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Article of Interest - Special Needs

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Talking To Kids: Kids With Special Needs
David Sheslow, PhD and D'Arcy Lyness, PhD, Kids Health, June 2002
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Tony has difficulty breathing and uses a nebulizer (say: neh-byoo-lie-zer), a treatment device that helps him to breathe easier. He often runs out of breath when playing sports during recess. Tony's teachers have mentioned that he has "special needs," which is why he can't run a lot during gym glass, can't always play outdoors, and has to go to the emergency department sometimes when his breathing gets bad. Tony has severe asthma, and when it flares up, it can be hard for him to breathe.

Sara has a condition called cerebral palsy, so it is difficult for her to walk and move like everyone else. She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. She enjoys school, likes to read, and has lots of close friends who know she's a great person. But sometimes she needs extra help, like having her books brought to her, having doors held open for her, and using ramps to get into buildings. If places she tries to go to with her friends aren't accessible by wheelchair, there's no way for Sara to get inside with everyone else.

Read on to find out more about kids with special needs and what life is like for kids with these challenges.

What Are Special Needs?
There are many different people in the world, and each one is special. However, some people may have physical or mental challenges that require extra help or assistance.

"Special needs describes the extra amount of personal care and attention that is needed to help kids with any type of physical or mental challenge lead a comfortable lifestyle," says Paul Wichansky, MS, a motivational speaker from New Jersey. Mr. Wichansky leads a program called "Taking the 'Dis' Out of Disability," and he visits New Jersey schools to talk to kids about people with special needs.

Special needs can be anything from getting daily shots for children with diabetes to requiring certain bathrooms and classrooms in schools for kids with physical disabilities. Some special needs are:

  • medical conditions, like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or diabetes

  • learning disabilities, such as dyslexia

  • mental health conditions, like anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • speech or hearing difficulties

Kids with special needs are not really different; they just need extra help doing certain tasks. Some of your best friends might have special needs, and you can learn a lot by talking to these friends and asking them questions.

But They Don't Look Any Different!
Some people have special needs that you can notice, like Sara who uses a wheelchair or a cane, and others have special needs that you wouldn't know just by looking at them. Although Tony has special needs, too, he looks just like a regular kid until his asthma acts up.

Another kid, Sandra, has trouble reading. She has a learning disability called dyslexia (say: dis-lek-see-uh), and she reads books that are different than what most other kids in her class read. Sandra has special needs, too.

Although her needs are probably not as noticeable as Sara's or maybe even Tony's, they are just as important. She needs extra help with homework and studying, and also has a special teacher, called a tutor, who teaches her new words and ideas. When she's not in school, Sandra likes to hang out with her friends and talk about clothes and music just like other girls her age.

What Is Life Like for Someone With Special Needs?
During one of his workshops, a fifth grader told Mr. Wichansky, "I always thought that people with special needs had difficult lives, but now I know that when they think positive, their life may be as good as mine or even better." This is true.

For some kids with special needs, life can be extra challenging, whereas others may need just a bit of help and attention to get along. Many children have special teachers or therapists who help them learn new skills.

Some kids will always need medical equipment to help them get around, like a wheelchair or walker. Kids with diabetes usually need to check their blood sugar level by pricking their finger before mealtimes to see if they need a shot of insulin to help keep their bodies healthy. Some kids have to see certain medical doctors a lot, or they need help from other people who are trained to help them live the very best that they can with their condition.

For example, Tony has to visit a doctor called an allergist (say: ah-ler-jist) once a month. This type of doctor cares for people with allergies and asthma. Tony has to take allergy medicines that sometimes make him feel sleepy. He also carries an inhaler (a small pump-like container that has medicine in it). Tony uses the inhaler to help him breathe when he's having an asthma attack.

How You Can Help a Friend With Special Needs
Although each person is different, we all have one thing in common. We all have or want to have friends. It's important to help your friends and others with special needs. You can do this by offering your help and making them feel OK about their physical or mental conditions.

Here are some other ways to help classmates or others with special needs:

  • If some of your classmates are teasing your friend, you can help by talking to a teacher or telling them to stop.

  • If a friend feels depressed about his special needs, give him your time and listen to his feelings and thoughts.

  • Help friends or classmates who have physical needs by asking if you can push their wheelchair or get their school supplies if they can't do so themselves.

  • Remember to treat your friend with special needs just like you would your other friends. Invite your friend to have pizza or go to the mall with you.

  • You can also help kids with special needs by learning more about what their specific need is and being positive. Having a positive attitude, combined with enthusiasm for getting to know others is catching, according to Mr. Wichansky. Everyone benefits from a positive attitude!

As you grow up, you'll meet lots of people in this world with different needs and special gifts. You'll be sure to learn a lot from being around people who are different than you are and who can share their experiences with you.


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