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Most Common Special Needs

Dear Elizabeth,
Iím concerned about the development of one of the children in my care. How can his family and I find out if he has special needs and how can we respond to them?
Connie Reid
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
High-Incidence Special Needs
  • Speech and/ or language delays
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cognitive delays
  • Social & emotional disorders
  • Learning differences/disabilities
Supporting Special Needs
  • Be aware of typical developmental milestones
  • Document behavior & share observations
  • Request a developmental evaluation
  • Respond to individual needs as soon as possible
Expert Advice
Lucia Ortiz, M.Ed.
Lucia Ortiz, M.Ed.
Special needs information specialist
Common Types of Special Needs
When a child is young, he or she may have a developmental delay. This is a term that means an infant or child is developing slower than normal in one or more areas. For example, he or she may not be speaking when most children of that age are. Some of the most common special needs that young children are diagnosed with are:

  • Speech and/or language delays
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Cognitive delays
  • Social & emotional disorders
  • Learning differences/disabilities
Warning Signs
Parents and providers should be aware of some of the early signs that a child may have a delay.

Speech and Language Delays
Kids may have trouble producing speech sounds, using spoken language to communicate, or understanding what other people say. So for example, by the age of 2, kids have an average of about 50 words; by 2 Ĺ they have about 500 words and begin putting words together, like ďmom water.Ē By 3 there should be phrases, etc. Even though all children develop at a different pace, if a child is very behind in meeting these milestones, there could be reason for concern. Speech and language delays can also occur with other kinds of developmental delays.

Autism affects three different developmental areas as early as 18 months:

  • Language -- There are communication delays, not just language delays. For example, some children with autism may have a lot of language or words, but they donít use them to communicate. They may have memorized and be able to recite a whole book, but canít communicate that they would like a glass of water.
  • Social Skills -- Lack of interaction with others. Kids with autism donít have the same kind of socialization skills you would expect to see in other typical kids. Many times they wonít make eye contact and may appear not to hear you.
  • -Behavior -- There is often a display of repetitive behaviors, such as turning in circles or flapping their hands. They develop specific routines and rituals and may become disturbed when these are changed or altered in any way.
Severe regression Ė for example, the loss of previously acquired language Ė can also be a warning sign of autism.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Thereís 3 different types of ADHD:

  • Inattention -- A child canít focus and is easily distracted. Hyperactivity/Impulsivity -- Excessive energy to the point where a child canít sit still or is fidgety. Combined Type -- A child displays signs of both Inattention and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity, and the symptoms have persisted for at least 6 months. Cognitive Delays
    Refers to delays in all areas, more of a global delay. For example, if your child is 2-years-old, but her motor skills, such as walking or stacking blocks, and are that of a 6-month-old and she has no language, this could be reason for concern.

    Social/Emotional Disorders
    A child may show issues with trust-building and attachment, difficulty forming and maintaining friendships, inappropriate play skills for his age. This is sometimes very apparent in children whose parents immigrate and bring the kids to join them a little later. The changes that the child goes through can many times lead to these social/ emotional disorders.

    Learning Disabilities
    Delays in learning and learning disabilities are many times diagnosed later in age.

    Parents, caregivers, and others that impact the lives of young children must be familiar with the broad aspects of development. It is important to have an idea of the milestones a child should be meeting at different ages. This will help to determine if a child is developing like other children his/her age. Because you spend so much time with your child, you know him better than anyone, so sometimes itís a gut feeling that something is not right.

    First Step
    When there is a concern of a potential special need, the adult should make observations and make note of it. To get a clearer picture of the childís skills, observations should be made over a period of time and in different environments. All caretakers should have input about the skills they have observed the child perform while in their care.

    If there is a concern, the child should be evaluated by a professional. Some children develop more slowly than others or develop in ways that seem different from other children. This can cause parents to worry. If a parent thinks that his/her child is not developing at the same pace or in the same way as most children his or her age, it is often a good idea to talk first to the childís pediatrician or health provider. Parents should explain their concerns and tell the doctor what they have observed with their child.

    Developmental Evaluations
    Families can seek out developmental evaluations by speaking with the childís pediatrician. The pediatrician can refer the child for an evaluation to private providers using the childís insurance or to the stateís Child Find program. If youíre concerned that your pediatrician isnít addressing your concerns, each state has programs in place that evaluate children for free when there is a concern with their development. For children birth up to their third birthday, the program is called Early Intervention. For children three and up, the services are known as special education and are provided through your local school district.

    After the developmental evaluation is conducted, the family will be given information about their childís skills in the different areas of development. Those skills are compared to what an average child of that age should be doing. If the comparison shows a delay, then the child may need to receive some level of service depending on his or her needs (i.e. physical therapy, speech therapy, etc).

    Work Together
    All of the people involved with the childís care should work together as a team to help the child succeed. The team members need to communicate their concerns as well as share strategies that they use with the child. They need to collaborate with each other to make sure that the childís individual needs are met. The team should work toward goals that will help the child progress, they should build on the childís strengths, and they should keep track of what works or doesnít work.

    Early Intervention
    Early intervention is crucial. If there is a delay, itís important to identify it as soon as possible so that families can begin to implement strategies that will help benefit their kids and help build on their strengths. The sooner a potential delay is addressed, the better chance a child has to receive the kind of care and support he deserves.
Child Care Provider Comments
Paola Cervantes
Paola Cervantes
Son has autism
My suggestion to other parents who might be fearful of what a developmental evaluation may reveal is to really question themselves as to why they have this fear. What they may find is that the fear is not about your child, itís about you. Once you come to an understanding about that, then you can put that aside and really focus on whatís best for your child. If youíre afraid of the label that may result from an evaluation, remember that label might not always be there. As your child starts to grow and you focus on the quality of care and services for your child, that label may disappear. If you can set aside whatever negativity and fear you might experience at first then you can immediately be there for your child.
Janis Sanders
Janis Sanders
Grandmother of four
My grandson has a speech/language delay as a result of his hearing loss. We noticed that from an early age he seemed to not respond to us. Trying to get his attention was very hard. He was always frustrated and irritated. Now, he has a hearing aid and has been working with a speech and language therapist. Heís also in a classroom with other typical kids, and I think thatís helped him a lot. I feel that being around other kids has helped to encourage him to do his best and to feel independent.
Marianella Hickery
Marianella Hickery
Child care provider for 20 years
If you suspect a child in your care might have special needs, the first step is to observe and document everything Ė all the behavior you see and any warning signs you think are present. This way you have a record of all the behaviors to show the parents so that it becomes more concrete than just saying, ďYour son was doing something odd the other day.Ē As child care providers, we arenít experts. All we can do is give parents the tools they need to then seek out an evaluation. Itís important that parents know that weíre all on the same side and will be there to support them and their child.

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