What Are the Most Common Child Disabilities?

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Over the past 10 years, more and more children have been diagnosed with a disability. If you are a parent, teacher, healthcare worker, or simply a member of the community, you should be aware of the most common disabilities in children and how they can affect life.

Having a disability doesn’t have to mean a child will have a less fulfilling life or face undue discrimination. However, many cases can result in delayed child development especially if an early intervention program has not been implemented.

10 Common Disabilities in Children

  1. Autism
  2. ADHD
  3. Diabetes
  4. Hearing Loss
  5. Allergies
  6. Vision Loss
  7. Down Syndrome
  8. Asthma
  9. Cancer
  10. Cerebral Palsy

The full list of disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is much longer and encompasses anyone whose physical disability or mental impairment substantially affects major life activities. Children with disabilities have access to a modified curriculum or classroom instruction to meet their educational needs.

Parents should reach out to school staff or child care centers about special education services and options for an inclusive education. Procedural safeguards like 504 Plans or Individualized Education Program (IEP) are available to any student with disabilities like autism to ensure their educational and social needs are being met.

1. Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects1 in 68 children in the United States with four times as many boys being diagnosed as girls. Autism can be detected in very young children, most by two years of age when symptoms start appearing up like not maintaining eye contact, not responding to smiles of their parents, delayed speech, failure to meet a developmental milestone, or twirling their fingers, rocking, or swaying.

Those with autism don’t look different from other children but will have difficulty in social situations, with communication, and they often have behavioral problems. On an intellectual level, children may have extreme trouble learning and engaging in a school setting, while others will excel academically and have no signs of a specific learning disability.

2. ADHD

Children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) find it difficult to focus and pay attention, may get easily bored by tasks, and may find it difficult to control impulsive behaviors which can affect their social, emotional, and educational life. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that 9% of children aged 13 to 18 suffer from ADHD. However, it’s important to note that symptoms of ADHD are on a spectrum and some may suffer more from inattentiveness finding it hard to complete tasks, while others may have more physical manifestations like fidgeting, an inability to sit still, and impulsivity.

3. Diabetes

Diabetes will affect your body’s ability to produce insulin, and because this condition must be monitored around the clock, children with diabetes can receive special accommodations at school including access to trained staff or accommodation for school-sponsored events like field trips. These children can also often qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if they have Type 1 or 2 diabetes and require daily insulin.

Most health professionals believe Type 1 diabetes to be passed down by genes, but there is still a lot of uncertainty. Type 2 diabetes in children can be brought on by excessive weight gain or a sedentary lifestyle and is widely considered to be preventable. However, if a child has family members with Type 2 diabetes, they are at greater risk of getting it themselves.

4. Hearing Loss

Disabilities associated with hearing loss can affect many facets of a child’s life, from speech to communication to social skills. Children who experience hearing loss in their youth may have delayed or unclear speech, trouble following directions, or may turn music or the TV up very loud.

In babies, it can often be detected if you find they don’t react to loud noises, don’t turn their head when a parent says their name, or have delayed speech. There are a number of interventions such as learning alternative methods of communication, hearing aids, cochlear implants, or surgery.

About half of hearing loss in children is caused by genetics, though it can also occur due to maternal infections or complications with birth. Around a third of children with hearing loss also have another developmental disability such as Down syndrome or Usher syndrome and may have special health care needs. However, most children with hearing loss will grow up to be fully functioning adults capable of independent living.

5. Allergies

Not all childhood allergies qualify as a disability, but many food allergies are considered applicable to a 504 plan in school because it affects their ability to eat, which is considered a “major life activity” under the ADA. This could mean that special accommodations are made to ensure your child isn’t around the food they’re allergic to or that teachers and school staff are educated on signs to look out for if your child has an allergic reaction. Those who suffer from other severe allergies may have extreme reactions that could easily affect their ability to eat, drink, or participate in school.

6. Vision Loss

Vision loss in children is considered any diagnosis that’s not “normal,” even if it only mildly affects the child. However, children may suffer total loss of vision where interventions will be necessary. Visual impairment can happen at any time in an individual’s life, though babies can be born with partial or full vision loss due to an infection, an abnormally shaped eye, or if there was damage to the eye. If you observe your child squinting, closing or covering their eyes, having trouble reading, or complaining that things look blurry you should have them evaluated. As is the case with all disabilities, the earlier it’s detected the more effective the interventions will be.

7. Down Syndrome

Around 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome, an intellectual disability inherited when parents pass down an extra chromosome 21 to their child. The effects will differ from child to child, but it’s usually marked by a physical appearance of slanted eyes and a smaller stature. Intellectual effects can range from mild to moderate, though all will show some developmental delay.

Most children with Down Syndrome can learn skills like reading and writing, eating and dressing themselves, and can participate in a regular classroom though they will need curriculum modification for their special needs. Many children with Down syndrome also suffer from other physical health issues like congenital heart conditions, pulmonary hypertension, hearing loss, or vision issues.

8. Asthma

Asthma affects more children in the United States than any other chronic illness, with over six million kids under the age of 18 having the condition. Early signs may be a child coughing frequently, having trouble sleeping, or making a wheezing sound when exhaling.

Asthma affects the flow of oxygen through airways causing them to swell and become inflamed. If not properly treated, this can be a life-threatening condition. Furthermore, lifestyle factors can make the condition worse like exposure to cigarette smoke, colds and respiratory infections, environmental pollutants, or physical overexertion. While asthma can sometimes be classified as a disability, it is not always. In general, kids with asthma will need to have a severe enough condition to result in limited functionality for at least a year.

9. Cancer

The most common cancers that occur in children are leukemia, lymphomas like Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and tumors within the brain and nervous system. Approximately 10,500 children under the age of 14 will develop cancer each year, and it’s currently the leading cause of death from disease for kids although the survival rate is steadily improving. Depending on the stage and severity of the cancer, disability accommodations need to be made in the home, child care, and school environment. This could be due to the condition itself, the treatment program, or another impairment that was caused by the cancer.

10. Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy (CP) is usually detected in children at around two to three years old. It mainly affected the body’s ability to move, balance, as well as affecting posture. Approximately 1 in 345 children suffer from CP making it the most common motor disability facing American children. This disability affects the way the brain sends signals to the body to move, causing the child to lose control of their muscles. There are several types of CP and severity levels. Some children may only have a little trouble walking, while others may not be able to walk at all. CP can often be detected in babies and early intervention can be extremely helpful in mitigating the effects of the disability, though at this time there is no cure.

How Can I Get Social Security Benefits for My Disabled Child?

For individuals with disabilities of any age, the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI) may be available to provide financial assistance. Those under the age of 18 must meet a certain set of requirements set out by the SSA to begin receiving SSI payments. And, although SSI is a federal program, it’s administered at the state level and benefits will vary from state to state since some states add additional payments on top of the federal limit. The SSA defines a child as under 18 years old, or someone under the age of 22 and regularly attending school.

Children and their families must meet the following requirements to be considered for SSI:

  • Low income: SSI is primarily a program for low-income individuals. To determine this for children, the parent’s income will be used in a process called “deeming.” This will be used if the child is under the age of 18, not married, and living in their parent’s home, or if they are attending school elsewhere. Not all income sources are counted, and those families interested in determining their likelihood of qualifying should apply.
  • Severe condition: The child must have a disability that severely limits their daily functionality and activities. Usually, these disabilities must be listed in the SSA’s List of Impairments, commonly referred to as the “Blue Book.”
  • Duration: Any qualifying condition must be expected to last at least a year or result in death.

You must provide evidence of your child’s condition including medical records, school records, and contact information for health care professionals your child has been a patient with. Because the criteria can be complex, the best way to see if you can receive benefits is to apply. The SSA can answer questions and provide technical assistance for those who need it.

Those with a Disabled Adult Child (DAC) may also be able to get financial assistance through Social Security Disability (SSD), though certain conditions apply. The individual must be unmarried and have become disabled before their 22nd birthday. These children could qualify for their parents’ benefits if a parent is deceased or is retired and receiving Social Security benefits.

Helping Our Disabled Children

Because parents can’t control what specific disabilities their children may face, it’s important to know there are social safety nets to help families who may be struggling, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, there are federal laws in place to prevent disability discrimination, such as The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that require accommodation in private and public schools to help children with disabilities access programs and special education.

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