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In clinical diagnostic and functional development, special needs (or additional needs) refers to individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological. Guidelines for clinical diagnosis are given in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases 9th edition. Special needs can range from people with autism, Asperger syndrome, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, blindness, deafness, ADHD, and cystic fibrosis. They can also include cleft lips and missing limbs. The types of special needs vary in severity, and a student with a special need is classified as being a severe case when the student's IQ is between 20 and 35. These students typically need assistance in school, and have different services provided for them to succeed in a different setting.
In the United Kingdom, special needs usually refers to special needs within an educational context. This is also referred to as special educational needs (SEN) or special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). In the United States, 18.5 percent of all children under the age of 18 (over 13.5 million children) had special health care needs as of 2005.
More narrowly, it is a legal term applying in foster care in the United States, derived from the language in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. It is a diagnosis used to classify children as needing "more" services than those children without special needs who are in the foster care system. It is a diagnosis based on behavior, childhood and family history, and is usually made by a health care professional.
U.S. special needs adoption statistics
In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-89) has focused more attention on finding homes for children with special needs and making sure they receive the post-adoption services they need. Pre-adoption services are also of critical importance to ensure that adoptive parents are well prepared and equipped with the necessary resources for a successful adoption. The United States Congress enacted the law to ensure that children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their birth parents are freed for adoption and placed with permanent families as quickly as possible.
The disruption rate for special needs adoption is found to be somewhere between ten and sixteen percent. A 1989 study performed by Richard Barth and Marianne Berry found that of the adoptive parents that disrupted, 86% said they would likely or definitely adopt again. 50% said that they would adopt the same child, given a greater awareness of what the adoption of special needs children requires. Also, within disrupted special needs adoption cases, parents often said that they were not aware of the child's history or the severity of the child's issues before the adoption. There is also more care that goes into it when a child of special needs is in the process of getting adopted. Because of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 P.L. 96-272, the child's needs have to be met within the home before allowing adoption, including being able to financially support the child.
The term Special Needs is a short form of Special Education Needs and is a way to refer to students with disabilities, in which their learning may be altered or delayed compared to other students. The term Special Needs in the education setting comes into play whenever a child's education program is officially altered from what would normally be provided to students through an Individual Education Plan which is sometimes referred to as an Individual Program plan. Special Education aids to the students learning environment, to create a uniform system for all children.
In the past, individuals with disabilities were often shunned or kept in isolation in mental hospitals or institutions. In many countries, the disabled were seen as an embarrassment to society, often facing punishments of torture and even execution. In the US, after the creation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and many other regulations, students with disabilities could not be excluded or discriminated against in the education system.
Integrated learning environments
In many cases, the integration of special needs students into general-learning classrooms has had many benefits. A study done by Douglas Marston tested the effects of an integrated learning environment on the academic success of students with special needs. He first gathered students in from three different categories: those in isolated learning environments, those in integrated learning environments, and those in a combination of both isolated and integrated learning environments. He calculated the average number of words read by each group in the fall and again in the spring, and compared the outcome. The findings showed that those in integrated learning environments or a combination of isolated and integrated environments experienced greater improvements in their reading skills than those in strictly isolated environments.
Integrated classrooms can also have many social benefits on students with special needs. By surrounding special needs students with their fully functioning peers, they are exposed to diversity. Their close contact with other students will allow them to develop friendships and improve interpersonal skills.
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