The Characteristics of Disabilities
During development, there are some instances whereby a child encounters developmental disabilities that are caused by diverse factors. The disabilities in turn affect their bodies influencing how the body system works hence how the child behaves. Developmental disabilities are birth defects which often have life long consequences for instance; the nervous system disabilities that affect the functioning of the spinal cord, the brain and the nervous system and they cause mental retardation to include, Down Syndrome, autism and fragile X syndrome. Sensory related disabilities are those affect vision, sight and hearing ability. Metabolic disorders for example; phenylketonuria affect how the body processes the substances that is needed for general body function. While degenerative disorders like Rett syndrome on the other may cause mental and physical disorders. By and large, there are several developmental disabilities that may affect children and consequently affect their development in comparison with normal children (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988, p.279).
Characteristics of Disabled Children
Despite the fact that there is no universal standard that can be used to define disability in children, several concepts have outlined disability in relation to atypical development. This is such that, when a child is disabled, it means that he or she is experiencing a deficit in a certain aspect of development for example; vision, hearing and motor ability. In some occasion it is quite difficult to realize the deficits and this may be due to the reason that in one way or the other, the child gains knowledge of compensating these deficits. In case the compensation behavior is not suitable or is inadequate, it may cause constraint to other domains of development. Therefore, it is only through systematic observation of the materials and or the tasks that the child is actively being involved in as well as the manner and duration in which the child is involved in the tasks that the presence of various deficits affecting certain developmental domains can be realized (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006).
There is a close relationship between disability and the tasks of development. Disability causes interference to the normal development of a child psychologically, physically, socially and cognitively. The stress of disability causes the child to develop a sense of anxiety which then contributes to the development of feels of inability to control events in his or her life. The disability creates a feeling of helplessness to the affected child leading to absence of motivation to not only engage in any activity but also to try new things. Due to the reason that there is a link between interaction with the environment and cognitive development, disability thus has a negative effect on the child’s normal intellectual development even in situations where the type of disability affecting the child does not have direct association with mental growth. This is because; as the child grows, he or she encounters diverse developmental tasks that are achieved through physical maturation, cognitive development, communicative abilities and achievement of affective and social needs. According to the stages of development by Erik Erikson, although it is important that a child mastered all developmental tasks in every stage, disability causes a short circuit thus the child is not able to master certain developmental tasks during a certain stage of development. Non mastery of developmental task in any of the stages of development has a consequential negative effect on the succeeding developmental stage. Therefore, a disabled child suffers from both disability and the lack of mastery of developmental tasks (SSTA, 2009).
Most studies that have addressed the issue of disability in children have focused on the concern whether atypical child development represents quantitative or qualitative differences in delayed development. According to the studies, it has been found out that children suffering from mental retardation have the same characteristics that are applicable in other types of disabilities. One of the common characteristics of a disabled child is delay in the rate of cognitive development. The child depicts delayed evolution through various stages of development and in the long run, the child ultimately fails to undertake formal tasks during maturity. This indicates a form of false equilibrium because the child does not achieve a complete level of cognitive development (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006).
Based on the concept of the continuum of reproduction casualty, low birth weight in children can be interpreted as a sign of disability in a child. Findings associated with conditions of obstetric complications of disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, learning disorders and disabilities show that low birth weight may be an indicator of child disability because the child could have been exposed to toxic experiences or organic conditions (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988).
One of the other characteristics of disability in children is general delay in development. For instance; the child may exhibit delay in language development. This indicates that the child is disable hence may be incurring deficits such as hearing. The respond that the child gives to stimuli during task directed play facilitates for the detection of deficits such as hearing. According to studies, hearing impairment is characterized by the interaction that the child has with toys that produce sound. In most cases, a child with hearing disability will play with the toys that produce sound in a similar manner as children with normal hearing ability but during their play, they do not discover the qualities of the sound producing toys (Lewis, 2003).
Generally, a disabled child experiences communication deficits that is, central dysfunctions for example; learning disability, language disorder and autism; and peripheral dysfunctions e.g. visual or hearing impairments. According to the concept of CNS dysfunction, dissociation as well as deviancy facilitate for the identification of difficulties and atypical development. Deviancy characteristic describes the deviations that the child’s abilities are different from that of a typical child within specific developmental domains. Dissociation describes the “discrepancies in the level of functioning from one domain to another, for example stronger motor skills but weaker language skills or stronger mental skills but weaker motor skills”. Therefore, recognizing deviancy and being sensitive to dissociation contributes to the realization of disability in a child. This is due to the reason that realization of these phenomenon allow for differentiation of the child’s comparative deficits and strengths (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006, p.72).
Effects of Disability on Developmental Domains
There are several developmental domains of a child that are affected by disability. The major developmental domains include: cognitive development. Social or emotional development, language development and motor development. When the child is growing, the developmental domains are influenced and it is through adequate negotiation of the specific developmental domains that the child is able to progress to the next stage of development. Conversely, disability in children affects the developmental domains hence affecting general development in a child (Scambler et al, 2007).
Cognitive developmental domain includes comprehension and thinking because it illustrates how a child learns and processes information. This involves mental imagery, language, reasoning, thinking, memory development and problem solving. One to two years old is the period when the child develops thinking skills and has found out that he is an individual entity (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006).
According to recent research studies, it is has been realized that delay in cognitive development results often from disability and this in turn affects the behavior of the individual. Cognitive delay hinders the disabled child from fully understanding his environment in the manner in which a normal child does (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988). For example; at the vital age of between five and six, the child is expected to achieve rapid cognitive development in preparation for school. Disability makes it difficult for the child to make personal learning skills and in the event where the child fails to master cognitive skills, apathy results affecting the child’s body image and self esteem negatively. The education of the preschooler is delayed or disrupted by several factors among them being; hospitalization, regular intervention programs and academic skills. Feelings of failure create either dislike or fear of a schools setting and hence delaying the attainment of cognitive developmental domain. Furthermore, rejection by peers due to disability isolates the disabled child thus not being able to develop social skills (SSTA, 2009).
Social or emotional developmental domain involves the interaction that a child has with active environment, other children and with adults. One and two year olds can show frustration but they can easily be redirected to other alternatives that are interesting. This is not often easy for children with disability because they can be demanding making it difficult for the caregiver to encourage them to engage in alternative activities. At the age of between three and six years, disability has great impact on the child’s social and emotional skills. Most of such children are preschoolers and tend to interact more with peers and family members. Disability can have devastating effect of peer relationships and self esteem thus the child becomes less interactive in his or her daily life (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988).
Social developmental domain is primarily dependent on the other developmental domains especially language and cognitive developmental domains. Children who are not in a position to effectively communicate and express their feelings and thoughts experience difficulties in engaging in social interaction with their peers. Difficulties of interaction in turn obstruct them from maintaining age appropriate relationships. It is not easy for a non disabled child to include a disabled child in his or her activities and this holds the child back from developing and maintaining relationships (Brown, 2008).
In addition, social developmental domain is affected by disability because of the reason that it is dependent on cognitive development. Disability impairs the child’s ability to solve problems either through perception, intuition or non verbal reasoning hence they are not capable of retaining information and applying it when the need arises. Consequently, social developmental domain of the disabled child is affected because the child is not able to address issues that require comprehension and reasoning (Lewis, 2003).
Language development domain is indicated by the child’s ability to express ideas using speech sounds that are combined into words. Between the age of one and two, the language skills of the child are developing and he is familiar with about fifty commonly used words. The child’s sentences are short with one to three words. The child can recognize objects and imitates sounds of animals that are familiar (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006). Disability causes delay in language development of a child hence he experiences difficulties in communicating with the others and socialization process is delayed. This prevents the child from fully interacting with his environmental and learning from it. Although at the age of two a child’s language development is expected to be rapid, disabled children demonstrate expressive, receptive and gesture language delays. In most cases, it has been found out that delay in language development is higher than the other domains of development. The child may be interested in interacting and communicating with others around him but disability impairs their timing and expression thus preventing them from being able to communicate and develop their language skills (SSTA, 2009).
Motor developmental domain includes muscle movement involving the development of both gross and fine motor skills. The activities that the child engages in determine the child level of motor skills development. When a child is about one to two years old, he or she should be able to have developed fine and gross motor skills. The child needs to be able to engage in active activities such as skipping, jumping, running and walking well. The child should be able to walk up and down the stairs with a little help. Fine motor skills at this stage of development are precise hence he or she can grasp objects but is bound to require assistance in certain activities such fastening shoelaces or cloths (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006).
Abnormalities on the child’s motor ability affect children between the age of one year and one half. This is due to the reason that; during this time, the child’s gross and motor skills are developing hence disabilities hinders adequate development at this stage. Disability prevents the child from controlling his body hence he is not able to manipulate his environment and perform multiple skills. The movement patterns of a disabled child are irregular thus he is not able to actively participate in a number of activities. The child’s gross and fine motor skills development are delayed hindering him from accomplishing the developmental task at this stage successfully (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988)
Importance of Inclusion for a Disabled Child
It is important to include a child afflicted with disability in other daily activities like the other normal children. The disabled child’s social environment needs to be specially enriched to encourage the disabled child to engage in social activities. The environment also will enhance the child’s social skills because he will participate in diverse social activities. Special encouragement and equipment will enable disabled children explore their environment and learn more about it (Lewis, 2003).Caregivers should include disabled children in the general environment by learning to respond to the disabled child’s emotional interests. When caregivers do not respond to the emotions of disabled children it may lead to emotional distortion which hampers physical, psychological and social development. Emotional inclusion also should be enhanced through attachment process especially between the mother or the caregiver and the disabled child. Through bonding, the disabled child will attain identity and feel secure. The parents of disabled children can achieve the attachment by understanding disabled child’s emotional reactions and avoid interpreting the child’s reaction as rejection (SSTA, 2009).
Caregivers have the responsibility of providing the disabled child with support in enhancing cognitive, social, physical and personal development. By ensuring that the disabled child is in a safe environment, the child gets an opportunity of developing autonomy. Erickson’s stages of development describe that a toddler gains a sense of self control and improves self esteem that has a lasting impact on the attainment of autonomy which is crucial developmental task for toddlers. Play for both toddlers and preschoolers contribute to achievement of independence through interventions such as therapeutic play, the child will be able to master anxiety and develop his physical ability. Emotional development is also achieved through plays because the child will have the chance of acting out desires, fears, frustrations and angers on the toys. Therapeutic play then allows for interpretation of feelings and intervention (Lewis, 2003).
It is important that the child is allowed to participate in childhood stimulation programs. Special schools for disabled children should have sufficient equipments and staff to facilitate for effective handling of diverse disabilities among children. The programs will educate the parents or caregivers of the disabled children on how to understand and raise disabled children while disabled children will be provided with favorable environment where they can interact with others and achieve their full potential. Achievement of autonomy for the toddlers and initiative for the preschoolers will be possible in such inclusive environments. Preschoolers and toddlers learn and develop by interacting with their environments and disability may isolate them from attaining such interactions. Special school or a supportive family atmosphere is a good atmosphere for the disabled children to develop because it takes them away from devastating comments and or stares that label them as abnormal or weird (Brown, 2008).
Developmental Stages between Children Who Are Developing Age Appropriately,
And Children Identified To Have Special Needs
During development, people undergo different stages of development and each stage is characterized by different traits or behaviors that are distinct to the stage. However, there are also differences in terms of individuals in that; developmental domains do not apply universally to all people. Environmental and other factors determine the normality and the abnormality of development of a child in various developmental domains. In the main, a child is expected to exhibit certain characteristics when he or she is at a certain stage of development failure of which may indicate disability. Environmental factors enable the child to successfully negotiate the developmental tasks during each of the development stage (Wachs & Sheehan, 1988).
When a child is between one and three years, he or she displays a sense of autonomy. Normal child views him or herself as an individual who has his or her own rights separate from that of his or her parents. This is despite the fact that child is still dependent on the parent. The child has increased contacts with peers hence seeks autonomy or independence from parents and understands that situations can be predicted. Cognitive development contributes to physical and emotional development because of the achievement of self awareness. The child is generally learning the skills for reacting to what the others are doing (SSTA, 2009).
Normally, a child aged between one and three years has a lot of energy and unbounded curiosity hence desires to explore his environment. Disabled child on the other hand displays low energy levels an in the case of physical disability, the child will find it difficult to move due to the pain. In addition, such a child may not have sufficient energy to control his body, limbs, bladder, bowel and other activities (SSTA, 2009). At the age three to five, the child develops a sense of being initiative. This is period of dynamic and reality testing. The level of imagination is high because the child has begun to realize that he is a different entity. The child is bound to imitate the adults while on the other being initiative thus he often fluctuates between independence and dependency. A normal child at this stage masters physical and cognitive skills thus can take initiative in several ways e.g. may take responsibility of self control instead of depending on guidance (Lewis, 2003).
A disabled child is not able to exhibit a sense of initiative because disability affects the child’s development by hindering the development if the social self, physical self, cognitive self and personal self. The lack of or delayed development in these areas results to lack of adequate interaction with the surrounding or rejection by peers and caregivers hence lack of the opportunity to be initiative. The disabled child is isolated from his immediate environment and constant interaction with peers especially in the case of constant surgical and medical interventions. This hinders the child from developing cognitive and social skills thus the preschooler may be demanding because he does not understand socialization (SSTA, 2009).
A disabled child is not in a position to achieve physical, cognitive and social independence like other normal preschoolers. A disabled child may come into conflict with the caregiver because often children of this age want to have the authority of making their own decisions but disability may prompt the parents to be over protective of them. Utterances such as ‘be careful or you will hurt yourself’ or threats like, ‘behave yourself or I will take you back to hospital’ restrain physical independence and as a result social and intellectual growth (SSTA, 2009).
At the age of six or so, the child has a sense of accomplishment and duty. In general, a child at this stage of development is industrious enabling him to largely master several developmental skills. There is less fantasy and the child undertakes real activities. Social as well as academic capabilities also develop during this stage of development. The child normally has the desire to complete and learn new skills in addition to making efforts that have meaning. By and large, a normal child is preparing for school thus learns various developmental tasks that augment writing, reading, and numeric skills and also improve physical and communication skills. The major focus at this stage is competition and education (Scambler et al, 2007).
Disabled child does not have the competence of pursuing academic achievement, physical activities and social interaction as much as a normal child. Even though this is the stage that Erikson notes that the child should deal with competency and learning through interaction with peers, the goal of self esteem is not achieved for disabled children. Negative attitudes and treatment by peers and caregivers makes the disabled child develop self hatred, anger, low self concept and low self esteem (SSTA, 2009).Emotional displays of a disabled child differs from that of a normal child in such that, lack of response to emotional displays of a disabled child results to emotional distortion which is not the case for a normal child. According to a number of studies, it has been found out that children with disabilities are slower than normal children in developing emotions hence their emotions tend to be expressed in a weaker manner than typical children for instance; a child with cerebral palsy is likely to stiffen or jerk when he or she is touched. Such reactions may be interpreted as rejection and consequently the child develops feeling that he has been rejected. Their emotions are also different especially because of the comments and the stares that their peers make particularly for those with physical disabilities (Brown, 2008).
Despite the fact that the development rate of a disabled child and a normal or typical child may differ, there is a general assumption that both the structure of development and the sequence of development among disabled children are similar to those of a typical child. Furthermore, just like other typical children, disabled children are assumed to have characteristics that vary fro each individual. For that reason, although disabled children may develop differently from typical children, somehow, they are similar to other normal children because of their individual differences (Field, Jette & Martin, 2006, p.69). Conclusively, it is evident that disability interferes with the child’s adequate development because it has negative effect on all the developmental domains. Disability delays or hinders social, psychological, cognitive, emotional and physical development making the disabled child different from a normal child. However, inclusion of disabled children in various programs at home and in schools enhances their ability to develop like other typical children.
Brown, M. P. (2008). The Social Attention Skills of Preschool Children with an Intellectual Disability and Children with Hearing Loss. Australian Journal of Early Childhood. Vol. 33 (4), pp. 25-35
Field, J., Jette, A. M. & Martin, L. G. (2006). Workshop on Disability in America, a New Look: summary and background papers: based on a workshop of the Committee on Disability in America: a New Look, Board on Health Sciences Policy. New York: National Academic Press
Lewis, V. (2003). Development and Disability. New York: Wiley Blackwell Publishers
Scambler, D. J., Hepburn, S., Rutherford, M. D., Wehner, E. A. & Rogers, S. J. (2007). Emotional Responsivity in Children with Autism, Children with other Developmental Disabilities, and Children with Typical Development. Journal of Autism & Development Disorder. Vol.37, pp. 553-563
SSTA. (May 26, 2009). Effects of Disability on Psychosocial Development: Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from,
Wachs, T. D. & Sheehan, R. (1988). Assessment of Young Developmentally Disabled Children. New York: Springer Publishers