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Children With Special Health Care Needs

Children with special health care needs include those with chronic illnesses (i.e., asthma, sickle cell anemia, diabetes), physical disabilities (i.e., cerebral palsy, spina bifida), and developmental/emotional disabilities (i.e., autism, Down syndrome). As advances in health care have allowed medically fragile and/or disabled children to live longer, attention has focused on understanding their unique "developmental" needs. The impact of an illness or disability on a child's cognitive, social, and emotional development varies over time as the child's developmental level changes. In addition, the implications of the illness/disability are different depending upon the child's developmental level at its onset and the limitations of the disorder at each level of development. Professionals who work with children with special health needs must keep the above in mind, and must also understand the effects (both negative and positive) of the illness/disability on the family system, and how these in turn can affect the child's development.


McPherson, Merle, Polly Arango, Harriette Fox, et al. "A New Definition of Children with Special Health Care Needs" (commentary). Pediatrics 102 (1998):137-140.

Thompson, Robert, Jr., and Kathryn Gustafson. Adaptation toChronic Childhood Illness. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1996.

Janeen C. Manuel

Elizabeth C. Allen

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 2