These are children who might need additional help due to a medical, emotional or learning disorder. The different categories of special diseases (Fuente Monclús 2012) can be summed up in this very general list:
- Temporary or short-term physical disorders: low-weight premature babies, hip dysplasia, different types of injuries, surgical interventions, etc.
- Permanent or chronic physical disorders: lack of control or stability of the head and/or neck, osteogenesis imperfecta, lack of muscle tone, etc.
- Mental or emotional disorders, including anxiety, amongst many others.
- Problems related to development and/or learning disorders.
- Conditions related to behavior or conduct.
We can thus distinguish between various diseases and types of special needs, which may be temporary or permanent, physical or mental, or behavior-related. These needs are special because the children who have them may need particular medicines; external assistance, such as a wheelchair; infrastructural help, such as special seats on a school bus (or even a special bus or transport), access ramps to educational facilities (something which, incidentally, is mandatory in all public schools, as we shall see in the case of Madrid).
A child with special needs is a normal child who needs help
We talk about special needs when children have difficulties with their sight who may, for example, need books in Braille or another type of support; when they have hearing difficulties, as they may require a speech therapist as well as a hearing aid to be able to function normally; we could also talk about children with diabetes, with attention deficit disorder or with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy.
A child with special needs is a normal child who requires specific assistance to be able to do the same things as other children of the same age, to learn at the same pace or to be physically one hundred per cent. For example, children with Down’s syndrome could attend the same school as other children but would need an assistant to keep up with the pace of the class.
Logically enough, we cannot just refer to the school situation in the case of children with special needs because those needs still exist at home, on the streets, at the shopping center and, of course, in the car whenever we take them anywhere. We have to view these children as people with specific challenges in everyday life, yet also as people we can support and help to become as independent as possible.
Essentially, all children want to learn, interact, make friends and live in the most independent way possible. The assistance we give them might be necessary but we also have to be aware that too much assistance and care can be counter-productive, and it will sometimes be the children themselves who remind us what they are capable of achieving by themselves.