

One of the first classes any special education major takes is an introduction to disabilities and special education. During this class, students learn about different disabilities that qualify for special education. Observation of a special education classroom may be part of this course.

In special education law, students learn the legal foundations of public special education and the adoption of Public Law 94-142. This is the U.S. law that required public schools to provide free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities. Other countries have similar laws. Students in legal special education courses may be required to write papers or analyze court cases in light of current special education issues.


Behavior assessment and management special education courses teach students how to administer tests that help determine the underlying causes of a a young person's behavioral issues. Special education candidates also learn the basics of behavior management. Some of these techniques may include deescalating an out-of-control youngster and how to apply safe restraints. Students are likely to learn how to create and use behavioral contracts and token economy systems as a means of changing a student's behavior.

IEP writing is one of the most important special education courses students will take. Students will learn how to give standardized tests, including the Woodcock-Johnson academic test, or curriculum-referenced tests such as the Brigance. Students will practice giving these tests, interpreting the test results, and using those results to write an IEP that is in compliance with local and national special education laws.

Student teaching is the capstone of special education courses for those seeking a teaching credential. This course is usually a semester long and allows the student teacher to hone his or her instructional skills. By the end of the semester, the student teacher will probably be handling most of the day-to-day classroom necessities including lesson planning, supervising assistants, running meetings, and other tasks that have been learned in other special education courses.

The student may also take specialized classes relating to using adaptive equipment with those with orthopedic disabilities, writing lesson plans for people with mental retardation, or courses in braille. Early intervention specialists will take classes that focus on working with infants, young children, and their families. Doctoral candidates engage in in-depth research about a specific special education topic and then present the findings when they defend their thesis. A committee of professors determines if the candidate has earned his or her doctorate.



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