Overview of Online Special Education Assistant Certificate Programs
Students interested in pursuing a paraprofessional position in the field of special education may consider earning a special education assistant certificate. These certificate programs are designed to equip students with the necessary skills to work with students, typically kindergarten through 12th grade, and/or adults with special needs. Some of these certificate programs may meet specific state requirements for becoming a teacher assistant.
Special education assistant certificate programs are usually offered in an on-campus or hybrid format with some online coursework. Students can typically complete these programs in two semesters, or about one year. Applicants to these certificate programs may be required to have a high school diploma, meet a minimum GPA, and/or have prior coursework in algebra or another math.
Requirements for Online Special Education Assistant Certificates
Students in hybrid special education assistant certificate programs generally study topics in human development, special education, and how to work with students with special needs. Some coursework may be completed online, but these programs typically require hands-on fieldwork experiences and some on-campus coursework.
Special education assistant certificate programs can include around 24 credits, but some may require as little as 15 units. Usually, these programs require one or more courses that include some hands-on learning experiences. Some of these courses may be field practice and/or practicum experiences where students in the program get the chance to interact with students with special needs in a classroom setting and apply their knowledge of the field. Depending on the school, students may be able to apply credits from the certificate program towards a related associate's degree.
Courses in child development introduce students to development theories for childhood. Students discuss children's needs at each stage of life as well as characteristics of developmental delays. These courses may also help equip students with skills in observing children and teaching them limits, ways to play, and how to manage emotions.
Learning Design/Curriculum and Strategies for Special Needs
Students may take a course that provides a broad overview of inclusive learning designs, including those for students with physical, social, or mental challenges, or a course that focuses more specifically on curriculum and teaching methods for students with special needs. In either type of course, students learn to use observation and assessment to help design inclusive programs and utilize various teaching methods to help students.
Students may take general courses in early intervention or courses that explore early intervention with a specific type of student, such as young children with autism. Some programs may even include a practicum experience in early intervention where students get hands-on experience observing special-needs students and planning activities for them. In general, courses in early intervention examine strategies and interventions used for young children in a childcare setting and how to assist families with intervention services.
Career Outcomes with a Certificate in Special Education Assistant
Individuals with a special education assistant certificate can usually pursue a career as a teacher assistant and specifically work with students in special education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teacher assistants may need some college or a 2-year degree, and those working with students who have special needs typically need to pass a skills test. The BLS reported that teacher assistants made a median annual salary of $27,920 as of 2019. Teacher assistants were expected to see a 4% job growth from 2018 to 2028, which is as fast as average.
Some certificate program graduates who enjoy working with students with special needs may decide to become special education teachers. These educators typically need a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate or license if they work in a public school. As of 2019, the BLS reported that special education teachers made a median annual salary of $61,030. A 3% job growth was projected for these teachers from 2018 to 2028, which is slower than average.
Special education assistant certificate programs are available in hybrid formats and can be completed in one year. Students in these programs get hands-on experience working with students with special needs and may qualify for state-specific teacher assistant certification.