About Children With Special Needs

Over 13% of children are diagnosed with a need that requires them to use of the special education services in the public schools. Children with special needs can have invisible or visible disabilities, such as sensory processing disorder, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, ADHD, or cerebral palsy. With these diagnoses, different challenges and surrounding issues impact that child’s ability to interact with others and successfully participate in activities. Some challenges, like difficulty with language are obvious, whereas others like anxiety, are not. Regardless of whether or not a challenge is obvious, any challenge can isolate a child with special needs from his or her peers. Children with special needs are a significant portion of the next generation and as a society we need to come together and advocate for these children who have trouble advocating for themselves.

About Developmental Disabilities

Many children who are diagnosed with a developmental disability, which is a disability that can occur before the baby is born and lasts throughout that person’s life. A diagnosis of a developmental disability is given when a child is not reaching typical developmental milestones. Diagnoses include Autism Spectrum Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Down Syndrome, learning disabilities like Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy, and hearing or vision loss. As a pediatric occupational therapist, the majority of children I am referred are diagnosed with a developmental disability. I find that one of the most significant challenges these children face are problems with their sensory processing.

For additional information about developmental disabilities: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/facts.html

What Are Common Difficulties That I See As An Occupational Therapist?

Sensory processing issues.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Approximately 1/25 children are diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. SPD is a condition where the input of information to your brain is processed in a way that results in an atypical output or behavior. This means that a child with SPD might process what he or she sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells differently from a neurotypical child. The result could be that the child has trouble with self-regulation. Self-regulation is a term that describes a child’s ability to maintain an organized state so that he or she can interact and learn. For example, if a child has difficulty paying attention, is experiencing an intense emotional state, or is distracted by the feel of his or her clothes and the environment, he or she will not be in a place to interact with others or learn. Sensory processing disorder can consequently impact a child’s ability to recall and acquire new skills. Since sensory processing disorder is based in the brain, the way it presents in children can differ greatly. The bottom line is that it impacts children on a foundational level and can make it difficult for them to complete their daily tasks independently.

Parents often report that their child is scattered, has frequent meltdowns, needs directions frequently repeated, shows aggression at home or at school, has difficulty sleeping, is clumsy or has difficulty getting dressed, brushing teeth, or riding a bike, and has a limited diet. These are different examples of how the brain processes information from the environment in a way that results in an inefficient output or action.

For additional information about sensory processing disorder and sensory diets:


Oral Care

Children with special needs often struggle to independently brush their teeth and visit the dentist. Often, the toothbrush is difficult to maneuver in their mouth. Plus, the sensation of brushing and the taste of the toothpaste is overwhelming. Many children need to go to the hospital and have their teeth cleaned under general anesthesia.


Children with special needs often have generalized anxiety that makes it difficult for them to independently function and interact with others outside of their home. Particularly for older children and young adults, anxiety can manifest to the point where it shows itself as aggression. The combination of anxiety and aggression often limit these children and their families in what they are able to do, see, and explore outside of their homes.


Children with special needs often have low self-esteem. These children, especially the children diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, are often aware of their difficulties and compare themselves to their peers. Combine this feeling with consistently getting in trouble at school or at home, and these children have trouble feeling good about themselves.

Eye Contact

Children with special needs, especially children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, often have difficulty making eye contact with other people. This difficulty often limits their interactions with others and creates a stigma around them that further isolates them from their peers. Many times, people are not aware that these children are talking to them or would like to interact because we base so much of our communication on eye contact.

More To Come…