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The Challenge of Children with Special Needs

Social Isolation

Some of these disorders are defined by problems in making social connections. Others just present challenges that limit a child’s participation in typical social experiences resulting in the limited development of social skills. Here we often get into a philosophical struggle. Getting an education takes up much of the focus of all children.

In recent years the concept of inclusion has become required. This means that a child with severe special needs should be given whatever supports necessary in order to remain in the mainstream of regular education. The most extreme form of this is when an aide is assigned to sit with a child in all (or most) classes to help the child participate to whatever degree is possible. This is a fairly common plan for many children with severe special needs.

… It is not helpful to these children over time…

While it seems like a good idea with very young children, perhaps up to third grade, it is my opinion that it is not helpful to these children over time in a few critical aspects. I think it serves to underscore their differences rather than add to a sense of fitting in, that it quickly moves from limited social acceptance to mere tolerance and social exclusion after school, and that classroom teachers lack the specialized knowledge required to effectively teach these children. I believe the alternative of having these children attend classrooms or schools designed for children with their special needs in mind is much more effective.

Obviously everything depends upon the individual child and it may be that being in separate programs is something that is done for a limited time until their skills might allow for inclusion. But the value of these specialized programs is that the child fits in, has a level field on which to participate, is surrounded by staff with the required training, and the education process is not constantly being adjusted downward for them but is designed to fit their needs just like everyone else in the class.

Specialized programs also provide opportunities for those parent and sibling support groups. The strengths that each of these children possess will have a greater chance to be recognized, expressed, and built upon. Public education struggles to do this for children without special needs! Over the years I have repeatedly been impressed by the changes possible when these children attend a school that is totally geared to their special needs.

Fear of the Future

A clear message from these parents is what will happen to my child as an adult and, especially, what will happen to my adult child when we aren’t here to provide the care and guidance needed. A key part of the answer to that concern is reflected in increased development of group homes for adults with special needs. As always the problem is the lack of sufficient resources. We typically look for government to step in and help in situations like these but that never is sufficient to resolve the needs. Private enterprise is also expanding in this area and that will help.

But once again it is other segments of the community that need to step up and help fill the void, especially religious and community organizations. Churches, synagogues, community centers, and fraternal organizations need to address the needs of their neighbors and commit resources to providing housing and recreational programs.

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These institutions have a permanence that is needed to insure an ongoing caretaking role. Of course, siblings, if present and if strong family bonds have been forged over the years, can be a key resource. Plus parents need to address the long term issues by working with accountants, lawyers, social service agencies and other specialists who will help them to develop formal plans to address future needs.

It Takes a Community

This overused phrase really belongs here. Virtually every key issue is about isolation, about families and the children with special needs finding places where they are welcomed and are given the support they need. Along the way we hope there will be new forms of treatments that will enhance the mental, emotional, and social growth of these children. In the meantime, communities need to make it easier for these families to feel that others care and that they really do belong despite having a child whom is different in some significant way.

The Challenge of Children with Special Needs

Kalman Heller, PhD

Dr. Kalman Heller is a retired psychologist who ran a successful private practice. He previously wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper, and later took his "ParenTalk" column online. This article is reprinted from his online column with his permission.

APA Reference
Heller, K. (2018). The Challenge of Children with Special Needs. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.