If you think your child or student has special needs, you’re far from alone. There are around 350,000 children in the UK who have learning difficulties – and this is only one of the special needs we will cover today.
Fortunately, we live in a world where it’s never been easier to receive the right special education. Here’s what you need to know about special needs children, how you can identify their needs, and how you can help them!
DEFINING SPECIAL NEEDS
First, let’s immediately overcome certain stigmas regarding special needs. If you have a picture in your mind of a “special needs child”, then erase it.
There is no uniform definition for a child with special needs. The term “special needs” means exactly what it sounds like, and every child will have their own unique needs based on its own medical condition when it comes to learning, behaviour, and interactivity.
The term is too broad to define as it covers a wide range of issues, but several differences are responsible for the majority of special needs in children, including:
- ADD/ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]
The list continues, and each difference needs a proper learning, health and care plan. We used the phrase “differences” because “disability”, “impairment” and “disorder” come with negative connotations.
For this particular list, students do not have an inherent hindrance to their ability to learn, it is simply that they learn differently from the majority of their peers. This has nothing to do with intelligence and it means that their needs will have to be accommodated, hence the term “special needs”.
There are genetic disorders that will hinder a child’s ability to learn in a classroom setting. A genetic disorder can also be tied into most common types of differences, starting from learning disability, intellectual disability, visual impairment and up to cerebral palsy and more. Genetic disorders such as Down’s Syndrome and PTLS (Potocki-Lupski syndrome), but fall into a different category than learning difficulties. However, children with these syndromes (as well as others) will also have special needs in the classroom and often throughout their lives.
Although, you should remember that a child does not require any psychological or medical diagnosis to have special needs in a classroom setting.
COMMON SPECIAL NEEDS IN CHILDREN
Let’s go over these common conditions briefly and discuss how children tend to operate with these conditions, as well as the common signs, and how you can help.
Again, we’re only touching briefly upon each of these, so we strongly encourage you to continue your research and education on each common learning difference, especially if you believe your child or student has one. Testing is always appropriate, even if you only have mild suspicion.
Autism is a perfect example of special needs because it is also difficult to define. Autism, like special needs in general, is a spectrum. It is common to live into adulthood without ever being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The spectrum is considered a developmental disorder that can even lead to physical disabilities and neurodevelopmental disorders in the long term, but it is so broad that it often goes undetected.
While there are screening tools and tests for autism disorders between the ages of 18 and 24 months, it is unlikely that autistic children will be diagnosed before the age of two. Also, autism diagnosis is not one hundred per cent secure, so several tests might give a proper answer.
Unfortunately, there is a bit of a gender gap in these diagnoses. When the initial research on autism was conducted in the mid-20th century, the studies included almost entirely boys. Girls with autism are still feeling the effects of that discrepancy today, as they are more likely to receive a diagnosis later in life than boys on average.
SIGNS OF AUTISM
Again, the spectrum is very broad and the signs are different for every child, and children with autism spectrum or that have been identified with autism might or might not have developmental disorders. Autism spectrum disorder will present as anything from very mild social-development quirks to extreme behavioural issues and more. This is why testing is so important.
Common signs among 2- to 4-year-old children include lacking social skills such as:
- Not responding to their name
- Avoiding eye contact
- Choosing to play alone
- Not understanding concepts like sharing or taking turns
- Avoiding physical contact
- Difficulty expressing or understanding feelings
There are also many behavioural, communicative, and other signs. Delayed speech, hyperactivity, obsessiveness, impulsivity, and aggression are other common types of within this age group, but these can also show up later, mainly during primary school children.
HELPING CHLIDREN WITH AUTISM
Children with disabilities like autism or autistic spectrum disorder will have very different needs from one another. An individual education plan (IEP) is necessary to take on the unique needs of each specific child.
Limiting loud noises and offering sensory assistance such as fidget toys or a weighted blanket will help to keep most children with autism calm.
However, a diagnosis is required for this documentation, so if your student is exhibiting several signs of autism, testing is the best way to help. Encourage their parents to seek testing for autism as soon as possible.
We hate to put these two together, as there are major differences. However, there are several common signs and traits among these two, and there were situations where a dual diagnosis has happened.
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is exactly how it sounds. Children with this condition have a difficult time holding their attention, and it often comes with a tendency to hyper-fixate on certain tasks that interest them.
Parents of children with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) have stated that their children find it difficult to focus on tasks or anything that lacks their desired level of stimulation and have shown poor memory on general information. This can display as fidgeting, excessive talking, and an inability to sit still or remain calm.
Signs of ADD
ADD will present itself in different ways from child to child, but a few common signs include:
- Lacking attention to detail
- Poor memory
- Poor executive function
If your student exhibits the majority, or at least a fair amount, of these traits, then testing is important. Traditional school learning is often very challenging for students with undiagnosed ADD.
Signs of ADHD
Most often, children with ADHD will find it difficult to learn in a sit-down classroom setting, as they prefer to be moving and trying activities out for themselves. The signs of ADD listed above are also very common for children with ADHD, but there are some unique differences.
An inability to concentrate, excessive physical movement, and acting without thinking are all common signs of ADHD, but a diagnosis will be required.
Helping Children With ADD/ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]
Children with both conditions tend to prefer variety in their routine but with some structure. They tend to do well with guided activities where they get to learn the world by doing, rather than being told.
Again, the needs of children with ADD and ADHD will vary widely. An IEP is often a positive solution to help them learn the best way they can.
There are also medications and treatments for these disorders that will help students focus and perform better in school, but again, this will require a diagnosis and specified testing.
DYSLEXIA, DYSCALCULIA, AND DYSGRAPHIA
This is a very common learning difference that accounts for up to 80% of people with reading disorders. Dyslexia is a very common neurological disorder that makes it difficult for children to read at a fast pace without making mistakes.
Similarly, dysgraphia is another common neurological disorder where children have difficulty putting their thoughts onto paper. This could be trouble with writing, spelling, and grammar.
Also, dyscalculia is very similar to dyslexia, only that it affects a person’s ability to process numbers instead of letters, words, and sentences. Although, dyscalculia and dysgraphia are less common than dyslexia.
Children with these learning differences, although we hate to lump them together in special schools, are not hindered at all in their intelligence, eyesight, or anything else so many of them can attend regular, mainstream schools without any issues. These have specific symptoms that can be overcome with proper assistance, and support for parents of children with these differences.
SIGNS OF THESE LEARNING DISORDERS
Late talking, learning words slowly, and a delay in learning how to read are the most common early signs of dyslexia. If students are falling behind in reading and speech, testing is appropriate.
Most often, older children with dyslexia will complain about how difficult reading is. However, if left untreated at the right age, children with dyslexia have been known to finish high school without ever learning to read fluently.
This will only harm a person’s self-esteem later in life, so proper treatment as early as possible is very beneficial.
CARE FOR CHILDREN WITH THESE LEARNING DISORDERS
Children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia are more than capable of success with proper tutoring and teaching, and though they are marked as special needs students, and many still associate these with severe cognitive impairments and motor skills issues, which we assure you it is not the case. An IEP is not always required, but a diagnosis will help.
If you believe that your student has dyslexia, contact their doctor or therapist about an appointment and see if they can be diagnosed. If so, work with your student’s parents and find an experienced tutor to help them reach their reading goals. Again, the sooner, the better.
HELP YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
Now that you know how to best help your special needs children, it’s important to remember that the sooner you have them tested, the better. Learning disabilities, when left without the proper treatment, can hinder a child’s development.
Get your child the help they need, stay up to date with our latest news, and feel free to contact us with any questions!