Child Rights and Remedies

By Robert C. Fellmeth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Children with Special Needs

A. DEMOGRAPHIC BACKGROUND

Children with special needs vary widely by disability and circumstance. They include children injured prenatally, genetically disabled, or subject to postbirth injury or illness. Children with physical handicaps, and those with a mental illness, learning disability, or severe emotional problems also have special needs. On a national basis, about one in every eight children aged 6–14 has some type of disability; 6.8% of children in that age-range have difficulty doing regular schoolwork, 5.2% have a learning disability; 1.5% have a developmental disability (including mental retardation, autism, or cerebral palsy), and 3.7% have some other developmental condition for which they have received therapy or diagnostic services.1 States provide services directly, and through federally-funded programs—administered through the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Department of Education, or the Department of Health and Human Services.

Although the Census Bureau places the Severe Emotional Disability (SED) rate at a conservative 4.8% of all school age children,2 a broader definition of mental health disorder yields estimates in the 12–20% range. Related to mental stability, persons under the age of 26 accounted for 10.5% of all suicides in 2002.3 In 2003, an estimated 124,409 visits to U.S. emergency departments were made after attempted suicides or other self-harm incidents among persons aged 10-24 years.4 U.S. youth attempts at suicide and suicide deaths are high compared to other nations, and suicide now constitutes the third leading cause of death for those from 15 to 24 years of age.5


B. CAUSAL CORRELATIONS

1. Undernutrition

Longstanding research has established a strong connection between nutrition and optimum brain development. One leading source has concluded that even moderate but chronic undernutrition correlates with lower scores in cognitive function tests, and found “substantial relations between nutrition and mental development.”6 A decades long longitudinal study of diet and mental development from 1968 into the 1990s found that nutrition is highly correlated with cognitive competence, especially between ages 3 and 7, including language test performance results.7

Some harm is permanent—particularly where malnutrition occurs during the first five years of brain development. Recent research shows that even low levels of malnutrition for various nutrients harm children in a variety of ways; some—but not all—are irreversible. These developmental, growth, health, and

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