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School Counselors and Students with Special Needs

School counselors can serve a variety of students with special needs, assisting students who are gifted and talented, migrant students, and students with learning disabilities. There are also specially trained special education counselors in some states.

In many schools, the same school counselors possess a general counseling certification and serve all students. In this case, the school counselor’s role for special needs students will be similar to the role for all students: the school counselor will be available to students for personal, ethical, and social advice; to listen to the student’s point of view; to deal with any mental health issues that may arise for the student; to help the student deal with transitions; to advocate for the student, and -- to the degree possible -- to teach the student to advocate for him- or herself. The counselor is also likely to be involved in the student’s individualized education program (IEP) and be present at IEP meetings.

Types of Special Needs

Because there are different types of students with special needs, school counselors may have different roles to play in different cases.

Gifted Students

There are many kinds of gifted students, and often a “Gifted and Talented” program may fall under the banner of special education. Students can be gifted in many different areas • linguistically, musically, kinesthetically, etc. Counselors for such students may help open doors to special tutoring, classes at the next level of schooling, or help create special classes to serve a group of similarly gifted students. Transition and career counseling can be especially important if the student is moving through the education system more quickly than usual and is younger than his or her peers.

Gifted students may have their own social and emotional issues, and counselors can provide guidance in this area as well. When a student’s gift is coupled with other issues, such as ADHD, a learning disability, a first language other than English, etc., then a special ed certified professional or a language specialist will likely work closely with the counselor in helping the student.

Migrant Students

Migrant students arrive with a different set of concerns altogether, including having missed sections of school, being accustomed to different texts and materials from a previous school, and sometimes, speaking a language other than English. School counselors can help migrant families find solutions that fit their situation. Distance learning is one alternative that may be suitable, as it provides continuity and overcomes the obstacles of mobility.

Special Education Counselors

Not everyone knows that besides school counselors, there is a job title “special education counselor” in at least some states. A special education counselor may be required to have a teaching certificate or license, a counselor’s certificate (with at least a master’s degree), and a special education certificate as well.

The special education counselor characteristically forms part of the team (along with teachers and administrators) that identifies students with special needs and provides appropriate placements, helping formulate the individualized education program (IEP) that meets the student’s needs and attending IEP meetings as well. The special education counselor is also a consultant for decisions about relevant curricular offerings to meet the needs of students.

In addition to being qualified to administer informal and formal assessments, the special education counselor is also qualified to interpret the test data. Such tests may be used both as part of the identification process for students qualifying for special education, and also tests used to assess their progress.

In addition, it is the special education counselor’s role to explain and interpret such test results for parents. So the relationship of the school counselor and the student, as well as depending on personal chemistry, will depend on the student’s particular support needs and the counselor’s particular qualifications.


  1. Concerns of Migrant Students:
  2. Special education counselor:

Written by Mary Elizabeth