Children with special needs

It's likely your search for quality child care may be challenging under the best of circumstances, but if you have children with special needs, the difficulty increases substantially. “Special needs” is a broad category, covering basically normal kids who need special handling to children who are severely developmentally or physically challenged. What follows is not a comprehensive guide, but a starting point that can help you define your particular situation and guide you to further resources.


Normal but Difficult

Difficult kids are, well... difficult. They may display bad tempers, overly aggressive behavior, problems with routines and transitions or excessive negativity. They may be very sensitive to any number of things that other kids take in stride. A difficult child can be very hard to handle in a group care situation and can alienate an in-home provider before she's had a chance to hang up her coat. Many day care centers will not tolerate difficult children; they simply kick them out of the program. In-home providers just quit.

If you have a difficult child, you need to factor his behavior into your child care search right from the start. Confronting the issue head on will save you problems later. Discuss with center staff or prospective in-home providers any behavioral issues your child may have. You want child care providers who are willing to accommodate difficult children and have experience in working with them. It's appropriate to ask a provider how she may handle a specific situation. Also, make it clear that you expect to be part of any policy or procedure directed at helping your child feel more comfortable in her care situation. Certain options for dealing with behavioral issues may require changes at home.


Children with Learning Disabilities

A learning disability affects a child's ability to process, interpret and understand what he sees and hears. Learning disabilities can be mild to very severe, though most can be accommodated quite effectively. Early detection is key.


How to Detect a Learning Disability

Learning disabilities often are not apparent in a very young child, but as your child reaches pre-school age (three to four years old) certain indications may arise. Your child may:

  • Begin talking later than his peers
  • Have trouble finding the right words
  • Show difficulty in following instructions
  • Be extremely restless
  • Display inappropriate behavior with peers
  • Show a lack of physical coordination


By the elementary years, learning disabilities are easier to identify. Your child may:

  • Have difficulty learning the connection between letters and sounds
  • Confuse simple words
  • Transpose numbers and letters
  • Have difficulty following simple directions
  • Be impulsive and lack planning skills
  • Have excessively poor handwriting and/or have trouble gripping a pencil effectively
  • Be unable to grasp the concept of time
  • Speak more slowly than peers


None of these symptoms necessarily indicates a learning disability. They should, however, alert you to the possibility of a problem.


If you suspect that your child may have a learning disability, it is important to keep a record of his behavior. When taking note of the symptoms, the meaningful questions you should ask yourself are:

  • When - when does the behavior typically occur, alone or in a group?
  • Where - in the home, in the care situation, at a friend's house?
  • What - what other influences could be a factor? Peers, family members, hunger, anger, fatigue.
  • How often - every day, once a week?
  • How long - a few minutes, 30 minutes?


Ask your child's caregivers or teachers to record similar observations. These professionals are in a good position to determine whether he has attained various developmental milestones and their observations will help provide a complete picture. A month of observation provides a good context for assessing whether your child should undergo diagnostic testing, the only way to confirm a learning disability. Your child's pediatrician is another excellent resource for developmental benchmarking. In addition, vision and hearing tests may uncover problems that initially manifest themselves as learning disabilities. Any source of turbulence in your child's life may cause him temporary learning problems that may appear to be learning disabilities.


How to Obtain Testing

If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, you may request diagnostic testing from your local public school system. You have a legal right to do so under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).If your child has been in a school or care situation for some time, itis possible that a care provider or someone within the school system will suggest your child be tested for a learning disability. This can be quite upsetting, particularly if you do not have your own concerns. But regard a suggestion as simply information that needs to be considered in light of what you already know about your child. And remember, diagnostic testing cannot be done without your consent.


To arrange for testing, contact the special education department of the public school district in which you reside. If your child is under three, ask for information on early intervention programs. Even if your child attends a private school that accepts no federal funding, and is therefore not subject to IDEA, you are still entitled to free testing through the public school system. Regardless of your individual situation, make all requests in writing and keep copies.


Conducted by professionals within the school system, a period of assessment follows a request for testing. The findings of this team ultimately determine the actual need for testing. If a need for testing is not found and you disagree, you may challenge the assessment results. You may request:

  • An informal hearing by other professionals to air your concerns
  • An evaluation by a private psychologist at the school system's expense
  • An administrative review of the assessment process
  • A due process hearing if no resolution can be obtained at the school level. This is a last resort

What the Testing Entails

Once a need for testing has been confirmed, a school psychologist will meet with you. This is a general information session, during which you will be asked about your child's birth, his physical and emotional development and relevant family history relating to learning or developmental disabilities. From this meeting, arrangements will be made to have your child tested according to his age and needs.


Normally, school age children will meet with a psychologist several times while they undergo testing. A session may last from 2-3 hours. Younger children, kindergartners and first graders, will have shorter sessions. Your child will be tested in the following areas:

  • Language, reading, writing and math comprehension
  • Auditory processing
  • Visual processing
  • Memory
  • Physical coordination

Though these tests are not intended to be frightening, it's important that you prepare your child for the test process. Let him know what to expect and communicate that these tests are not a punishment of any kind. They are simply tests to help him learn more easily.


Test Results... What's Next?

Your child's tests will be scored and a diagnosis made. If it is determined that your child has a learning disability, an evaluation team works with you to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This plan generally has two components: a clear description of your child's disability and a set of strategies and objectives to help him continue his education effectively. The IEP meeting generally must take place within 90 days of the initial request for testing.


Testing may not reveal a disability. In which case, other explanations for learning difficulties are explored and recommendations made.


Just as you may challenge the assessment process that determines the need for testing, you may also challenge the test results. Either way, you have the same options.


As a parent, you are one of your child's most important assets in coping with a learning disability. Your confidence in him provides the foundation for his efforts to create a life that is positive and fulfilling.


Children with Handicaps

This is the broadest category. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mentioned in the above section, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require communities using state support to develop programs for children with special needs. These programs are as diverse as the conditions for which they're developed.


Your program is here to help you along the journey of life. No situation is too big or too small. When you and your household members need assistance, reach out anytime and we will help get you on the right path to meet your needs.

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