Special Needs Children – Know the Types and Know Your Rights

18.5% of American Children under age 18 are Special Needs Children.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t smart, talented or capable.  Just that they have specific challenges that a “normal” student would not face.

There are four major types of special needs children:

  1. Physical – muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy, etc.
  2. Developmental – down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders
  3. Behavioral/Emotional – ADD, bi-polar, oppositional defiance disorder, etc.
  4. Sensory Impaired – Blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing

Is your child being treated humanely?  Know your rights.

  1. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
    1. Students with disabilities must be prepared for further education, employment and independent living
    2. If a child’s strengths, endurance, or stamina cannot keep up with school activities, they qualify for “other health impaired” special education status
  2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    1. Prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities
    2. Requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students
    3. Students with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity can qualify as disabled (learning and social deficits too)
  3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
    1. Schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems
  4. No Child Left Behind
    1. Schools must uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities


Whether you already know or just believe your child may have special medical needs, finding the proper medical professional greatly enhances your ability to care for your child.  Consider location if your child will need regular visits, you don’t want to have to drive for hours to see a specialist.  You want someone non-threatening who is understanding and able to accommodate special needs.  Larger medical practices may have more experience in expediting insurance procedures or advocating for your child.  Your doctor needs to be available to you when notes to school and other information is needed.  Perhaps, most important is quality of service.  Every doctor is different and their knowledge of your child’s special needs may be different.  Don’t hesitate to schedule a short “meet and greet” to get to know a doctor first.

*with thanks to Masters in Special Education Program Guide