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Special education aides 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.
Expected career growth for all teacher assistants, including special education aides, is 9 percent. 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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for all teacher assistants, including special education aides, is $24,000. With experience and additional education, opportunities for career advancement will be 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.
Students interested in becoming special education aides should complete an associate degree program. Some states require additional skills tests for individuals who work with special needs students. Prospective aides should have a general 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 his or her needs.
The nature of working with special needs students requires aides to have the ability to 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. Above-average communication skills — including speaking skills and writing skills — are necessary. Aides must always remain calm under pressure. Knowledge of different cultural backgrounds is a plus, especially if an aide plans to work in an urban area.
In most states, aides must pass a background check before being hired. A drug test may also be necessary.