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Who Are Exceptional Children?

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 24, 2014

All children exhibit differences from one another in terms of their physical attributes (e.g., some are shorter, some are stronger) and learning abilities (e.g., some learn quickly and are able to remember and use what they have learned in new situations; others need repeated practice and have difficulty maintaining and generalizing new knowledge and skills). The differences among most children are relatively small, enabling these children to benefit from the general education program. The physical attributes and/or learning abilities of some children, however—those called exceptional children—differ from the norm (either below or above) to such an extent that they require an individualized program of special education and related services to fully benefit from education. The term exceptional children includes children who experience difficulties in learning as well as those whose performance is so superior that modifications in curriculum and instruction are necessary to help them fulfill their potential. Thus, exceptional children is an inclusive term that refers to children with learning and/or behavior problems, children with physical disabilities or sensory impairments, and children who are intellectually gifted or have a special talent. The term students with disabilities is more restrictive than exceptional children because it does not include gifted and talented children. Learning the definitions of several related terms will help you better understand the concept of exceptionality.

Although the terms impairment, disability, and handicap are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Impairment refers to the loss or reduced function of a particular body part or organ (e.g., a missing limb). A disability exists when an impairment limits a person’s ability to perform certain tasks (e.g., walk, see, add a row of numbers) in the same way that most persons do. A person with a disability is not handicapped, however, unless the disability leads to educational, personal, social, vocational, or other problems. For example, if a child who has lost a leg learns to use a prosthetic limb and thus functions in and out of school without problems, she is not handicapped, at least in terms of her functioning in the physical environment.

Handicap refers to a problem or a disadvantage that a person with a disability or an impairment encounters when interacting with the environment. A disability may pose a handicap in one environment but not in another. The child with a prosthetic limb may be handicapped (i.e., disadvantaged) when competing against nondisabled peers on the basketball court but may experience no handicap in the classroom. Individuals with disabilities also experience handicaps that have nothing to do with their disabilities but are the result of negative attitudes and the inappropriate behavior of others who needlessly restrict their access and ability to participate fully in school, work, or community activities.

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