Isn't every kid special? We think so. But what do we mean when we say "kids with special needs"? This means any kid who might need extra help because of a medical, emotional, or learning problem. These kids have special needs because they might need medicine, therapy, or extra help in school — stuff other kids don't typically need or only need once in a while.
Maybe you know of kids in your school who 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 an illness, such as epilepsy, diabetes, or cerebral palsy, would have special needs, too. They might need medicine or other help as they go about their daily activities. Kids with sight problems might need Braille books to read. Kids with hearing or speech problems would have special needs, too. 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 regular school and might even be in your class. But they 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 instance, 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 with this problem.
Life can be extra-challenging for a kid with special needs. It might be harder to do normal stuff — like learning to read or, if a person has physical handicaps, just getting around school or the mall. The good news is that parents, doctors, nurses, therapists, teachers, and others can help. The goal is to help kids be as independent as possible.
Other kids also can be a big help. How? By being a friend. Kids who use a wheelchair or have lots of health problems want friends just like you do. But meeting people and making friends can be tough. Some kids might tease them or make fun of them. Be sure to tell a teacher if you see someone being bullied or teased. That's a very lonely feeling.
Also try to be helpful if you know someone with special needs. You might carry the person's books or do something as simple as asking him or her to join you and your friends at lunch. It's also important not to be "overly helpful" when no help is needed. Why? Because just like you, kids 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.