It’s important to talk with your kids about others with special needs. Here are some things to keep in mind when you have that conversation.

Isn’t every kid special?

Yes, absolutely. So what does it mean when we say “kids with special needs”? This means any kid who might need extra help because of a medical, emotional or learning condition. These kids have special needs because they might need medicine, therapy or extra help in school — stuff other kids may not typically need or may only need once in a while.

What kinds of special needs are there?

Some kids may need a wheelchair or use braces when they walk. Those kids have special needs. They not only need the equipment that helps them get around, but they might need to have ramps or elevators available. They also might need to get a special bus to school — one that lifts them up into the bus so they don’t have to get up the steps.

Kids who have illnesses, such as epilepsy or diabetes, would have special needs, too. They might need medicine or other help as they go about their days. Kids with sight, hearing or speech problems might use special apps, tablets or computers. A kid who has hearing trouble might need hearing aids to hear and speech therapy, too, since it can be hard to say words correctly when you can’t hear very well.

Kids with learning problems often have special needs. Kids with Down syndrome might go to a standard school and be in standard classes, but they might have special needs when it comes to learning, so an aide (someone to help) might come with them to class.

You might be able to spot a few kids with special needs, but you probably don’t notice all of them. A kid could have a problem that isn’t noticeable unless you know the person well. For example, someone could have trouble with anxiety (worry), but you wouldn’t know it unless the kid told you about it. Privately, their parents, teachers and counselors may be working to help them worry less.

What’s life like for a kid with special needs?

Life can be extra challenging for a kid with special needs. It might be harder to do everyday stuff — like learning to read or, if a person has physical special needs, just getting around school or the mall. The good news is that parents, doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers and others can help. The goal for those kids is the same as with all kids – to help them lead independent, happy and healthy lives.

How do you treat kids with special needs?

Other kids can be a big help to kids with special needs by being a friend. Kids who need a wheelchair or have other health problems want friends just like other kids do. But meeting people and making friends might be tougher for those with special needs. Some kids might even tease them or make fun of them. Be sure to tell a teacher if you see someone being bullied or teased. Bullying is cruel and can make the person being bullied feel very lonely and hurt.

Kids can also try to be helpful if they know someone with special needs. For example, they might ask kids with special needs if they would like help with carrying their books or opening a door. They might simply ask them to eat lunch together. Just remember, it’s important not to be “overly helpful” when no help is needed. Just like all kids, those with special needs like to be as independent as they can be.

Being friendly to kids with special needs is one of the best ways to be helpful. As you get to know them, they may help you understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. And you’ll be helping fill a very special need, one that everybody has — the need for good friends.

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