Children with special needs have a variety of biological challenges that affect their ability to function in the world. Although there are many ways to describe these individual differences, for the purpose of considering how they influence development it is useful to divide them into three types.
- Difficulty with sensory reactivity. The child may have difficulty with modulating information received from the world through his senses of vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and body awareness (i.e., the child may be under- or overreactive, or a combination).
- Processing difficulty. The child may have difficulty making sense of the sensory data she receives. For example, a child’s hearing may be keen but he may not be able to distinguish sounds in the foreground from sounds in the background.
- Difficulty with motor planning and sequencing. The child may have trouble making his body move the way he wants, and difficulty planning and executing responses to information he has taken in. For example, a child may be interested in cars but may only be able to put them in a line rather than play out a purposeful sequence where the cars drive along the road and park at the store.
Each type of challenge makes it difficult for the child to relate to and communicate with his parents and caregivers and thus impedes his ability to learn, to respond, and to grow. Therefore, to help a child progress, we must understand how he functions in each of these areas. Once we have pinpointed his specific challenges, we can begin to design treatment programs to ameliorate them. The treatment programs need to including help ing parents and caregivers learn how to work around these challenges to help the child discover his or her unique interests and strengths, learn, relate, and grow.