Special needs children require special assistance and understanding. No matter how a special needs child is part of your life -- whether as your own child or a neighbor or friend -- it is crucial for you to familiarize yourself with the needs and how you can be a part of their life.
Knowledge is power and also builds compassion. Sadly, the special needs child is often ridiculed, disciplined or avoided due to fear and misunderstanding. They may look different, talk differently, or display emotions oddly. Let's explore ways to understand special needs children. We will do this in the same way a scientist explores new data -- by asking six fundamental questions.
- WHAT: We first need to establish what special needs we are dealing with. They generally fall into five main categories: physical, emotional, developmental, social, and perceptional needs. There is also overlap as some conditions often bring on other needs.
- Physical needs include (but are not limited to) neurological problems (epilepsy, Tourette), motor problems (paralysis or CP), muscular problems (MD), speech impairments, hearing and sight impairments, and autism. These are conditions that affect body use and movement. Falling into this category are health conditions requiring special care, such as eating disorders, juvenile diabetes, hemophilia, HIV and AIDS infection in babies, drug addiction in babies, and obesity.
- Emotional needs would include chronic depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), phobias, substance abuse, and eating disorders (which are health disorders as well).
- Developmental disorders are generally organic disorders that cause parts of the brain to stop growing as a certain point or not function properly.
- Social needs are needs that generally stem from family/environmental issues: abuse, neglect, deprivation, poverty, abandonment, Post-traumatic stress syndrome, aphasia.
- Perceptional needs are what we classically called learning disabilities. Now we realize that many of these conditions stem from how we perceive information and how our brain processes data. These include: ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, reading difficulties, lack of coordination or rhythm, and dysgraphia (struggles with writing) to name a few. I fall into this category. Some believe (as I do) that autism may stem from perceptual issues.
- WHO: Now that we understand 'what' we consider special needs, we can consider 'who' -- both who has special needs and who we can approach for help. When people study a special need, it is not uncommon to start looking for that special need in everyone that they know. (Your author did this, to the annoyance of the family!) But it is important to pay attention to signals. Here are several ways to identify signals:
- Know the family risks. What runs in the family?
- Know the family history. What is home-life like? It's about awareness and understanding, not shame.
- Watch the child's development and behavior.
Ask pediatricians and family practice nurses, health department officials, and the child's teacher or care-giver. Use the internet to ask questions. Check out the resources at the end of the article.
- WHEN: It is never too early to be aware, especially when it is your own child. Genetic counseling can prepare you for what may be in your bloodline. If you have concerns, don't stress out or panic; do ask and ask and ask until you get the answers you need.
- WHERE: Where can you learn more about special needs children? Go to professionals. Read literature published by respected sources. Check internet resources and get involved in groups with other parents. Talk to the child's local school; they get funding for special needs kids and should be only too happy to help with programs, transportation, training, assistance, and education. If they are uncooperative, tell them you will switch schools! Family Independence Agency will help with child care and medical care; don't hesitate to get all the help you can, need and deserve! And I can't overemphasize value of support groups.
- WHY: Don't be afraid to ask for help. You can't do it alone and you shouldn't have to do so. Special needs care-givers need support and respite.
- HOW: Use your Google, About and Ask search tools. Check out local.com for all the stuff local to your area. Try your state's .gov link for all state agencies, forms, and links.