One of the hurdles you will face when earning a Ph.D. in education is writing your dissertation. Finding an acceptable topic that is neither too general, nor too idiosyncratic is a challenge you will face with your dissertation committee. Since your specialization area is special education, you'll need to find a topic that is conversant with current trends in research, but original to your project.

Early Considerations

Before you begin to even consider taking notes for your dissertation, you will want to use your class lectures and outside research projects to create a solid background in special education. You'll also want to start thinking about your specialized area, since dissertations topics in any discipline can vary greatly. Some of the specializations you might consider are ADHD studies, theories of autism and autism spectrum disorders, the types and effectiveness of inclusion programs in schools, various kinds of therapies (such as music or play therapy), the role of parents in special education, or the difference in educational policies between two geographic areas. Within these broad areas, you can develop even more specific research plans.


Inclusive education is at the forefront of special education research. It stresses equal educational delivery, equal access to resources, and an equitable distribution of socialization opportunities. Fortunately, controversial topics make for good dissertations. Some of the issues you can investigate when it comes to inclusion include:

• Is inclusion more about political correctness than education?

• Are school districts obligated to do more than give lip service?

• What are the best designs to guarantee individual student success?

• How effective are the team-teaching classrooms?

• Do team-teaching classrooms become dumping grounds?

• How can teacher training, commitment, and excellence be guaranteed?


The National Autism Center note that dealing with autism and its related disorders is the norm in the general education classroom. Detractors argue that this causes problems because this may place students who are highly autistic next to normal students, affecting their educational experience. Supporters point to those autistic students who have only mild cases where they are intellectually developed but emotionally stunted, or point to cases such as children with William's or Asberger's Syndrome, where only socialization is effected. Your dissertation on issues dealing with autism could address questions like:

• Do general education and special education teachers agree on inclusion of autism in the general education classroom?

• What types of support is needed for successful inclusion of autistic students?

• What is the role of the personal care assistant?

• How effective are consultations with an autism specialist?

Comparative Studies

Music therapy can teach socialization skills.
Music therapy can teach socialization skills.

Often, excellent dissertation topics stem from studies that compare two different geographical areas. You can always stick to within the United States for your topic, but with the greater availability of worldwide research in The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD), you can find an inexhaustible list of possible issues to investigate, like:

• How does Saudi Arabia differ from the United States in physical education policies in special education?

• Are India's methods of dealing with special education socialization better than America's?

• How much more involved are U. S. parents in special education that parents in Taiwan?

Music Therapy

Dissertations on various types of learning therapies for special needs students have been a popular choice for Ph.D. candidates in the last three years, since these dissertations offer creative solutions to the educational dilemma of mainstreaming versus isolating. In music therapy education, for example, researchers investigate the integration of music education and music therapy, examining the benefits to students cognitively, socially, physically, and emotionally. Your dissertation could answer the following types of questions:

• What are music therapy's overall effects on test scores?

• At what age should music therapy begin for special needs children?

• Are the classroom performance skills of students who are given music therapy significantly different from those who are not?

• Should music therapy be generalized, or should it account for ethnic differences?

Final Considerations

The number of topics you can choose from for your dissertation are astounding, so make sure you choose a topic and angle on which you feel expert enough to write. Make sure that your research sources will work. Above all, talk your topic over with your dissertation committee members and get their feedback. Also, consulting your librarian will allow you to learn the best and most current dissertation topics in your field.