Highlight: What Are “Special Needs?”

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Highlight: What Are “Special Needs?”

Terri Mauro is a mother of a special needs child who points out that children with special needs vary and their particular needs can include a variety of different health-related challenges:

  • Mild learning disabilities to profound cognitive impairment.
  • Food allergies to terminal illness.
  • Developmental delays that catch up quickly to those that remain entrenched.
  • Occasional panic attacks to serious psychiatric problems.3

Mauro outlines how the concerns that parents face may vary depending on the specific issues involved. For instance:

  • Medical issues include serious conditions like cancer, heart defects, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis; chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes; congenital conditions like cerebral palsy and dwarfism; and health threats like food allergies and obesity. Children with medical issues may require numerous tests, long hospital stays, expensive equipment, and accommodations for disabilities. Their families have to deal with frequent crises, uncertainty, and worry.
  • Behavior issues include diagnoses like ADHD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, and Tourette syndrome. Children facing these issues may not respond to traditional discipline, so parents need to be flexible and creative. If strategies are not tailored to children’s specific abilities and disabilities, children with behavior issues can throw their families into chaos and are at risk for serious problems in school.
  • Developmental issues such as autism, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities are some of the most devastating for a family to deal with, changing visions of the future and providing immediate difficulties in caring for and educating a child. Parents of children with developmental issues must be fierce advocates to make sure their children receive the services, therapy, schooling, and inclusion they need and deserve.
  • Learning issues like dyslexia and Central Auditory Processing Disorder often mean children struggle with schoolwork, regardless of their intellectual abilities. These children require specialized learning strategies to help them meet their potential and avoid self-esteem problems and behavioral difficulties. Parents of children with learning-challenges need to be persistent both in working with their reluctant learners and with the schools that must provide the help these children need.
  • Mental health issues can lead to anxiety or depression and involve problems that put family members on a roller coaster of mood swings, crises, and defiance. Parents have to find the right professionals to help and make hard decisions about therapy, medications, and hospitalization. The consequences of missed clues and wrong guesses can be significant.

Adapted from: Mauro, T. (2014). What Are “Special Needs?”