BY NATHAN DUKE
Special needs is a term that covers a variety of diagnoses for individuals who require assistance for disabilities that are medical, mental or psychological.
Children with special needs can be those with life-debilitating ailments or mild learning disorders. The term covers developmental delays as well as medical, psychiatric and congenital conditions. Approximately 18.5 percent of youths under age 18—or, an estimated 13.5 million children—in the United States are considered special needs children, according to the Masters in Special Education Degree Program Guide’s website.
Congress passed a bill in the mid-1970s to address the educational needs of special needs children and, in 1990, it was reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The goal of the IDEA Act was to ensure that children with disabilities are prepared for further education, employment and living independently from their families.
U.S. law prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities and requires schools to provide accommodations for students with varying disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—which was also passed in 1990—schools are required to meet the needs of psychiatric problems. And the No Child Left Behind Act—passed in 2001—required that schools uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities.
There are four major categories for special needs children. These include:
Physical — This category includes muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy and other disorders.
Developmental — Some developmental disabilities include Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia and processing disorders.
Behavioral/Emotional — Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), bipolar disorder and oppositional defiance disorder are considered behavioral or emotional disorders.
Sensory Impaired — Children who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or have limited hearing would be included in this category.
Developmental delays can often be spotted during a child’s first year of life. Although children develop at different rates, there are specific milestones that parents can look out for regarding the four categories of special needs.
By the age of 3 months, most children should be able to lift their head or chest when lying on their stomach, follow moving objects with their eyes, turn their heads toward bright colors or the sound of human voices, smile when others smile at them or communicate hunger or discomfort.
By 6 months, children typically should be able to reach and grasp for objects, roll over, sit with little support, imitate familiar actions from adults, recognize familiar faces and babble. And by 12 months, most children are able to drink from a cup with help, crawl, walk with assistance, copy sounds and actions made by others and understand simple commands.
There are also early warning signs for autism—such as a child not responding to his or her name by 12 months, delayed speech or language skills, avoiding eye contact or becoming upset by small changes in daily routines—and dyslexia—for example, children who are not able to read at grade level, those who daydream a lot or students who do well on oral, but not written, tests.
Also, check out our story on the various early intervention services for children on page 16 of the Queens Tribune’s special needs section.
Reach editor-in-chief Nathan Duke via email at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 122.