Children with Special Needs (CWSN) – An Introduction


(Part I)

By: Mr Ahmad

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, defines a disability as “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may impede their full and effective participation to society on an equal basis with others.

The term special needs is a catch-all term that can refer to a wide range of diagnoses and/or disabilities in children. Therefore, the term “children with special needs” (CWSN) refers to children who may have more severe problems than the typical child and which could last a lifetime. These are children who have a disability or a combination of disabilities that makes learning or other activities difficult. Children with special needs include those who have: Mental retardation, which causes them to develop more slowly than other children. Speech and language disorders, such as a problem expressing oneself or understanding others. Physical disability, such as a vision problem, cerebral palsy or other conditions. Learning disabilities, which distort messages from their senses. Emotional disabilities, such as antisocial issues or other behavioral issues. Children with special needs may have developmental delays, medical conditions, psychiatric conditions and/or congenital conditions. In Inida, various conditions and disabilities of CWSNs have been categorized into the four broad categories mentioned below as per the Persons with Disabilities Act 2016:-

Physical disability: A physical disability is a limitation in a person’s physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or endurance. It is a serious, long-term condition affecting a part of a person’s body that impairs and limits physical functioning, mobility, endurance or dexterity. Loss of physical capacity results in reduced ability or inability to perform bodily movements such as walking, moving hands and arms, sitting and standing, and controlling muscles. Physical disabilities include conditions such as

  1. A) Musculoskeletal disability : Inability of a person to perform distinct activities associated with the movement of self and objects resulting from a condition of the musculoskeletal or nervous system or both, this includes:

(a) “person cured of leprosy” means a person who has been cured of leprosy but suffers from (i) loss of sensation in the hands or feet and loss of sensation and paresis in the eye and eyelid but without manifest deformity (ii) manifest deformity and paresis but having sufficient mobility of the hands and feet to enable him to exercise normal economic activity (iii) an extreme physical deformity as well as advanced age which prevents him from doing so.

(b) “cerebral palsy” refers to a group of non-progressive neurological conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination, caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, usually occurring before, during, or shortly after birth. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Paralysis means weakness or problems using muscles. CP is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain that affects a person’s ability to control their muscles.

(vs) “dwarfism” means a medical or genetic condition resulting in an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimeters) or less. A common cause of dwarfism is a genetic mutation that affects bone growth.

(D) “muscular dystrophy” means a group of inherited genetic muscle diseases that weaken the muscles that move the human body and people with multiple dystrophy have incorrect and missing information in their genes which prevents them from making the proteins they need for healthy muscles . It is characterized by progressive skeletal muscle weakness, muscle protein abnormalities, and death of muscle cells and tissues;

(e) “victims of acid attacks” designates a person disfigured following violent attacks by projection of acid or similar corrosive substance.

  1. B) Visual impairment—Visual impairment means that a person’s sight cannot be corrected to a “normal” level. Visual impairment can be caused by a loss of visual acuity, where the eye does not see objects as clearly as usual. It can also be caused by visual field loss, where the eye cannot see as wide an area as usual without moving the eyes or turning the head. He understands:-

(a) “blindness” means a condition in which a person exhibits any of these conditions, after best correction – (i) total absence of sight; or (ii) visual acuity less than 3/60 or less than 10/200 (Snellen) in the better eye with the best possible correction; or (iii) limitation of the field of vision subtending an angle of less than 10 degrees.

(b) “low vision” means a condition in which a person exhibits any of these conditions, namely: (i) visual acuity not exceeding 6/18 or less than 20/60 up to 3/60 or up to 10/200 ( Snellen) in the best eye with the best possible corrections; or (ii) limitation of the field of view subtending an angle less than 40 degrees up to 10 degrees.

  1. C) Hearing impairment—Hearing loss is the inability of an individual to hear sounds correctly. This can be due to incorrect development, damage or disease of any part of the hearing mechanism. Hearing is a prerequisite for the development of normal speech and language. He understands:-

(a) “deaf” refers to people with a hearing loss of 70 DB in speech frequencies in both ears.

(b) “hard of hearing” means a person with a hearing loss of 60 DB to 70 DB in speech frequencies in both ears.

  1. D) “speech and language disorders” Refers to a permanent disability resulting from conditions such as laryngectomy or aphasia affecting one or more components of speech and language due to organic or neurological causes.

Intellectual disability: Intellectual disability (or ID) is a term used when a person has certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, including communication, social skills and self-care. These limitations can cause a child to develop and learn more slowly or differently than a normally developing child. Intellectual disability can occur any time before a child turns 18, even before birth. He understands:-

(a) “specific learning disabilities” Refers to a heterogeneous group of conditions in which there is a deficit in the processing of language, spoken or written, which may manifest as difficulty in understanding, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or doing mathematical calculations and includes conditions such as perceptual disturbances, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and developmental aphasia;

(b) “autism spectrum disorder” means a neurodevelopmental condition usually appearing during the first three years of life that significantly affects a person’s ability to communicate, understand relationships and relate to others, and is frequently associated with unusual or stereotypical rituals or behaviors. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorders refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.

Mental behavior—“mental illness” means a significant disorder of thought, mood, perception, orientation, or memory that seriously impairs judgment, behavior, the ability to recognize reality, or the ability to respond to ordinary demands of life, but does not include retardation which is a condition of arrest or incomplete development of a person’s mind, especially characterized by subnormality of intelligence. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.

Disability due to

(a) Chronic neurological conditions: Neurological disorders are medically defined as disorders that affect the brain as well as the nerves present throughout the human body and the spinal cord. Structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, spinal cord or other nerves can lead to a range of symptoms such as:

(I) “multiple sclerosis” means an inflammatory disease of the nervous system in which the myelin sheaths around the axons of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged, causing demyelination and affecting the ability of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate with each other ;

(ii) “Parkinson’s disease” means a progressive disease of the nervous system characterized by tremors, muscle rigidity and slow, inaccurate movements, affecting mainly middle-aged and elderly people associated with degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and impairment of the dopamine neurotransmitter.

(b) Blood disease—Blood disorders are conditions that affect the ability of the blood to function properly. While some blood disorders are caused by genes, some can develop as a result of other diseases, medications, or a lack of nutrients in your diet.

(I) “haemophilia” means an inherited disease, usually affecting only males but transmitted by females to their male children, characterized by loss or impairment of the normal ability to coagulate blood such that a minor could cause fatal hemorrhage;

(ii) “thalassemia” refers to a group of inherited disorders characterized by reduced or absent amounts of hemoglobin.

(iii) “sickle cell disease” means a haemolytic disorder characterized by chronic anemia, painful events and various complications due to associated tissue and organ damage; “hemolytic” refers to the destruction of the cell membrane of red blood cells resulting in the release of hemoglobin.

Multiple disabilities (more than one of the disabilities specified above), including deafness, which refers to a condition in which a person may have a combination of hearing and visual impairments causing serious communication, developmental and educational problems.

Children with special needs will require additional support and additional services. They will have distinct goals and will need additional guidance and help to get through academic, social, emotional, and sometimes medical milestones. People with special needs may need lifelong guidance and support to deal with day-to-day issues such as housing, employment, social involvement and finances.

(Writer M Ahmad is a regular writer for this journal and served as Incahrge Abhedananda Home -Higher Sec Institution for Inclusive Education, Srinagar and can be contacted at [email protected])

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