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What is the definition of "special needs"?

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"Special needs" is a broad term used to describe children who require assistance in educational settings because of physical, mental, behavioral or medical disabilities or delays, according to ParentLink. The USAA Educational Foundation states that special needs can be further categorized into four distinct types: physical, developmental, behavioral/emotional and sensory impairment.

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Physical special needs include medical disorders such as cancer; chronic medical conditions, including asthma; and congenital conditions, such as cerebral palsy, explains the USAAEF. Developmental special needs are conditions that include autism, Down syndrome and dyslexia. These conditions affect communication, learning and self-direction. Behavioral and emotional conditions such as bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, affect educational performance and interpersonal relationships. Sensory impairment includes blindness, deafness and speech disorders.

Different special needs are evaluated and diagnosed in different ways. A doctor begins the process and makes referrals to other resources. Each state has an Early Intervention Program for infants and toddlers before they start school, which can identify special needs children as well as provide services, often free of charge. Public schools also provide resources for children ages 3 and older, says the USAAEF. Special-needs children are entitled to an education that takes into account their specific learning styles and their differences.

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