Defining Special Needs

Special needs can be in the area of mental, social, emotional, or physical development. Children's disabilities vary both in form and in degree of severity. They include, but are not limited to, physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy; auditory or visual disabilities; health impairments (asthma, cystic fibrosis, AIDS); developmental disabilities (mental retardation, learning disabilities); emotional disabilities; and speech/language disabilities. 

An individual may be diagnosed with more than one disability. For example, a child with Down syndrome may have mental retardation, speech difficulties, and heart problems. Depending on how broadly the definition is applied, between 10% and 20% of all children can be considered to have special needs. Over the last several years, great strides have been made in the field of developmental disabilities and special needs. Positive changes in the attitudes and practices of professionals, emphasis on family-focused intervention, and enhanced public awareness have all reinforced the fact that people with special needs are first and foremost people - with interests, desires, and expectations similar to those of typically developing peers.

The information in this Module is being provided in order to help you understand the special needs of the children receiving respite services.  This information is not to be used to diagnose children - this is not the role of the respite care provider.

Many myths exist about people with disabilities. Through misinformation and/or prejudice, fears, and negative attitudes have developed. The following are common myths and misconceptions. Respite Providers need to be concerned with facts.


Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services