Developmental special needs are conditions that impair cognitive, language, physical, and social-emotional development. These conditions affect how children interact with others and their every day living, and can be lifelong.
AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex disorder that effects brain development. As the name implies, there is a wide range of severity from mildly to severely disabling. Young children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder struggle with social interactions, communication, and repetitive movements. When a child has severe symptoms from ASD, it is not unusual for their to also be behavioral issues. Here is a list of common symptoms seen as ASD.
- Repetitive movements (stimming)
- Strong attachments to unusual objects
- Difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication
- Challenges with expressing and understanding emotions
- Resistance to change
- Unusual responses to sensory input
Children with ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months old, but at two years old or older an Autism specialist can make the diagnosis more easily. Early intervention has a huge impact on children’s functioning, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for ASD at the ages of 18 months and 2 years old.
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes a wide range of developmental and intellectual delays and physical disabilities. Chromosomes determine the development of the brain and body, but with Down Syndrome, there is extra genetic material from chromosome 21. Here are some of the signs that a child may have Down Syndrome:
- Low muscle tone
- Excessive flexibility
- White spots on the iris
- Slower physical growth
- Flattened face
- A large tongue that sticks out
- Short, stalky build
- Small nose, mouth, and ears
- Slow development of motor skills
A diagnosis of Down Syndrome can be made as early as the first trimester of pregnancy. When diagnostic testing is not done during pregnancy, the need for testing is based on the baby’s appearance. If extra genetic material is found at chromosome 21 in all, or some (Mosaic Down Syndrome), cells a diagnosis of Down Syndrome will be given. Each individual with Down Syndrome is different, so the course of treatment is also different from person to person, but early intervention has a great impact on quality of life.
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that largely effects the ability to read. It causes difficulty reading at a good pace and without mistakes. This can be particularly frustrating for children just beginning to learn to read. Here are some signs a child may have dyslexia.
- Avoiding activities involving reading
- Difficulty with spelling
- Slow and labored reading and writing
- Difficulty reading
- Problems processing what is heard
- Difficulty remembering sequences
- Struggles learning simple rhymes
- Has a speech delay
Diagnosing dyslexia requires reading tests and the symptoms reported by the patient and/or the patients parents. Once a child has a diagnosis of dyslexia you can support them by providing alternative learning methods. For example, you can provide a fun way to learn through apps that make decoding a game. Allowing a child with dyslexia to use a tablet or computer instead of writing and using audio books as an alternative to reading are other ways that you can support a child with dyslexia, too.
Processing disorders interfere with the way children take in information. There are three processing disorders that effect young children. Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Visual Processing Disorder. This can have a huge impact on young children’s learning and social interactions, too, especially if early interventions are not utilized. Here are some things to look for if you are concerned that your preschooler may have a processing disorder.
AUDITORY PROCESSING DISORDER
- Difficulty paying attention to a parent or teacher in a noisy environment
- Struggles recalling information
- Doesn’t recognize the difference between words that sound similar (ex: coat and goat)
- Has trouble following conversations
- Struggles to follow spoken instructions
- Learning songs and rhymes is difficult
SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER
- Doesn’t tolerate loud noises
- Dislikes being touched
- Easily distracted by noises that others don’t even notice
- Finds certain types of clothing to be irritating
- Avoids sensory input
- High threshold for pain
- Is fidgety
- Has a strong desire to touch objects and people
- Crashes and bangs into things
- Craves big movements like swinging
- Likes to be squeezed
- Is sensory seeking
VISUAL PROCESSING DISORDER
- Difficulty identifying letters
- Struggles with fine motor skills (buttons, zippers, scissors)
- Can’t focus
- Problems with both short and long term visual memory
- Trouble with spatial reasoning
Developmental special needs in preschoolers have a huge impact on their everyday lives, and those of their family members as well. It can be extremely frustrating for them to deal with and often leads to strong tantrums and extreme behaviors. There are different ways that you can support your preschooler though, and having them evaluated by a professional is the first step.