Children with special needs definition

The term “special needs” can cover a wide spectrum of disabilities ranging from mild learning disorders to slow mental or physical development, physical impairments, chronic illness, food allergies, panic attacks, psychiatric problems, etc. In the U.S., a special needs student can benefit from educational programs and medical services that enables him or her to receive a quality education and establish a professional career.

Special needs children have limitations in coping with everyday living in a “normal” family environment. There’s often much they cannot do on their own. This makes it necessary for parents to become more involved in their daily care. Some parents resent or bemoan the weaknesses of their children; others face their children’s difficulties with a positive attitude and learn valuable lessons of love and sacrifice that benefit the whole family. How parents react to their special needs situation can make or break their family. By facing the challenges with an optimistic attitude, parents can help build a stronger, happier family environment and encourage their children to reach their full potential.

Most parents face similar concerns when it comes to caring for children with special needs. They may feel lost, alone and inadequate in providing their kids with the help they need. Special needs children may require consistent medical care, mental or physical therapy, a specialized learning environment, constant supervision and more. Some parents find it difficult balancing the care of these children with other children, home responsibilities and career. Financial concerns can also take a toll on the family environment.

Support groups can be a tremendous help and encouragement to parents in their time of need. Most communities offer counseling, community services or online support for parents with special needs kids. Talking with other parents who have had more experience in this area can give you valuable insight into how to cope with your kids everyday care. You can also benefit from the friendship, fellowship and encouragement of like minded parents who understand what you are going through.

The term cognitive disabilities encompasses various intellectual or cognitive deficits, including intellectual disability (mental retardation), developmental delay, developmental disability, learning disabilities, and conditions causing cognitive impairment such as acquired brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.

The term developmental delay is used to identify children (typically infants, toddlers and preschool age children) with delays in meeting developmental milestones in one or more areas of development.

Types of Developmental Delays

– cognitive skills;

– communication;

– social and emotional skills functioning;

– behavior;

– fine and gross motor skills.

Students with developmental delays are eligible for special education services such as full evaluation, an IEP, specially designed instruction and related services.

The term developmental disability means a severe, chronic disability of an individual 5 years of age or older that:

1) is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments;

2) is manifested before the individual attains age 22;

3) is likely to continue indefinitely;

4) results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, and economic self-sufficiency; and

5) reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, supports, or other assistance that is of lifelong or extended duration and is individually planned and coordinated, except that such term, when applied to infants and young children means individuals from birth to age 5, inclusive, who have substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired conditions with a high probability of resulting in developmental disabilities if services are not provided.

There are many social, environmental and physical causes of developmental disabilities. Common factors causing developmental disabilities include:

traumatic brain injury resulting from accidental causes or physical abuse (blunt force, shaken baby syndrome);

infection before, during or after birth;

growth or nutrition problems (prenatal, perinatal, or postnatal);

- genetic and chromosomal abnormalities;

- premature birth;

- poor maternal diet;

drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy;

drug-related prenatal developmental insult from prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

Children with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) learn more slowly than a typical child. They may take longer to learn language, develop social skills, and take care of personal needs, such as dressing or eating. Children with intellectual disabilities may exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

- delays in oral language development;

- deficits in memory skills;

- difficulty learning social rules;

- difficulty with problem solving skills;

- delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills;

- lack of social inhibitors.

An individual is considered to have mental retardation based on the following three criteria:

intellectual functioning level (IQ) is below 70;

significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas;

the condition is present from childhood (defined as age 18 or less).

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the environment. People with autism are not physically disabled and ‘look’ just like anybody without the disability. Those with high-functioning autism may have speech and intelligence intact. Others may be mentally disabled, mute, or have serious language delays. Autism may make them seem closed off and shut down. Some seem locked into repetitive behaviors. People with autism tend to share certain social, communication, motor, and sensory problems that affect their behavior.

People with autism may have some of the following traits:

1) does not babble or coo by 12 months;

2) does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months;

3) does not say single words by 16 months;

4) does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months;

5) has any loss of any language or social skill at any age;

6) insistence on sameness; resistance to change;

7) difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words;

8) repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language;

9) laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others;

10)  prefers to be alone; aloof manner;

11)  tantrums;

12)  difficulty in mixing with others;

13)  may not want to cuddle or be cuddled;

14)  little or no eye contact;

15)  unresponsive to normal teaching methods;

16)  sustained odd play;

17)  spins objects;

18)  inappropriate attachments to objects;

19)  apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain;

20)  no real fears of danger;

21)  noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity;

22)  uneven gross/fine motor skills;

23)  not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range.

Every child has his own pace of development and speech development also differs in different children. Speech disorder is commonly found in children and can be recognized by keen observation. Speech disorders in children can be overcome by a proper therapy session. Speech disorder can be confused with language disorder but these two are quite different. Get more information on speech disorder by reading ‘An introduction to speech disorder in children’.

Speech disorders are often noticed in young children and according to experts parents need not get too worked up with it. Rather it is important for the child that his developmental chart is closely monitored and once you get to notice anything amiss, it is advisable to seek the advice of a professional expert. More often than it has been observed that the initial speech disorders or delays can be overcome with regular therapy.

How Do You Get to Know About It?

It is very easy to spot whether your child is suffering from a speech disorder. Once you are used to intently observing your child, you will notice that your child is stuttering while trying to say something. You will also find him struggling or completely unable to produce sounds and words in a proper manner. But the problem intensifies when parents consider these early signals as language disorders.

It is Important to Understand the Basic Difference Between Speech and Language Disorder.

Speech is the inability to speak using sounds and words in a proper manner and language disorder is the inability to express using words in a particular language. This happens due to lack of understanding. In a speech disorder, the child can understand language and also knows what he intends to say, but the problem is he cannot bring himself to say what he wishes to.

Language disorder is more about the complex process of processing and understanding of the words and ideas while communicating with the same with others.

On the other hand, speech should be viewed as the mechanics of language. Language is a separate problem and should also be dealt seriously. They reflect a delay in the developmental journey of the child and can be marked as a disability for life. But remediating a speech disorder can be done pretty early and fast. Its effectiveness is immediate if diagnosed early and the therapy is followed diligently.

Speech disorder in children is most prominently noticed in the pre-school children. Around 5 to 8% of the children of this age group get affected by it.

Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by damage to the brain, usually occurring before, during, or shortly after birth. “Cerebral” refers to the brain and “palsy” to a disorder of movement or posture. It is not progressive. Prenatal causes of cerebral palsy include illness during pregnancy, premature delivery, and lack of oxygen supply to the baby caused by premature separation of the placenta, an awkward birth position, labor that goes on too long or is too abrupt, and interference with the umbilical cord. Other causes may be associated with, RH or A-B-O blood type incompatibility between parents, infection of the mother with viral diseases such as German measles in early pregnancy, and microorganisms that attack the newborn’s central nervous system. Causes of cerebral palsy after birth may be a result of an accident, viral infection, and child abuse. Depending on which part of the brain is damaged and the degree of involvement of the central nervous system, one or more of the following may occur: tonal problems, involuntary movement, spasms, problems with gait and mobility, seizures, impairment of sight, hearing and/or speech, and mental retardation. Early identification and intervention are vital. About 3,000 babies are born with this disorder each year.

There are 3 main types of cerebral palsy:

1) spastic – stiff and difficult movement

2) athetoid – involuntary and uncontrolled movement

3) ataxic – disturbed sense of balance and depth perception

Many people with cerebral palsy may have a combination of these. This is referred to as mixed cerebral palsy.

Children with cerebral palsy may receive: 

- physical therapy;

- occupational therapy;

speech and language therapy alternative therapies;

- medical intervention;

- assistive technology;

early education.

Down syndrome (DS or DNS) or Down's syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is defined as a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability. The average IQ of a young adult with Down syndrome is 50, equivalent to the mental age of an 8 or 9 year-old child, but this varies widely.

What is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that results in varying degrees of physical and mental retardation. The condition varies in severity, causing developmental problems that range from mild to severe. The disorder occurs as a result of extra genetic material.

In most people, the genes are contained on 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46 chromosomes. Most people with Down syndrome have an extra copy of the 21 chromosome, for a total of 47 chromosomes.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder. An estimated 1 in 800 infants are born with Down syndrome. Down syndrome is also a common cause of miscarriage. Every year, as many as 5,000 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States.

Every year, one child in every 800 to 1,000 births will be born with a condition known as Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a disorder in which the child has extra genetic material. This extra genetic material causes the baby to develop differently in the womb. This abnormal development occurs during the early stages of cell division, soon after conception.

There is no known reason for Down syndrome or a cure for it.

The disorder came by its name when an English physician, John Langdon Down, published a description of the characteristics of a person with the condition in 1886. Since Dr. Down was the first person to give the syndrome a name, the disorder is known as Down syndrome.

There are three distinct forms of Down syndrome.

1. The most common form is Trisomy 21. This is when a child has an extra chromosome 21.

Instead of having 46 chromosomes in each cell (23 from the father and 23 from the mother), he has 47. Ninety-five percent of children born with Down syndrome have Trisomy 21.

2. Translocation is another form of Down syndrome and makes up 3 to 4 % of the population of people with the disorder. Translocation occurs when part of chromosome 21 breaks off and attaches to another chromosome, changing the genetic makeup. In this form of Down syndrome, each cell has the normal 46 chromosomes, but there is extra genetic material from the broken off chromosome.

3. The third and final form is called Mosaicism, and is the rarest form of Down syndrome, occurring in only 2 % of all cases. Mosaicism happens when some of the cells in the forming embryo have 46 chromosomes, and some have 47. Thus, the alternating pattern gives it the name Mosaicism. People with Mosaicism may not be as affected with the physical and/or developmentally delayed characteristics of those born with the other two forms of Down syndrome.

Babies with Down syndrome are usually diagnosed at birth or shortly thereafter. Because Down syndrome affects a child physically, there will be certain features that an alert doctor or nurse will pick up on. Most children with the syndrome will have some or all of these traits.

Common Physical Characteristics of Down Syndrome:

1) low muscle tone;

2) small nose and flat nasal bridge;

3) an upward slant to the eyes (almond shaped);

4) small skin folds on the inner corner of the eyes;

5) tongue large for size of child's mouth;

6) small, sometimes abnormally shaped ears;

7) a single crease across the center of the palm;

8) fifth finger, the pinky, has only one crease instead of two;

9) larger than normal space between the large and second toe;

10) joints are hyper flexible, able to extend greater than average.

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