If you’re a special education teacher, support professional, or someone else who works with special education students, then you probably understand why working with students with autism is the best. The world of special education is unique and amazing. Those who have chosen this field can definitely explain why they have the best job ever. Despite the challenges, working with individuals with autism and other disabilities is rewarding, fun, and incredible.
Working with children with autism isn’t for everyone, and this is why it takes a special person to wake up early and handle the emotional and behavioral demands that occur each and every day.
Here is a top 8 list of why working with students with autism is the best job ever (written by someone who works with children with autism every single day).
1. Working with special education students is rewarding
This goes for any student with special needs, and working with students with autism is highly rewarding. When you meet your students on the first day of school and get to experience their progress and growth throughout the school year, there is something very special about that. Students with autism need people in their lives that value them, their uniqueness, and want to see them succeed. Most special education teachers are not simply “in it for the money.” They value their careers and want to see the benefits of their efforts. Each and every day, parents of children with autism relinquish their control to the education system to allow them to help grow and mold their children and guide them on their way to success. SPED teachers take great pride in their work and their main goal is to see their students experience success and achievement. The physical and emotional rewards that special education teachers experience when working with students with autism are tremendous, and they are reasons why college students seek out the world of special education, to begin with.
2. You can learn so much from your students with autism as a SPED teacher
Most of the time, educated and accomplished professionals have it in their mind that they almost “know it all” and have experienced basically anything…nothing can surprise them or bewilder them. However, working with special needs students can bring novel experiences, both wonderful and difficult, to any SPED teacher’s life. As a SPED teacher myself, I can say that literally each and every day is completely different. There are no humdrum, monotonous, or boring days; each one brings something new, a different challenge, or a varied perspective. These all make the day go by faster as well! Students with autism teach their SPED professionals to think outside of the box, to be more patient, that it is perfectly fine to be unique and different compared to others, and to learn to have a variety of interests that they may not have had before. Think Pokémon, Minecraft, bugs, dinosaurs, puzzles, video games, certain fabrics, locations, songs, TV shows, etc. As a SPED teacher of students with autism, your eyes will open to new people, places, things, and opportunities.
3. You can set a crucial educational foundation that many cannot
Teachers spend the majority of the day with their students. These children typically spend less time with their parents and other caretakers, as once they get home from school, it is only about an hour or two away from dinnertime, then bedtime is shortly after. This means that special education teachers play a significant role in students’ lives. They can help make or break who they become as a person. SPED teachers who invest in their students’ education and help put a strong, positive, foundation down are likely to see the benefits later on in their lives. It is such a blessing for SPED teachers to see their students later on in education, growing and developing into a teenager or young adults, with the skills and academic abilities that they helped instill early on. When you teach a child with autism, you are one of the few that get the privilege of making that little person into who they will be for the rest of their life.
4. The love and appreciation is obvious
As a special education teacher, you might not feel the love and appreciation oozing from the admin suite or from other teachers…and sometimes not even the parents of the children you teach. But you are wanted, needed, and appreciated by many–especially by the students themselves. Whether your students with autism are verbal or not, they have built an attachment to you as a teacher that cannot be broken. Despite physical aggression, tantrums, or behavioral challenges in the classroom, you are highly cherished as the teacher. No matter what you actually think, your students and their parents do love and appreciate you; because without you, what would they do and where would they be?
5. You can see success just about anywhere
How do you measure success? Is it a high score on a test? Making it to the next grade level? Or graduating from high school? If you work with students with autism, your definition of success might look a little different from traditional teachers. Success in a special education classroom probably looks like transitioning appropriately from one task to another, like using keywords to express needs and wants, or mastering IEP goals and objectives. Sometimes success simply looks like making it through a school day without a meltdown. The best kind is when a parent calls or emails you and lets you know that it is obvious that their child had a great day at school, or what an important skill was finally generalized into the home. Success is all around in the special education classroom, and children with autism are great at showing their accomplishments.
6. SPED teachers get to professionally develop outside of their primary realm
When you’re working in a school system, in any capacity, you don’t necessarily get to see what’s going on with other professionals or get to learn things outside of your little SPED classroom world. But when you teach individuals with autism, you more than likely get to learn about speech and language, occupational therapy, social skills, and much more. Special educators work closely with other related service providers within the school and even sometimes outside of the school depending upon a child’s need. Typically, SLPs, OTs, and PTs push into SPED classrooms and work with their students. By doing so special education teachers get to learn a thing or two about those professional areas. As a SPED teacher myself, I have learned the lingo, the typical goals and objectives, and how to even incorporate some SLP and OT activities into my lessons to help generalize those areas of need.
7. Differentiation becomes life
As a special education teacher, you don’t simply teach (for example) high school ELA or middle school math; you teach most of the subject areas and get to differentiate for your student’s individual needs. This means that you get to learn, grow, and teach almost every subject at various levels. Personally, this means that the day is never boring. As a professional, you get to develop as a teacher in multiple ways every day. Even if you have non-verbal students, you still must differentiate for their needs. Teaching students with autism is a constant learning and growing experience.
8. You learn the importance of patience and a sense of humor
Perhaps before you stepped into education, you did not have the patience you do now. Working with any student requires a lot of patience, and being in charge of an autism classroom every single day requires even more. SPED teachers must handle tantrums, get physically or emotionally (and temporarily) hurt, ensure their eardrums don’t burst from the occasional screaming and deal with oppositionally defiant students––and parents. Throughout the school year, you learn your students and their parents and adapt as a teacher. What might bug or frustrate you at the beginning of the year is probably not even noticeable at the end of the year. As a special education teacher, you also must have a sense of humor. I have seen SPED teachers come and go, and the ones that don’t make it very long in a school have one thing in common…well two: they don’t have the right type of patience, and they can’t let things go. Being able to laugh it off is a huge requirement to be a SPED teacher. Laugh with your students, laugh at yourself, and find fun in situations. In doing so, you’ll last much longer in the world of special education!
Reasons Why SPED Teachers Love Working With Their Students With Autism: Conclusion
There are a plethora of reasons why working with special education students, especially students with autism, is the best of the best. It is not every day that professionals get to see someone reach an important milestone, grow as an individual, learn a new skill, or express to you that you have helped them. Of course, it is bittersweet as a school year ends and you get a new group as a teacher. You develop a strong bond with your students as the year progresses. Just remember that you are making a difference in many lives––differences that will stick with them as they grow and develop into successful adults.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated October 2021