The Face of an Exceptional Child

All of us has probably seen that second-grade boy acting like a four-year-old. Or maybe that girl with a disproportionate build, poor posture, narrow eyes, and what seems like an inverted nose. Or maybe that 10-year-old who throws a tantrum like a whining baby, inadvertently hurting himself with pounding fists. This is an all common sight. Children with special needs are everywhere, and they continue to increase in number every day. With so many disabilities and disorders diagnosed, it’s quite hard to imagine how they will be able to live normal lives like other children. What do we know about disability? And how can this knowledge help us in dealing with them?

Disability is used to refer to a spectrum of chronic disorders typically occurring before the age of 22 and lasts for a lifetime. This may include physical, mental, and social impairments. Some are congenital, others are acquired, and may even be genetic. Disabilities that occur during childhood years are referred to as developmental disorders.

Categories of Developmental Disorders. Developmental disorders may be brought about by a number of different factors, and are subdivided into the following subgroups. Neurodevelopmental disabilities are those involving the brain, spinal cord and nervous system, thus affecting motor and cognitive functions, among others. Hearing and visual impairments are also another type of disorders, affecting the child’s sense of hearing, speaking and seeing. This may require assistive devices, materials and strategies for the child to use in order to communicate with others. Disabilities may also include degenerative disorders, wherein children may appear healthy and normal-functioning at birth, while disorders surface later on in life, lagging the child behind the required developmental milestones for his age. These disabilities may be categorized through severity levels, namely, mild, moderate, severe or profound, depending on the amount of support the child needs. Some children are trainable, which means they are best taught skills for daily living, like in vocational training programs. Some children are educable, meaning they are best included in the regular school, given academic and extracurricular work with the help of classroom modifications and accommodations.

Appropriate Professional Services and Support Systems. Children with disabilities have discrepancies in their day-to-day functioning. For example, they may have difficulty getting along with peers, sustaining normal conversation, or taking care of their own needs. It is vital, therefore, that these children receive support and training from various professionals to ensure that they get the most out of what they are able to do. Developmental pediatricians are important for a medical diagnosis. This will set the child in line to the appropriate services he needs, like occupational, physical or speech therapy. Some may enroll in special education or vocational training programs. There are also psychotherapy and counselling services for children with emotional disorders.

In modern times, the stigma of children with disabilities being “abnormal” or “retarded” has gradually vanished. Due to education and awareness of these children, it is now easier to imagine that despite their disabilities, they too, are just like all children are.