Schools / Special Education

What is Special Education?

Special Education programs are designed for those students who are mentally, physically, socially and/or emotionally delayed. This aspect of “delay,” broadly categorized as a developmental delay, signify an aspect of the child's overall development (physical, cognitive, scholastic skills) which place them behind their peers. Due to these special requirements, students’ needs cannot be met within the traditional classroom environment. Special Education programs and services adapt content, teaching methodology and delivery instruction to meet the appropriate needs of each child. These services are of no cost to the family and are available to children until they reach 21 years of age. 

The government defines Special Education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability,” but still, what exactly is Special Education? Often met with an ambiguous definition, the umbrella term of Special Education broadly identifies the academic, physical, cognitive and social-emotional instruction offered to children who are faced with one or more disabilities.

Under the government guidelines, these disabilities are categorized into the following areas:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

    Autism Spectrum Disorder refers to a developmental disability that significantly affects communication (both verbal and nonverbal) and social interaction. These symptoms are typically evident before the age of three and adversely affect a child’s educational performance. Other identifying characteristics of those with ASD are engagement in repetitive activities/stereotyped movements, resistance to change in environment and daily routine and unusual responses to sensory stimuli.

  • Multiple disabilities

    Children with multiple disabilities are those with concomitant impairments such as intellectual disability + blindness or intellectual disability + orthopedic impairment(s). This combination causes severe educational needs that cannot be met through programs designed for children with a single impairment. 

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

    Traumatic brain injury refers to an acquired injury to the brain caused by external physical forces. This injury is one that results in a partial or complete functional disability and/or psychosocial impairment and must adversely affect the child’s educational performance. TBI does not include congenital or degenerative conditions or those caused by birth-related trauma.

  • Speech/language impairment

    Speech or language impairments refer to communications disorders such as stuttering, impaired articulation or language/voice impairments that have an adverse affect on a child’s educational performance.

  • Intellectual Disability (also referred to as “Mental Retardation”)

    Intellectual disability is defined as a significantly below average functioning of overall intelligence that exists alongside deficits in adaptive behavior and is manifested during the child’s developmental period causing adverse affects on the child’s educational performance.

  • Visual Impairment (including Blindness)

    Visual impairment, which includes blindness, refers to impairment in one’s vision that, even after correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term “visual impairment” is inclusive of those with partial sight and blindness.

  • Deaf; Hearing Impairment

    Deafness means a child’s hearing impairment is so severe that it impacts the processing of linguistic information with or without amplification and adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Hearing impairment refers to an impairment (fluctuating or permanent) that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

  • Deaf-Blindness

    Deaf-blindness refers to concomitant visual and hearing impairments. This combination causes severe communication, developmental and educational needs that cannot be accommodated through special education programs solely for those children with blindness or deafness.

  • Developmental Delay

    Developmental delay is a term designated for children birth to age nine, and is defined as a delay in one or more of the following areas: cognitive development, physical development, socio-emotional development, behavioral development or communication.

  • Emotional Disturbance

    Emotional disturbance refers to a condition that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics both over an extended period of time and to an exceptional degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

    • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors

    • An inability to build and/or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers

    • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances

    • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness/depression

    • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems

    Emotional disturbance does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted unless they are determined to have an emotional disturbance as per IDEA’s regulations.

  • Specific Learning Disability

    Specific learning disability refers to a range of disorders in which one or more basic psychological processes involved in the comprehensive/usage of language — both spoken or written — establishes an impairment in one’s ability to listen, think, read, write, spell and/or complete mathematical calculations. Included are conditions such as perceptual disabilities, dyslexia (also dyscalculia, dysgraphia), brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction and developmental aphasia. Specific learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are the result of visual, auditory or motor disabilities, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance or those who are placed at an environmental/economic disadvantage.

  • Orthopedic Impairment

    Orthopedic impairment(s) refer to severe orthopedic impairments that adversely affect a child’s academic performance. Orthopedic impairment(s) include those caused by congenital anomalies and diseases, as well impairments by other causes.

Teaching Special Education: Work Environments & Student Demographics

  • Deciding on a career in Special Education allows you to work with a wide range of children of different ages and abilities, as well as a number of unique work environments.

    Where Can I Work?

    In deciding to become a Special Education teacher, you are able to work in a number of environments, including but not limited to the traditional classroom. It is a unique ability of Special Education teachers to reach students outside of the traditional classroom, allowing the needs of a broader population of children to be met.

    Work environments for those certified in Special Education may include:

  • Specialized/self-contained schools

  • Self-contained classes among general education settings (may include Resource Room, ELL classes, Alternative Education programs)

  • General education classrooms (both public and private schools) 

  • Who Can I Teach?

    Just as with general education certification, becoming a certified Special Education teacher allows you to work with a wide range of student ages, grade levels and abilities. Special Education programs are designed to meet the specific and unique instructional needs of each child, allowing students to be grouped homogeneously by developmental stage (ability) rather than by age. This unique aspect of Special Education allows teachers to provide aid and instruction based on the students' skill level, rather than biological age. This unique aspect of Special Education allows educators to provide aid and instruction based on a child’s interest and ability, rather than biological age. However, most certification programs are categorized by the student’s age, allowing teachers to become certified for the following age groups:

  • Early Intervention and Early Childhood Special Education programs: birth -- age 4

  • Childhood Special Education: Nursery to class 6 in primary school.

  • Secondary Special Education: From form 1 to form 5.

  • A number of Special Education certification programs offer a general certification in birth to 21 years old, allowing educators to work with virtually any age demographic.

  • Self-contained and Inclusion-model preschool programs

  • Early Intervention programs — includes both at-home and at-site services

  • Residential facilities

  • Home programs

  • Health agencies and clinics

  • Hospitals                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 WHAT IS INCLUSION?

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    Inclusive education is a classroom model where students with special needs are taught in classrooms alongside their general education peers. This model most often operates under a co-teaching strategy, in that the classroom has both a General Education and Special Education teacher. This approach is also often referred to as Collaborative Team Teaching or Integrated Co-Teaching. The difference between inclusion classrooms and self-contained classrooms is that special needs students in inclusive classrooms are typically labeled as having mild to moderate disabilities, while students within self-contained classrooms are labeled as having severe/multiple disabilities.

    While both mild/moderate and severe/multiple disabilities fall under the same special education category, the needs of these students vary, so it is important that you find a degree program that allows you to focus on your demographic of students.


    Becoming certified to teach students with mild to moderate disabilities prepares you to help children whose special needs hinder their academic achievement, usually in areas of math, reading, writing and socialization. Students with mild to moderate special needs spend part or a majority of their school day in a general education classroom, occasionally supplemented with time in speech, resource room, occupational therapy, etc.

    Individuals looking to work with students with mild to moderate disabilities should look into school programs that focus on preparing educators to work within that specific demographic. Special education programs such as  tailor their programs so that teachers are aptly prepared for succeeding in a co-teaching classroom model. The special needs of students with mild to moderate disabilities may include learning disabilities, speech/language disorders, behavior disorders and high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.


    Becoming certified to teach students with severe/multiple disabilities prepares you to work with students whose special needs inhibit their performance  not only on an academic level, but also in terms of their physical capabilities and life skills  leading to severe educational needs. Students with severe/multiple disabilities are often in self-contained classrooms and/or schools.

    Those looking to work with students who have severe and/or multiple disabilities will most commonly work in specialized private school settings or in self-contained special education classes in a general education setting. Teachers with a degree in severe/multiple disabilities also have the opportunity to work in government agencies, non-profit organizations and private institutions devoted to students with severe developmental disabilities.

  •  The Cameroonian Experience: Evidence from the CBC Though the term inclusion had been taking primordial positions in the educational world both in the west and in Africa, Cameroon was still to join the train. The word started loaming in the educational family in Cameroon through the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB) program SEEPD (Socio-Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities). The CBCHB had been running programs in special education following especially the medical model with a number of special schools here and there such as; The Integrated School for the Blind in Kumbo and The School for the Deaf in Mbingo. Teachers in these schools had acquired knowledge through special seminars in and out of Cameroon and could equally train other home based teachers. A glimpse of change started lingering when children from these schools were integrated into mainstream schools and allowed to cope with mainstream teachers who had little or no knowledge about handling learners with impairments. Though integration had its own loopholes, it was at least a progressive move from special education to integrated education. A number of educated people with impairments in Cameroon today are products of this integrated approach.