Become a Learning Disability Specialist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Should I Become a Learning Disability Specialist?

Learning disability specialists, also known as special education teachers, help pre-K-12 students with special needs develop educational and life skills. Special education programs train the prospective teacher in methods of assessment and management for the academic development of learning-impaired, gifted or disabled students. The coursework for this program may include psychology, curriculum development and research methods.

Learning disability specialists need at least a bachelor's degree and, in some cases, a master's degree. The following table summarizes the key requirements for a learning disability specialist:

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; in some cases a master's degree
Degree Field Special education or a related field
Experience Up to 3 years of experience may be required
Licensure Requirements vary from state to state, many require special education licensure
Key Skills Communication skills, flexibility, patience, knowledge of Microsoft Excel, Word, Outlook and Access, as well as computerized testing software, computerized diagnostic programs and database software
Salary $57,820 (Annual mean salary for a special education teacher)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), American School Counselor Association, O*Net Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a special education teacher normally needs the minimum of a bachelor's degree to find employment in both public and private school settings. Aspiring learning disability specialists do not necessarily have to major in special education in undergraduate school. Some individuals may choose other education-related majors, such as elementary education, liberal studies, secondary education or subject-specific majors. Those who do not major in special education may choose to minor in the subject or participate in related elective courses.

Step 2: Take Special Education Classes

Special education classes provide students with information about teaching special-needs pupils. Individuals also learn how to determine each student's unique needs and communicate those needs to caregivers and other teachers. Special education courses may cover topics such as child assessment, behavior management, consultation techniques, language development and teaching strategies.

Step 3: Choose a Specialty

Some specialists elect to focus on students within certain learning disability categories. For example, some professionals may prefer working with babies and toddlers, whereas other specialists may choose to work with high school students. Some specialists may only work with blind or deaf students, which could require additional training, such as learning to read Braille or use sign language.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensing

Since learning disability specialists are often teachers, they are usually required to have some form of license to teach at public schools, per the BLS. Some states may refer to teaching licenses as certifications or teaching credentials. Basic eligibility requirements vary, but usually applicants must possess the minimum of a bachelor's degree. Several states also require that applicants complete teacher training programs prior to licensing.

Instead of a regular teaching license, learning disability specialists are often required to obtain special education teaching licenses. The BLS explains that some states have one special education license program that allows specialists to teach students of all ages. Other states may require specialists to obtain multiple licenses for different age groups. In some cases, specialists may be required to obtain several licenses to work with various types of disabilities.

Step 5: Consider Graduate Studies to Advance your Career

The BLS points out that some states may require learning disability specialists to obtain master's degrees as part of the license renewal process. Some states will only grant special education licenses to specialists who already hold graduate degrees. In any case, earning a graduate degree may help you get a better job. Master's degree programs in special education often require individuals to participate in internships, in which they generally work with pre-K-12 clients with various learning disabilities. Topics in these programs may include social and vocational transitioning, classroom collaboration, special education laws, curriculum development and instructional strategies.

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