Special Education Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Special Education Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that around 7.2 million kids in the United States—or 15% of all public school pupils—received special education services during the 2019–2020 school year (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). This highlights the critical need for specialists in the area of special education.

The chances of fulfilling special education careers are expanding along with the demand for experts in this area. This demand makes special education one of the best online education degrees to pursue today. There are numerous positions available in the field of special education, whether you are interested in aiding individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities or working with young children with disabilities.

After analyzing multiple special education careers, our research team has compiled the best options on the market. Hopefully, this guide will help you jumpstart your career planning in this field.

Special Education Careers Table of Contents

Why pursue a career in special education?

Individuals who plan to pursue special education careers can find employment in a variety of fields. While many end up in schools as teachers and administrators, graduates with degrees in special education can also find careers in the academe and various community organizations.

According to projections from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of special education teachers in particular will achieve average growth until 2031 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Educational experts expect the demand for such teachers to increase as the U.S. federal government mandates appropriate education for students with special needs.

Various studies have also explored job satisfaction among special education teachers. For instance, a 2020 survey published online by the Utah Education Policy Center reported high levels of job satisfaction among special education teachers. According to Auletto et al. (2020), “We found that special education and non-special education respondents share several areas of satisfaction. First, both groups were most satisfied with their colleagues; in each case, 76% of respondents rated their satisfaction as either “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied.” We also found that autonomy over one’s classroom, ethical treatment, and working relationships were areas of high satisfaction for both groups.”

Special Education Career Outlook

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a 4% growth for special education jobs in the United States until 2031, specifically for special education teachers. This translates to 37,600 job openings for special education teachers over the next decade (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

RoleSalaryJob Growth (2021 to 2031)
Special education teachers, preschool$62,4208%
Special education teachers, secondary school$62,1204%
Special education teachers, middle school$61,8204%
Childcare worker$27,4906%
Social Workers$50,3909%
Instructional Coordinators$63,7407%
Recreational Therapists$47,9404%

Required Skills for Special Education

Pursuing careers in special education requires specific skills and abilities. For instance, like in many related disciplines, special needs teachers must be willing and efficient at using technology to supplement current teaching methods for children with special needs. A 2023 study published in the Indonesian Journal of Community and Special Needs Education found that “… special education teachers are ready to use assistive technology for instruction and the teachers have high self-efficacy in the use of assistive technology for instruction.  The study concluded that assistive technology can be used to facilitate teaching and stimulation if appropriately deployed.”

With sufficient aptitude in technology and the skills listed below, you can excel at jobs that work with special needs individuals.

Essential Skills for Special Education

Problem-solving: Special education teachers must be able to identify challenges and develop creative solutions to help their students succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.
Behavior control: Some special needs pupils may display difficult behaviors. The ability to control these behaviors and the application of successful behavior management techniques are skills that special education teachers must possess.

Organization: Attention to detail and good organizational skills are essential while handling the administrative facets of special education, such as individualized education programs, progress reports, and evaluations.

Good communication skills: Special education teachers must communicate well with students, parents, colleagues, and other professionals involved in students’ education. This involves both written and verbal communication, as well as active listening abilities.

Knowledge of special education laws and regulations: To ensure that their children receive adequate services and accommodations, special education teachers must be aware of the laws and regulations on special education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

General Skills for Special Education

Empathy and compassion: Knowing and empathizing with students with special needs and their families is critical for developing trust and rapport.

Patience: Dealing with pupils who have special needs can be difficult, and progress may not always be quick or smooth. Patience is vital to assisting kids in reaching their full potential and fostering a healthy learning environment.

Adaptability: Special education teachers must be adaptable to teaching techniques and materials to fit the unique needs of each student.

Creativity: Creating unique and engaging classes that fit different learning styles and skills can help special education teachers serve their students better.

How to Start Your Career in Special Education

While it seems like special education careers involve teaching jobs, there are a variety of possibilities for individuals interested in working in special education. If you’re searching, “what is an associate degree” for the field of special education, you’ll be glad to know there are various positions that don’t require a bachelor’s degree as well. Below are just some career paths you can take. It’s important to note that, for many individuals, career progression in this field isn’t linear. And you can always boost your credentials by earning higher-level degrees. For working professionals that find juggling schedules hard, they may do well by considering earning their special education degree online.

What Jobs Can Special Education Majors Get?

 Education Path
Social Work

Academe/Research Path
Provides classroom-based instruction to students with special needs and learning disabilities.Meets the needs of individuals, families, and groups to enhance wellbeing and empower communities.Collects, studies, and analyzes data to increase understanding in the field of special education.
Entry Level JobsSpecial Education Paraprofessional/Teacher Aides ($30,900/year)

Tutor ($42,200/year)

Childcare worker ($27,400)Research Assistant/Teacher’s Assistant ($37,000)
Junior Management /Middle Management JobsSpecial Education Teacher ($61,800/year)

Instructional Coordinators ($63,700/year)

School counselor ($60,510)

Clinical social worker, licensed ($74,000/year)Instructor of Special Education, college ($56,000/year)

Assistant Professor of Special Education ($68,000/year)

Senior Management JobsEducational consultant ($88,000/year)

School principals ($98,420/year)

Childcare center director ($82,000/year)University Professor of Special Education ($101,900/year)
*Values are estimates.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Special Education?

Teacher’s Aide

A teacher’s aide supports teachers with administrative and instructional tasks inside the classroom, including the distribution of resources and other learning materials.

Median salary: $30,900

Childcare worker

Childcare providers tend to the needs of children while also promoting early development. They may assist younger children with kindergarten preparation or older youngsters with schoolwork.

Median salary: $27,400

Preschool teacher

Preschool instructors educate and care for children who have not yet joined kindergarten and are under the age of five. They teach young children language, motor, and social skills.

Median salary: $30,210

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education?

Special education teachers (early/pre-k to 12)

Special education teachers modify general education classes and teach a variety of disciplines to individuals with mild to moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills to students with severe disabilities.

Median salary: $61,800

Social worker

Social workers assist people, communities, and families in preventing and dealing with difficulties in their daily lives. Clinical social workers are trained to identify and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues. A bachelor’s degree in special education may also give you an edge when applying to accredited online MSW programs.

Median salary: $50,390

Can you get a special education job with just a certificate?

Depending on the state where you live or plan to work, you may be able to get a childcare worker job with just a certificate. Positions as tutors or teacher assistants may also be open to individuals with a certificate.

Source: Zippia

How can I advance my career in special education?

When you take any of the types of master degrees in the field of special education, you may be qualified to oversee special education programs in schools, coordinate with other school leaders, or manage other special education teachers.

Graduate-level career paths in special education typically require individuals to have an undergraduate degree in special education or a relevant field. For instance, the best online bachelor’s degrees in child development today provide a solid foundation for graduate degree in special education. Other common requirements for applicants to postgraduate special education degrees include college transcripts and a personal statement.

What can I do with a Master’s in Special Education?

Special Education Coordinator or Department Chair

The special education coordinator, as a member of a school’s instructional leadership team, is in charge of programs that give educational help to children with mental, psychological, learning, behavioral, or physical challenges.

Median salary: $63,973

Early Intervention Specialist

A master’s degree in special education can prepare you for advanced roles in early intervention programs, working with young children who have or are at risk for developmental delays or disabilities.

Median salary: $88,000

College or University Instructor

You may be able to teach undergraduate courses in special education or similar disciplines at colleges or universities if you have a master’s degree in special education.

Median salary: $34,380

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Special Education?

College or University Professor

You may be able to teach undergraduate and graduate courses at colleges and universities if you have a doctorate in special education. Professors are also frequently involved in research, mentoring, and service activities within their universities and the larger academic community.

Median salary: $101,850


A doctorate in special education can help you prepare for a career in research, whether in academia, research institutions, or government agencies. Researchers help to create evidence-based methods, policies, and interventions in special education.

Median salary: $135,918 (government)

Special Education Administrator

A Special Education Administrator holds a leadership position within a school district. He or she assists in the hiring, training, and supervision of special education instructors, as well as ensuring that the school follows best practices in special education.

Median salary: $68,419

Policy Advisor or Advocate

People who hold a doctorate in special education may work in government, nonprofit organizations, or advocacy groups to change special education policy and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

Median salary: $60,401

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Which certification is best for special education?

Special education certification requirements differ based on the country or location in which you intend to work. Each state in the United States has its own standards for special education certification. Certifications are often classified according to the age range or type of disability they cover. Among the most prevalent special education credentials are:

  • Early Childhood Special Education: This credential allows teachers to work with young children (often from birth to the age of 5 or 8) who have or are at risk of developing delays or impairments.
  • Mild/Moderate Disabilities: This certification trains teachers to work with pupils who have mild to moderate disabilities, such as learning disabilities, mild intellectual disabilities, or emotional/behavioral issues.
  • Severe/Profound Disabilities: This credential is intended for teachers who work with students who have major intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, or severe autism spectrum disorders.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders: Some states provide a specific credential for instructors who work with students who have autism spectrum disorders.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): While not necessarily relevant to special education, some professionals choose to earn certification in Applied Behavior Analysis, which can be very useful when working with students who have autism or other behavioral issues.

Alternative Career Options for Special Education

Individuals who have a background in special education don’t necessarily end up working in schools, research, or social work organizations. For instance, you can use your undergraduate degree in special education to pursue higher education in related fields, like an online PsyD program.

What else can a special education specialist do?

Occupational Therapist: Occupational therapists work with people who have disabilities or injuries to help them develop, regain, or preserve the skills they require for daily living and functioning. This position typically requires a master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy as well as a state license.

Physical Therapist: Physical therapists work with people who have mobility or movement issues as a result of an injury, disability, or sickness. This position normally requires a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and a state licensure.

Behavior Analyst: Behavior analysts create therapy programs for people with autism and other behavioral difficulties using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles. This position normally requires a master’s degree in a related discipline as well as certification from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). According to the BACB, demand for behavior analysts with a BCBA or BCBA-D certification has increased 23% from 2021 to 2022 (Behavior Analyst Certification Board, 2023).

Disability Services Coordinator: Disability services coordinators work in a wide variety of organizations to ensure that people with disabilities can easily access available programs, services, and resources. They may provide adjustments, arrange support services, and train people about disabilities.

Assistive Technology Specialist: Assistive technology professionals support people with impairments in selecting, implementing, and using assistive equipment and software to improve their functioning and independence. They may work in schools, rehabilitation centers, or other settings.

23% Increase in demand for board-certified behavior analysts and board-certified behavior analysts (doctoral) from 2020 to 2021.

Making the Most of Special Education Training

Having a background in special education opens up various career paths for graduates and professionals. With a career in special education, you will be able to work in a wide variety of settings, including schools, community-based groups, and healthcare organizations. If you don’t want to teach, you can use your special education background to supplement healthcare degrees like an online nursing degree and work in rehabilitation programs in hospitals and clinics. You may even be qualified to work with the federal government to shape educational policies.

No matter which field you choose to apply your special education training to, it is a good idea to take advantage of available opportunities for professional learning and networking. These connections may make it easier for you to advance your special education career or even switch to another specialization if you prefer.


  • Auletto, A., Rorrer, A.K., & Ni, Y. (2020). Special Education Teachers’ Motivation, Satisfaction, and Persistence: Educator Career and Pathway Survey (ECAPS) for Teachers 2019 Results. Utah Education Policy Center: Salt Lake City, UT. Utah Education Policy Center
  • Behavior Analyst Certification Board. (2023). US employment demand for behavior analysts: 2010–2022. BACB
  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Students With Disabilities. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. NCES
  • Surajudeen, T., Ibironke, E., & Aladesusi, G. (2022). Special Education Teachers’ Readiness and Self-Efficacy in Utilization of Assistive Technologies for Instruction in Secondary School. Indonesian Journal of Community and Special Needs Education, 3(1), 33-42. DOI
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, October 4). Special education teachers : Occupational outlook handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS
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The website Research.com is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.