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Children with Disabilities or Special Needs

Disabilities often are not recognised at birth but become noticeable as a child exhibits some type of developmental delay over time. Parents and child care providers are often the first to notice that there might be a developmental delay.

Occasionally you may be asked to care for a child with a disability. The disability may be already identified when the parents come to you, or it may have been noticed after the child became a part of your program.
In many cases children with disabilities can be cared for easily in a regular child care setting. Family child care programs are especially suitable for this situation because they already maintain a flexible program to meet the needs of multi-age groups. Adapting your program for a 2-year-old is not much different from adapting your program for a child with Down's Syndrome.

Children with disabilities benefit greatly from being with other children and from receiving consistent care from an adult over a period of years. Children without disabilities also benefit by learning how to assist, help, and respect a child who may have needs different from their own.

Children with special needs are like all children. They need to be physically comfortable, feel loved and secure, and have opportunities to play that help the body and mind grow and develop. Existing toys and equipment usually are adequate or easily adapted to their needs. Often, these children are not so different. They need more time to learn and practice skills; they need more praise and encouragement to gain the skills typical for their age group.

Ideas to Help Children with Special Needs

Children with disabilities may have specific needs based on their impairment, but the following are some general ways in which you can help.

1. Modify Toys

Regular toys can be modified or changed to suit a special need. For example, a child may have difficulty with stacking rings. Simplify the game by removing every other ring.

2. Set Goals

Parents, consultants, and caregivers need to set goals together. Goals should be simple and should match the abilities of the child. For instance, choose a goal to get Chad to point at a toy rather than to get Chad to talk.

3. Make Slight Environment Changes

Slight adjustments in the environment may make the time that a child with special needs spends in your home easier and pace for play may help an overactive child. A child with poor vision will benefit from a room that is kept constant. Children who have difficulty standing alone can crawl into cubes or barrels without tops. They then can pull themselves up, hang on to the edges, and watch others from this new, upright point of view.

4. Model Appropriate Behaviour

Children with disabilities are sometimes hesitant to play with others. You can model appropriate play behaviours by being a play partner. As the child becomes more comfortable, you can invite other children to join your play activity.

5. Teach Specific Skills to a Child with Disabilities that will Help Her Seek Playmates and be a Playmate

Learning how to look directly at another child when speaking or how to say "May I play?" are big steps for some children.

6. Teach Non-disabled Children how to with Children Who May have a Disability

Model understanding and acceptance through actions and words. Teach children specific skills. For instance, a gentle touch on the shoulder of a child with a hearing impairment, or a direct look at him while talking, are effective ways of getting his attention.

7. Look for Strengths as well as Needs

Provide opportunities and activities that will support those strengths. Avoid becoming too focused on a child's disability. Treat each child as a whole person. Every child needs to feel successful and capable.

8. Consult with Parents, Health Care Professionals and Early Childhood Specialists

Parents and specialists can provide specific information and suggestions for working with a child who has disabilities.

Characteristics of Specific Disabilities and how you can Help

The following information may be useful to you in determining the specific handicap that a child may have, either when you are considering accepting the child in your care or if she is already in your care.

Visual Disabilities

Hearing Disabilities

Mental Disabilites

Behavioural Disabilities

Physical Disabilites

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care- NNCC. Oesterreich, L. (1995).Children with Disabilities or Special Needs. In L. Oesterreich, B. Holt, & S. Karas, Iowa family child care handbook [Pm 1541] (pp. 192-196). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.