Managing Students with Developmental Disabilities

The term ‘special need’ is used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to refer to persons who require help to deal with disability. The special needs may be medical, psychological, or mental in nature. Boer, Pijl, and Minnaert (2011) are of the opinion that different nations adopt varying definitions of the condition. In the UK, for example, the term is utilized in educational settings. In teaching institutions, a child is considered to have special needs when their behavior is abnormal and affects learning.

In most cases, such students require individual programs and plans. In spite of the disparities in definition, people from different states concur on the need to help the troubled children. According to reports from the World Health Organization and World Bank, more than 1 billion people in the world suffer from different forms of disabilities (Forlin, 2010). In the United States, 14% of children have special healthcare needs (Gysbers, 2008).

One category of special needs is made up of developmental disabilities. The condition results from chronic mental and physical impairments. Most children suffering from the problem struggle at different stages of life. They face difficulties related to mobility, learning, and communication. In addition, they are unable to ‘offer’ self-help and lead independent lives. According to Filler and Xu (2006), developmental disabilities can be detected at an early age. However, one can suffer from the problem throughout their life. There are various forms of developmental disabilities. They include those brought about by Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

In this paper, the author will discuss the case of Melvin. The primary issues to be discussed include the student’s behavioral, social, emotional, and learning patterns. In addition, their background will be analyzed. Possible intervention strategies will be developed. A reflection on probable challenges during the helping process will also be provided.

Student’s Background


Melvin is an 11 year old grade five student at Urban Elementary School. He lives with his father, mother, and younger brother. According to family reports, the father has a history of AD/HD, inattentive type. In spite of the known history of special needs within the family, both parents offer full support to both Melvin and the school (Halmhuber & Beauvais, 2002). Melvin’s teacher points out that the mother volunteers in most school events. Melvin’s tutor first discovered the problem at his fourth grade. The reason for the concern was influenced by the boy’s inability to progress academically at his current grade. Results from psycho-educational evaluations revealed that Melvin’s reading and written expression skills were below the grade level. In addition, his overall ability was of average level.

Presenting Problems

Prior to the psychological examinations, Melvin presented behaviors that were different from those of his peers (Halmhuber & Beauvais, 2002). His tutor, Mrs. Stacy, observed that the boy appeared to be uninformed about activities taking place in the classroom. In most instances, he becomes immobile and stares straight ahead. When the teacher asks what he is thinking at the time, he always claims that he does not know. However, once in a while, he can be quite attentive, showing improved participation in all activities.

Other concerns include his failure to complete assignments. During his entire stay in grade five, Melvin only completed one written assignment (Halmhuber & Beauvais, 2002). The task was a short essay on how he spent his summer. Mrs. Stacy notes that four assignments were due. They included an essay on his favorite summer activity, social studies paragraph, letter to the principal describing the current school, and response to a science experiment.

In class, Melvin spends a lot of time looking for such items as pencils, pens, and rubbers. The reason behind this is because he often forgets where he has kept them. When interacting with his peers, he tends to be anxious. As a result, he does not have close friends. During playtime, he spends a great deal of his time roaming around the playground (Halmhuber & Beauvais, 2002). In spite of the numerous challenges in school, Mrs. Stacy observes Melvin has good computer skills. He can use the word processor and the internet fairly well.

Analysis of Melvin’s Behavioral, Social, Emotional, and Learning needs

Children with special needs are considered to have chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, and emotional problems. The conditions persist for more than 12 months. It is noted that the daily activities of 38% of the children with disabilities are never affected by their state (Frederichson & Cline, 2010). Melvin’s case reveals that he is not among the 38%. The reason is because the condition affects his daily life. He cannot manage most things on his own without help.

As observed by the instructor and the psychologist, Melvin faces a number of challenges. They include those related to behavioral, social, emotional, and learning aspects of his life. The boy is mostly a loner. The problem is caused by poor social skills and few friends (Malmgren, Causton-Theoharis & Trezek, 2005). Melvin is also reported to have limited emotional attachment to other students. As a result, he cannot recognize the emotional state of other people.

According to Wright, Russell, Anderson, Kooreman, and Wright (2006), developmental delay is caused by failure to reach the maturity milestone within the expected time span. A child suffering from the problem fails to acquire skills learned by others at the same age. Medical experts stress on the need for parents and teachers to pay attention to children in order to spot any developmental delays. The condition may also be genetic or environmental. An analysis of Melvin’s case reveals his learning rate is slow compared to that of other students. In addition, his problem is genetic. The reason is because his father has a history of the condition.

Odom et al. (2006) point out that there are five areas of development. They include adaptive, cognitive, communication, physical, social, and emotional progress. Growth problems in one area can impact on the development of the other parts. For example, difficulties in physical development may affect speech and language. A critical analysis of the five areas reveals that Melvin suffers from cognitive, social, emotional, and adaptive development problems. Cognitive impairment is expressed through challenges with basic learning, remembering tasks, and problem solving (Blatchford et al., 2011). Social and emotional problems are presented through his lack of interest in other children. On its part, adaptive problem is displayed through difficulties in independently carrying out age appropriate duties.

Goal Setting

When dealing with special needs’ children, it is important to set goals to be achieved within specified durations (Forlin, 2010). The aims may be short, mid, or long term. In Melvin’s case, teachers and psychologists can set different goals to help manage the problem. One target involves improving Melvin’s ability to initiate social interaction with his peers. Social skills in the classroom can only be acquired by engaging all students (Geldard & Geldard, 2008). To achieve the goal, the teacher can introduce role play. The intervention facilitates social interactions among the students. In addition, the tutor can provide Melvin with the opportunity to showcase his computer skills.

The second goal entails increasing opportunities that support understanding and completion of assignments. Such a goal can be achieved by helping Melvin with his long essays (Kockhar-Bryant, 2008). In addition, Mrs. Stacy can reduce the written work in various subjects. The reason is to enhance completion of assignments.

The third goal involves improving reading skills. To achieve this, the tutor can form small reading groups and allow students to choose articles they are interested in. In addition, Melvin’s parents can be advised to read to him at home. The fourth goal entails improving organizational skills. Melvin is always forgetful. Such people cannot keep track of their things. To help manage the problem, Mrs. Stacy can attach pencils and pens on the boy’s desk. In addition, reminder notes can be used to manage the situation (Macy & Briker, 2007).

Intervention Strategies

To develop the best intervention strategies for special needs children, various aspects must be taken into consideration. They include areas of strength, interest, and organizational ability. In addition, it is important to determine the various factors affecting the student’s ability to learn and interact with their peers (Mitchell, 2008). One primary strategy that can be used to help Melvin includes organizing for individual counseling sessions. According to Smith (2006), therapy meetings are determined by the severity of the condition and the age of the client. In Melvin’s case, the process can begin by having one session per week for the first term. During the therapy sessions, the medical expert can utilize client-centered theoretical principles. According to the counseling supposition, the psychologist should provide a growth enhancing climate for Melvin.

Another strategy entails building student motivation. Inspiration is the driving force behind student’s learning and engagement (Howard & Ford, 2007). To help Melvin, Mrs. Stacy can alternate between preferred and less-favorite activities. The technique is referred to as Premack principle. Melvin is highly interested in computers. As such, the teacher can allow him to word process written assignments once in a while. In addition, Mrs. Stacy can employ the 3-tier model to help Melvin manage his condition. According to Gysbers (2008), tier 3 offers intensive academic, behavioral, and social emotional interventions for high risk students.


Possible Difficulties in the Helping Process

One probable difficulty involves lack of cooperation. Melvin may fail to take part in the counseling sessions during the initial stages. The reason is because it will be a new thing to him. In addition, he may find it hard to understand what counseling entails. Some children with special needs disregard interaction with their peers (Blatchford et al., 2011). The same case applies to Melvin. During the formation of social interaction groups, Melvin may face rejection from his classmates. As a result, the intervention may face a setback. In addition, the boy may opt to take part in activities of his interest only. The case may apply during the alternation between less and most-preferred tasks.

Practical Ways to Deal with the Probable Setbacks

The foreseeable problems can be dealt with in a number of ways. According to Corey (2009), counseling sessions should take place within a comfortable and free atmosphere. The reason is to encourage client participation. In addition, Melvin should be educated on the importance of therapy. To avoid cases of rejection, students should be advised on the need to treat others equally. The importance of friendship should also be stressed (Filler & Xu, 2006). To prevent a situation where Melvin takes part in activities of interest only, he can be advised on the importance of other tasks. In addition, he can be informed of the benefits associated with taking part in different activities.


A large number of children suffer from different forms of disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, statistics vary across nations. In Western countries, about 2% of the population suffers from developmental problems. In most cases, the issue is made apparent when a child fails to achieve the expected developmental stage. In addition, a differential diagnosis can be conducted to determine the problem. Once a child is found to have a problem, parents and guardians should be advised not to neglect him. On the contrary, they should be encouraged to provide the child with the needed support to manage the predicament.


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