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Caring for Our People with Disabilities & Chronic Illness

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Spirit Lake toddlerWhat is a developmental delay?

Why do we have something called DEVELOPMENTAL DELAY? Isn't a person just disabled or not?

Deciding who needs special services and how they are going to get them has always been an issue. The question is how can we be fair and equal. In addition to this question is that of when. When should children be identified as having special needs or needing special services? If they are identified too early they may be labeled incorrectly and then only perform at the level that is expected. This could lead to otherwise “average” children being taught at a slower rate simply because during their early childhood they hadn’t developed as quickly as others. On the other hand, if we wait too long to decide who needs services, those children may be set back further because they needed help way before it was given.

Since 1975, Congress has been dealing with this problem and the many others that surround special services and children. With the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) it was now the state’s job to provide all disabled or special needs children with a fair education. This included the right to special education and related services.

Congress tried to find ways to define disability so that they could be fair to all children. The goal was and still is to be sure that special needs children anywhere in the US would get the same education and services because they would be tested the same way and labeled the same way.

Another concern was that of age and ability. Was a three- year old in need of special services, or would they be okay in a year? Congress answered question by encouraging states to serve all children with disabilities from age 3. These children from age 3 to 5 are diagnosed as having developmental delays. The term developmental delay means that the children are just a bit behind their peers. Special services are granted to these young children in the hopes that services will only be needed for a short while, that the children will soon develop at the same rate as their peers. This means that children may only need services for a short time instead of for their entire school experience as it had been in the past.

Over time, the term “developmental delay” has been changed to fit many different age ranges. Depending on your state’s definition children as young as 3 and as old as 9 can still be classified as having a developmental delay.

The reason for diagnosing a child with developmental delay instead of something else is complicated. One of the reasons could be to spare the child from a label they will get rid of when they have grown a bit more. Another reason is that it can, for the short term, prevent a child from receiving a more negative, possibly inaccurate label. Finally, it becomes a sort of catch-all for children who “fall through the cracks” and need help but don’t seem to fit any category.

In the end, the goals as outlined in laws like IDEA are to make the law work FOR the children in need of special services. It is hoped that under IDEA and all of its laws all children in need will receive special services. Even though some of the practices, rules, and labels vary by state the spirit of the law remains the same: help children with disabilities get what they need.

Developmental Delay and Developmental Disability mean two very different things. Read the next section to find out the difference and learn not to confuse the two.

blue next arrow Developmental Disability

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