March 31, 2020

Special Needs Is An
Umbrella Term for A Wide
Array of Diagnoses

Victoria Safdieh

When a couple is blessed with a child, they think about all the fun they will have nurturing the baby and teaching the child everything they know. Sometimes the parents get a wake-up call that stops them in their tracks—the flu, a late milestone, or in some cases a diagnosis of something that most people have never heard of, or never knew existed.

Special needs is an umbrella term for a wide array of diagnoses, some resolve quickly, others are a challenge for life, some are relatively mild, others are more profound. The term special needs can include, but is not limited to developmental delays, medical conditions, genetic disorders, learning disabilities, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or a physical handicap. They all require special accommodations, so the children can reach their full potentials.

No matter the reason, the diagnosis is useful. It can help parents obtain the needed services, set appropriate goals, and gain an understanding of the child and the stresses the family may face. Often, a stressed child will find himself in a stressed home or school environment. True the stressful environment may have been caused by the child with special needs, but the end result is that the child finds himself having to deal with stressed out adults, which is the last thing he needs.

Special needs are commonly defined by what a child can’t domilestones unmet, foods banned, activities avoided, or experiences denied. These hindrances can hit families hard and can make special needs seem like a tragedy. Some parents will always mourn their child’s lost potential and some conditions become more troubling with time. Other families may find their child’s challenges make triumphs sweeter, and that weaknesses are often accompanied by amazing strengths.

Special needs is a very broad term and every situation is unique. Families should focus on seeking the help and guidance needed for their particular concerns.

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are generally the first to realize that a problem exists. When you think about it, psychiatrists, therapists, neurologists, and physiatrists do not stand on street corners, and randomly pick children to evaluate.

Rather, kids are sent to doctors because other people have noticed a problem. Those people, namely parents and teachers are the ones on the front line. When they notice there’s a difference-that’s when the parents seek the help of psychiatrists, neurologists, etc. 

Developmental disabilities can change a parent’s visions of the future and provide immediate difficulties in caring for and educating the child. Diagnoses like autism, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities often cause children to be removed from mainstream settings and schools. Quite often, parents become fierce advocates to make sure their children receive the services, therapy, schooling, and inclusion they need and deserve.

Learning issues: children with learning disabilities like dyslexia, an auditory processing disorder (APD), struggle with schoolwork regardless of their intellectual abilities. They require specialized learning strategies to meet their potential and to avoid self-esteem problems and behavioral difficulties. Parents of learning-challenged kids need to be persistent. This includes working with the child at home, as well as with teachers and schools, to ensure they get all the help they need. They may want to remove the child from a mainstream school and put him in a school that specializes in this area.

Children with behavior issues may not respond to traditional discipline. A diagnosis of ADHD, dysfunction of sensory integration, autism, or Tourette syndrome require specialized strategies that are tailored to their specific needs. Behavior issues can increase the risk of problems at school. The parents need to be flexible, creative, and patient.

Children’s medical issues can include, but are not limited to, serious conditions like heart defects, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, and other genetic diagnoses. A child may need frequent medical testing, hospital stays, equipment, and accommodations for disabilities. Establishing a good support system is very important when dealing with the uncertainty of any medical crisis. 

People will share what they feel is helpful. They will want to try and fix your child’s challenges for you. They may also share their absurd ideas. Take these ideas with a grain of salt, pondering the advice you think might prove useful. Although every child’s special needs are different, and every family is unique, there are some common concerns that link parents. These include getting appropriate care and promoting acceptance in the extended family, school, and community. For some, planning for an uncertain future may be necessary.

Parents might also find themselves adjusting routines and expectations. Sometimes, quite often out of necessity, parents of children with special needs may be more flexible, compassionate, stubborn, and resilient than other parents.

While it may not be something parents had hoped for or expected, it is important for the child that the parents do their best. As parents, you will learn more about yourselves, once you take ownership of the process of dealing with the diagnosis. It is going to be quite a ride, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. So, feel comfortable reaching out for support and as crazy as it sounds now, one day you might want to share your failures and successes to help others.


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