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What are Special Needs


Special Needs*


In the United States, special needs is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological. For instance, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases 9th edition both give guidelines for clinical diagnosis. Types of special needs vary in severity. People with Autism, Down syndrome, Dyslexia, Blindness, ADHD, or Cystic Fibrosis, for example, may be considered to have special needs. However, special needs can also include cleft lips and or palates, port wine birth marks, or missing limbs.

See the Person not the DisabilityIn the United States, 18.5 percent of all children under the age of 18 (over 13.5 million children) had special health care needs as of 2005. Although every special needs person is different and every family is unique, there are some common concerns that link parents of challenged peope, including: getting appropriate care and accommodations; promoting acceptance in the extended family, school and community; planning for an uncertain future; and adjusting routines and expectations. Parents of children with special needs are often more flexible, compassionate, stubborn and resilient than other parents. They have to be.



U.S. Special Needs Adoption Statistics


In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 has focused more attention on finding homes for children with special needs and making sure they receive the post-adoption services they need. Pre-adoption services are also of critical importance to ensure that adoptive parents are well prepared and equipped with the necessary resources for a successful adoption. The United States Congress enacted the law to ensure that children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their birth parents are freed for adoption and placed with permanent families as quickly as possible.


Special Education Needs


Teacher and pupil The term Special Needs is a short version of Special Education Needs and is a way to refer to students with disabilities. The term Special Needs in the education setting comes into play whenever a child's education program is officially altered from what would normally be provided to students through an Individual Education Plan which is sometimes referred to as an Individual Program plan.



Special Needs: One Term, Many Definitions


"Special Needs" is an umbrella underneath which a staggering array of diagnoses can be wedged. Children with special needs may have mild learning disabilities or profound cognitive impairment; food allergies or terminal illness; developmental delays that catch up quickly or remain entrenched; occasional panic attacks or serious psychiatric problems. The designation is useful for getting needed services, setting appropriate goals, and gaining understanding for a child and stressed family.


Minuses and Pluses


Imagine, Believe, Achieve

"Special needs" are commonly defined by what a child can't do -- by milestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided, experiences denied. These minuses hit families hard, and may make "special needs" seem like a tragic designation. Some parents will always mourn their child's lost potential, and many conditions become more troubling with time.

Other families may find that their child's challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths.




Different Concerns


Pick any two families of children with special needs, and they may seem to have little in common. A family dealing with developmental delays will have different concerns than one dealing with chronic illness, which will have different concerns than one dealing with mental illness or learning problems or behavioral challenges. This Parenting Special Needs site devotes sections to the following specific issues: medical, behavioral, developmental, learning, and mental health.


Medical Isssues


Wheel Chair Bound

Medical issues for children include serious conditions like cancer and 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.





Behavioral Issues


Children with behavior issues don't respond to traditional discipline. With diagnoses like ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Dysfunction of Sensory Integration, and Tourette Syndrome, they require specialized strategies that are tailored to their specific abilities and disabilities. If those strategies are not developed and used, kids with behavior issues throw their families into chaos and are seriously at risk for school problems. Their parents need to be flexible and creative.


Developmental Issues


Father and Son

Developmental 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. Diagnoses like Autism, Down Syndrome and intellectual disabilities often cause children to be removed from the mainstream, and parents must be fierce advocates to make sure their children receive the services, therapy, schooling, and inclusion they need and deserve.



Learning Issues


Impossible is I'm Possible

Children with learning disabilities like dyslexia and Central Auditory Processing Disorder struggle with schoolwork regardless of their intellectual abilities. They require specialized learning strategies to meet their potential and avoid self-esteem problems and behavioral difficulties. Parents of learning-challenged kids 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


Problems with anxiety or depression can sneak up on parents; problems with attachment may smack them right in the face. Living with a child with mental health issues can put family members on a roller coaster of mood swings and 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.



* Definitions are provided by Wikipedia. Other online resources are available.