Parenting Special Needs Children
Our society has only recently begun to understand and recognize that some children, often because of circumstances beyond their control, have unique needs. These needs relate to a group of disabilities that involve problems in seeing, hearing, walking, talking, climbing, or lifting or in providing self-care tasks known as activities of daily living (ADLs) (Hildebrand et al., 2000). These needs create unusual demands on family systems and parents. In some situations, children have unique developmental difficulties and problems that label them as exceptional. In this regard, the term refers to individuals who are different in some manner from the large majority of others their age. Other children have special needs because of chronic, life-threatening illnesses, such as AIDS, diabetes, or cancer.
In the past, little support was available in most communities for assisting these individuals and their families in meeting their special needs. For some children, negative community attitudes and labels served as forms of discrimination that prevented access to the life experiences and community services available to those with normal developmental abilities. In many respects, early efforts to provide services for individuals and families with special needs could be called segregated services, since these were provided under separate support when children were isolated from others (Hildebrand et al., 2000). Negative social stigma is still evident in many cases, particularly for those individuals with chronic illnesses, such as AIDS.
Community-based programs for assisting these individuals and their families have been developed only recently. Generally, the field of special education, which serves those individuals who need such services in their hometowns, has emerged only within the last 30 years. Certainly, a variety of legislative acts at state and federal levels have assisted in bringing about the widespread availability of such services at the community level.
Characteristics of Children with Special Needs
The definition of exceptional children, or those with special needs, was formerly restricted to those with emotional, developmental, or mental difficulties that placed them at a disadvantage in comparison with others or that incapacitated them in their ability to function within the larger society. More recently, however, the meaning of exceptionality has broadened to include those groups of individuals with learning disabilities and other handicaps, as well as those with chronic and terminal illness (Rigazio-DiGilio & Cramer-Benjamin, 2000). Children with special needs in the student population of the United States are generally about 13 percent. In general, males outnumber females who have special needs. For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), formerly included as a learning disability, stands on its own as a separate and distinct condition requiring special needs attention. The classification scheme is so broad that intellectually gifted children also have been termed exceptional because these individuals and their needs are often misunderstood by others in their community. The process of including a child in any of these categories often involves extensive, comprehensive evaluations by a variety of medical, psychological, and educational professionals.
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