Although there are no clear programs in order to become a disability social worker, this could fit under the umbrella of both clinical and geriatric social work. You will need to go the traditional route of becoming a social worker, after which you can choose to specialize within this specific division.
How To Become A Disability Social Worker
You will need some professional qualification in social work before in order to become a social worker. This is usually in the form of a degree which can be offered at an undergraduate, postgraduate, and master’s level, depending on how far you want to go with your education.
Complete High School
First and foremost, you will need to have passed high school as a requirement for the college you would want to attend to obtain your degree. If you are currently in high school and have already decided that this is your future career, you can take certain elective classes which will be useful to you, such as psychology, sociology, human development, and statistics.
It would also be helpful for you to volunteer your time where you see opportunities to help others, for instance serving food at a homeless shelter, helping to build a house for someone less fortunate, or even just acting as companion for elderly people. Although this is not necessarily a requirement in order to apply for college, but it is a very good opportunity for you to understand what social work is about and gain some experience while helping someone who needs it.
Get A Degree
An Associate’s Degree in Social Work (ASW) is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level jobs in social work.
Your coursework could include some of the following:
- Case management and documentation
- Assessment and interventions
- County and state child protection laws
- Types of Disabilities
A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW) is what you should look for when applying at colleges (although not all institutions offer this specialized degree, in which case a bachelor’s degree from a university’s liberal arts college will suffice). This will be a four year course which will prepare you for a career in social and human services.
Your coursework could include some of the following:
- Issues in Social Welfare
- History and Philosophy of Social Welfare
- Social Welfare Policy
- Social Work Practice
- Social Research Methods
- Human Behavior Theory
A Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) will be beneficial if you want to work as a disability social worker, as you will be granted the opportunity to register as a state-licensed social worker, and this will be valid across all the states. It is also very likely that this degree will be a requirement if you want to pursue your career in helping people with disabilities through clinical counseling and health care. Some universities will also allow you some hands-on field experience where you will be working with people directly with the help of a supervising licensed social worker. This is a fantastic opportunity to get out there and see what it is like.
Your coursework could include some of the following:
- Issues of human behavior
- Development issues
- Social issues such as gender, race, welfare, and child protection laws
What Is A Disability?
It is a common misconception that people with disabilities will always bear some obvious sign, such as being in a motorized wheelchair, or walking with a cane or walking stick. Although this may be true in some instances, there are many more cases of people with disabilities who may not show any visible signs, for example, those with metal disorders, respiratory conditions, or even diabetes. According to the U.S Census Bureau, about one in five Americans has some form of a disability, while one in ten Americans suffer from severe disabilities.
Anyone who struggles to perform certain functions could be considered to have a disability. These functions include:
- climbing stairs
- lifting or carrying things
- difficulty in certain social roles
People who are considered to have severe disabilities are those who need assistance in the following tasks:
- walking or getting around (such as with the assistance of a wheel chair)
- getting dressed
- any other basic day-to-day task
Additionally, one can have a disability which presents in the form of a physiological disorder or condition, or disfigurement or anatomical loss (such as an amputation or loss of limb) which affects either one of the following bodily systems:
- special sense organs
- hemic and lymphatic
- skin or endocrine
Finally, it is important to remember that there are mental disabilities, or psychological disorders which must also be considered. These include:
- organic brain syndrome
- mental retardation
- learning disabilities
- emotional or mental illness
Helping Children With Disabilities
If you want to specialize as a child disability social worker, you will need to understand the common disabilities that you may be dealing with. These are:
- Autism: This is a developmental disability, which means that children will be born with this, and the symptoms will usually arise within the first three years of life. Autistic children typically have problems adapting to the social world and will therefore have problems when playing or communicating with other children.
- Deafness or hearing impairment
- Learning disabilities: These are neurological disorders. A child with a learning disability is by no means less smart than others his or her age; it just means that they have trouble learning. Usually these difficulties will arise in reading, writing, or math, and will require different teaching methods.
- Mental retardation: This results in substantial limitations in intellectual functions, communication, social skills, and caring for themselves. An IQ test could be used in order to diagnose this disability; and a score under 70 could prove this.
- Physical disability
- Speech or language impairment: This includes communication problems which are affected by the way the mouth actually works, for example having a lisp, stutter, or pronouncing “r” sounds with “w” sounds.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): This term is used when the injury is caused after childbirth, perhaps through a very hard blow to the head. A child with a TBI could have difficulty with seeing, hearing, talking, walking, paying attention, and could act or learn differently.
- Mental health diagnoses: The most common diagnoses in children are Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Bipolar Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, and eating disorders.
As a disability social worker for children, you could work in a variety of settings in order to carry out your aide.
Working in hospital could be tough as there will be a lot of grief around you, and you will need to be able to deal with this professionally without getting too emotional yourself. Parents, understandable, could become very frantic at the realization that their child will have to go through life with a disability, so not only will you be helping the child cope, you will also need to help the parents. Some of your roles would include:
- Helping the parents of the disabled child to talk about, and deal with what they have been faced with.
- Finding resources in the community which could help the family.
- Helping with applications for disability social services.
- Connecting with support groups.
Child Welfare Agencies
You may work as a case manager in a social welfare agency, and this will see you providing more of an administrative role in helping the family to find and coordinate services. These could include:
- help finding mental health services, special medical equipment, or special education services
- parenting classes
- anger management classes
- referring the family to other services, for example, financial aid.
Community Mental Health Agencies
Your duties may vary depending on the state and agency, but here you will most likely help in counseling and therapy, and case management. You could also head psychosocial groups in which children are helped to work on their social skills, problem-solving skills, and identifying their strengths and abilities. You could also help the parents get respite care, thereby giving them a much needed break from caring for their disabled child.
Your biggest task here will probably be counseling or therapy. This could come in five different forms:
- Individual therapy: This individual therapy could be directed at the child in question, or a family member of the child.
- Family therapy: Here you will help the family as a whole in dealing with the disability.
- Home-based family therapy: You will actually visit the home of the family and help them in solving family conflicts, or communication problems.
- Behavior therapy: This is for children who have behavioral problems; you will focus on how to help the child distinguish between unwanted behaviors and desire behaviors.
- Group therapy: This will include a group of children or family members who are dealing with similar situations.
This could be the most common workplace for children and teenagers with disabilities, and you could play a part in various roles within a school. The type of help that you will provide could include some of the following:
- Be part of a team in evaluating a child for disabilities if he or she demonstrates signs of mental or behavioral disabilities.
- Provide counseling on an individual level, in groups, or even with an entire classroom.
- Help the parents of the child in finding services which they could benefit from.
- Consult with prevalent adults in the child’s life, such as teachers or parents.
- Assist in issues pertaining to hygiene, grief, substance abuse, coping skills, emotional or behavioral problems, getting along with other schoolmates, or anger management.
Helping Disabled War Veterans
Apart from helping children, another noble avenue to take is to help veterans who have developed disabilities due to their services for the country. You may feel drawn to this if you yourself have a family member or friend who has been injured while in service.
The types of specialty programs that you may be dealing with or assisting in could include:
- spinal cord injury
- blind rehabilitation
- chronic mental illness
- traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- brain dysfunction
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- substance abuse treatment programs
- geriatric medicine
- hospice care
- military sexual trauma
- psychosocial rehabilitation
Within this field you may assist in finding adequate medical care, as well as financial assistance thereof. You will build strong and trusting relationships with the people who you help, as you will educating and empowering the war veterans in their transition to a normal civilian life; this is something that many servicemen and women struggle with. You will also be assisting them in finding the right medical care, as well as counseling them and their family members.
Within this sector, you may also find that you will provide counseling for people who are about to undergo, or have undergone amputation. You will be part of a team including doctors, nurses, prosthetists, physical and occupational therapists, job coaches, and/or attorneys. If you are working in a hospital, you may assist in communications between the patient and his or her family, and the health care professionals. Your scope may also expand to arranging discharge from the hospital.
Support as a caregiver is also a vital role within this field; you will be helping the patient in dealing with their situation, and could organize support groups.
Getting the right education is the starting point to getting into a career as a disability social worker. In this case, it will be a MSW. It is also wise to take part in continuing education so that you can maintain your level of education and knowledge and stay on top of current issues in your sector such as any changes to the rights of those who are disabled.
You must also be of the stresses of this job. You will gain great satisfaction from being able to assist people who are in need of assistance, but you may also have cases where people are severely depressed due to their circumstance, and counseling such a person could weigh heavily on you and your emotions.