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A Simple Introduction to Physical Health Impairments
A Series for Caregivers of Infants and Toddlers


Florida Department of Education
Division of Public Schools
Bureau of Student Services and Exceptional Education
Reprinted 1996




A child with cerebral palsy wishes to enroll in your daycare setting. You are told this child has special needs. You may ask the following questions:

  • What does the term special needs mean?
  • Will this child have to be taught in a different way?
  • Will the child need additional help in order to learn and function in the school setting?
  • What is cerebral palsy?

Questions like these are usually asked when a person must deal with a new or unknown situation. This booklet will attempt to explain and provide some answers to these questions.

Children with special needs have a physical, mental, or emotional condition which interferes with their learning and development. Such children may require something special in order that their needs be met. In many cases, with proper stimulation or equipment, these children can learn and function in the same educational setting as other children.

For example, a young child with a physical impairment who is unable to walk independently may need a wheelchair, walker, or other equipment for mobility. Mentally, the child may be as alert and capable of learning as any other child. Providing appropriate equipment may allow the child to attend a regular childcare program. If additional services, such as physical or speech therapies, are needed, trained personnnel can provide these services within the home or the childcare setting. Often these services are provided by the public school system.

A child with special needs is entitled to receive the same educational privileges guaranteed to all children. This is a right mandated by federal and state laws. Children with special needs are children first, just like all other children. Instruction often can be the same for all the children. Often, children with special needs can learn and develop from the same program and curriculum that is provided for all children. All children learn from imitation and from stimulation in the learning environment. If program modifications do have to be made, they may be very minor. To assist the childcare worker in providing appropriate programming, many different curricula have been published for use with children both with and without special needs (see MITCH publication entitled Curricula for Use with High Risk and Handicapped Infants and Toddlers).

The caregiver and service related personnel, such as therapists and doctor can work together to provide the child with a well rounded education environment. The relationship between the caregivers and related service personnel must be open and positive. Understanding the problems that affect a child can be an important first step in providing that child with a good and positive educational atmosphere.

This booklet uses basic terminology to describe some of the more common disorders that can affect infants and toddlers. The booklet also lists organizations that can provide more detailed information about these problems. Reference materials are also listed for anyone who would like to read more about a particular disorder.

Additionally, personnel at the local Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System (FDLRS) Associate Center may be able to provide the needed information. Persons seeking information may call their local FDLRS Associate Center. A complete listing of all FDLRS Associate Centers can be found at the end of the booklet.

Local March of Dimes Foundation offices also provide valuable information. Information can also be obtained from the national chapter:

March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation
303 S. Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591
(914) 428-7100

An addition to any childcare professional or resource library is a book entitled Physically handicapped children: A medical atlas for teachers, by Drs. E. E. BIeck and D. A. Nagel. This volume describes in detail several handicapping conditions that can affect infants and young children. The cost is approximately $46.00. It is available through:

Psychological Corporation
P.O. Box 83995
San Antonio, TX 78283-9955
(800) 228-0752

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