EMR, EMH, DD … letters you may be familiar with if your child is developmentally handicapped. Educable mentally retarded (EMR), educable mentally handicapped (EMH), and developmental disabilities and developmentally delayed (DD) are terms that have evolved into the present day term developmentally handicapped (DH). Generally speaking, the term covers a broad range of children who may differ from one another in the severity of developmental delay, in the causes of condition, and in the education strategies that are designed for them. The term mental retardation is associated with DH but children who are considered DH often have a variety of difficulties. Children who are suspected to be developmentally handicapped (DH) are evaluated in the following areas:
- General intelligence test administered by a qualified psychologist
- Academic performance
- Hearing, vision and motor abilities
- Communication abilities
- Adaptive behavior (manner in which the child is able to perform a function in the everyday requirements of living)
Short attention span, sensory and motor coordination handicap, comprehension and memory difficulties, difficulty thinking in abstract and making generalizations, lower than average language ability, poor self image and slower development of socialization patterns are a few general characteristics of developmentally handicapped individuals. All of these problems are related.
Sensory and Motor Challenges
If the child is visual or hearing impaired, assistance and modifications are a must. Research has indicated that programs including games and specific motor exercises in areas of skill delay are worthwhile. Parents and care givers can assist by providing practice skills and planned physical activities at home and at school.
Low Tolerance of Frustration
It is important to understand the cause of the child’s inability to handle frustration. Talking with teachers and asking the child what is bothering him or her is certainly an option. What happens at school may be directly related to what happens at home or in social activities. Work within the level of ability of the child and shift from activity to activity frequently before the child becomes too tired.
Poor Self Concept
Children with developmental handicaps often have poor self-esteem due to their own awareness of limits. Or they may have unrealistic goals due to lack of awareness. Parents should try to openly praise, emphasize success and reward correct responses. As equally important is the need to be firm when clearly established rules are broken. Emphasis should also be placed on completing projects/activities that the child starts.
While recognition is important, it should be given when it is actually earned. Praise small accomplishments and all work done! Discussions concerning failures should also take place.
Short Attention Span
It may be easier to keep the attention of children with DH longer if they are presented with things that are concrete (not abstract) and simple rather than difficult. They also may remember them longer. Changing activities frequently can be beneficial to learning. A contributing factor to short attention span may also be auditory or visual information. These things may distract the DH child. Decrease clutter and attempt to eliminate extra noise whenever the child is attempting various activities.
Thinking in Abstract Terms and Making Generalizations
Children with DH often have difficulty seeing the similarity between two separate situations–they are unable to generalize one set of rules to another similar situation. It is important to use materials the child can handle to teach and practice techniques for organizing and processing information.
Slower Development of Socialization Patterns
At home or at school, providing opportunities for structured social interaction with peers and identifying and teaching social skills at their appropriate level is important. Involve them in “normal” leisure pursuits as well. Playing games, attending sporting events, and listening to music are just a few ideas for leisure-time activities. Be sure to teach rules of activities when applicable as well as teaching proper manners for activities.
Techniques To Use …
- Use available resources and become familiar with your child’s educational rights. Talk with teachers, school administrators, doctors and therapists.
- Have patience! If you are trying to teach concepts and social skills, involve your child in short length activities or tasks, one at a time. Give plenty of time for activity involvement. It is important for family members to work on understanding the special needs of the family member. Planning out activities ensures consistency.
- Praise can go a long way. Praise or recognize the smallest of accomplishments rather than dwelling on failures … finding strengths not weaknesses. Use reinforcers when you are working toward appropriate behaviors. Reinforcers might be stickers, television time, hugs, coupons for prizes, and so on. Learn what works but plan ahead.
- Discipline … a part of the plan! Consistency is the key to disciplining any child and a child with DH is no exception. Set discipline for short periods of time and stick to it. Repetition of rules and application of consequences is important for teaching differences between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
- Keep physical environments clutter free, noise at a level suited for the activity being engaged in, and confer with professionals about equipment that will assist your child in learning. These tips, overall, may decrease the frustration level of your child.
- Honesty is the best policy. This statement still rings true today with any child. If conversations with your child indicates that he or she thinks something is wrong with him or her–don’t lie. The child probably knows better than anyone that something is different. Above and beyond this however, let the child know that while they may have problems in some areas, they are still loved.