What Does it Mean to be a Person with Special Needs?
Thursday, June 20th, 2013
Here at M&L Special Needs Planning, LLC, we are often asked a difficult question: what does it mean to be a person with special needs?
That can sometimes be a difficult question to answer; the term “special needs” is a catch-all phrase that can refer to a vast array of diagnoses, ranging from mild conditions (such as slight behavioral disorders) to conditions which have a significant impact on the way an individual lives his or her life. As a result, to be diagnosed as “special needs” can mean many different things to many different people.
Typically, however, individuals with special needs may have been born with a syndrome, terminal illness, profound cognitive impairment, or serious psychiatric problems. Other individuals may have special needs that involve struggling with learning disabilities, food allergies, developmental delays, or panic attacks. In some cases it can refer to the accessibility needs of adults with physical disabilities, or a combination of intellectual, physical, and educational disabilities of a person of any age. Autism, cerebral palsy, and dyslexia are all examples of special needs diagnoses.
We briefly address this question in that Special Needs Resources section of our website, on a page titled Children with Special Needs. For today’s blog, however, we will delve a little further into the question of what it means to be a special needs child or adult, and how to cope if a child or family member has been diagnosed with a disability.
Children with Special Needs
As we mentioned above, the term “special needs” is an umbrella phrase that is used to describe many different disorders, conditions, medical conditions and disabilities. Healthresources.com states that the term is used as a method of classifying individuals “who have certain types of illnesses or conditions, problems with development or learning or difficulties carrying out certain activities or action.”
For children, the term special needs can mean many things. A child with special needs may have learning disabilities, speech problems, or behavioral disorders that can be identified and addressed during school years. The term special needs may also refer to long-term conditions such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or spina bifida, which can impact the way an individual lives his or her life. Children with these types of special needs may need life long support and guidance.
Regardless of the specific diagnoses, every child with special needs will need extra support, guidance and possibly medical treatment to ensure that the child reaches his or her full potential. Early intervention services for children with special needs are crucial to ensuring that your child has the best possible start in life – these services are offered through programs designed to identify the developmental stages that your child has reached, and provide the necessary supports and services that your child needs to reach developmental milestones. Early Intervention services are available in every state and are free for children up to the age of 2 years. For more information on early intervention services, please visit the website www.earlyinterventionsupport.com.
Adults with Special Needs
In many cases, adults with special needs have been diagnosed as such since childhood. For adults, the term “special needs” still acts as a general, catch-all phrase. Typically, however, an adult with a diagnosis of special needs has a long-term medical, intellectual, developmental or physical condition.
Adults who have been diagnosed with special needs since childhood may have been on the receiving end of many types of supports – he or she may have taken part in early intervention services, have had extra educational support and guidance during primary, elementary, and junior school years, and have been involved in transitioning and vocational rehabilitation services in high school. When the individual reaches adulthood, however, the support and guidance that he or she receives will change. Adults with special needs face shifting priorities; issues such as housing, financial support, employment, socialization may need to be addressed.
As the individual’s priorities change, the supports and services the individual receives change as well. Adults with special needs may receive guidance and supports to help them access appropriate housing and to ensure that they live with the utmost autonomy; supported living and community based supports may offer those services. The individual may access vocational rehabilitation and supported employment services to help find, obtain and keep a job; respite workers and supportive living supports may be in place to help the individual complete daily tasks and errands.
Some adults with special needs may live independently, with family members, or in group homes, intentional communities, with a foster family, etc. (For more examples of the different housing options available to adults with special needs, please visit our blog post Housing Options for Individuals with Disabilities: A Discussion.) Some adults with special needs may lead independent, active lifestyles, while others may rely more heavily on the support of family, friends, and community based services. However the individual chooses to live, he or she may still need support, guidance, and medical treatment to ensure that the individual lives an independent, fulfilling, healthy life.
Coping with a Special Needs Diagnosis
Many people often react to a diagnosis of special needs with shock, anger, feelings of loss, and denial – emotions commonly associated with grief. Experts suggest that that this reaction is common, and recommend that individuals take time to process and deal with these emotions in a healthy way, with the support of family and friends.
After the initial diagnosis, individuals may wish to learn as much as possible about the diagnosis; reaching out to medical professionals, support groups, special needs organizations and members of the special needs community may be helpful during this time. They may be valuable sources of information, and will undoubtedly provide the guidance and support that families need in the early stages of diagnosis.
Our blog posting, My Child has been Diagnosed with Special Needs: What Happens Now? offers advice as to the steps that parents and family members can take after they receive a diagnosis – it is important to ensure that the individual with special needs receives the supports, services, and benefits that will allow him or her to live their lives to the fullest, and reach their fullest potential.
M&L Special Needs Planning is committed to educating families in an empathetic, non-threatening way. We take pride in offering current, relevant information on our website. Please take a moment to look through the Special Needs Resources, Statistics, and Blog sections of our website – we are committed to consistently finding, confirming, and passing on new information to families and individuals with special needs. Also, please take a look at our Workshop Series – we present these workshops free of charge at various locations throughout the year. If you would like for us to present a workshop at a location of your choice, please let us know! We love to meet new people, and are willing to travel.
As always, if you have any questions on this or any other topic related to special needs planning, don’t hesitate to give us a call, send an email, or leave a comment. We are more than happy to help.
Thank you so much for dropping by our blog today; we hope that the information we have provided has been useful to you. Have a great week!
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