of Common Special Needs Terminology
| B | C | D
| E | F | G
| L | M | N
| O | P | R |
S | T |
- Desertion of a child by a parent or adult primary caregiver
with no provisions for continued childcare nor with any
apparent intention to return to resume caregiving.
- Many of the children waiting for adoptive families are
victims of sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse. Sometimes
past abuse is not immediately known and may be revealed later.
Abuse can leave children with emotional and behavior problems
that need to be worked through with the help of knowledgeable
professionals. The degree of abuse and the impact it has on
the child vary greatly.
Neglect - Physical, sexual and/or emotional maltreatment.
Child abuse and neglect is defined as the act or failure to
act resulting in imminent risk of serious harm, death, serious
physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a
child by a parent or caretaker who is responsible for the
child's welfare. Abuse and neglect are defined in both
Federal and State legislation. The Federal CAPTA
legislation provides a foundation for States by identifying a
minimum set of acts or behaviors that characterize
maltreatment. This legislation also defines which acts
are considered physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse
Adjustment Disorder -
development of emotional or behavioral symptoms such as
depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, inappropriate conduct,
etc. - in response to an identifiable stress event that are
more intense than one would expect from such a stressor.
Birth Defects - Physical or cognitive deficits in a child
which result from maternal alcohol consumption during
pregnancy, including but is not limited to Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome (FASD) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FASD).
Attachment Disorder -
inability of a child to form significant emotional connections
with other people. Children who have experienced abuse and
neglect, even when very young, will sometimes find it
difficult to form significant ties. While they may be very
charming, their relationship to others may be superficial.
Lying, being out of control, lack of conscience development,
and the inability to maintain direct eye contact are among the
signs of attachment disorder.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- A child with ADD is not hyperactive but may have many of the
following difficulties: Concentration problems, difficulty
following directions, difficulty completing tasks, easily
distracted, loses things, and overly messy or overly neat.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder (ADHD) - A disorder that involves problems with
attention span, impulse control, and activity level. Typical
behaviors include: fidgeting, difficulty remaining seated,
distractibility, difficulty waiting for turns, difficulty
staying on task, difficulty playing quietly, excessive
talking, inattention, and engaging in physically dangerous
activities without considering consequences.
See our Factsheet on
ADHD and Adoption
Bipolar Disorder -
illness characterized by cycles of mania and depression.
During manic periods, individuals may seem very happy and be
hyperactive. In severe episodes, psychotic symptoms may also
- Infants abandoned in hospitals because of the parents'
inability to care for them. A high percentage of these
babies are born HIV-positive or drug-addicted.
Bonding - The
process of developing lasting emotional ties with one's
immediate caregivers; seen as the first and primary
developmental task of a human being and central to the
person's ability to relate to others throughout life.
Bonding is often confused with
Cerebral Palsy - A non-hereditary condition resulting from
brain damage before, during, or after birth. Children
with cerebral palsy lack muscle control in one or more parts
of their bodies or may experience speech and language
difficulties, depending on the area of the brain damaged.
Individuals with cerebral palsy can possess very normal mental
Conduct Disorder -
characterized by a strong unwillingness to meet societal norms
Cognitive Delays -
Delays in the
customary development of a person's ability to process
information or think logically or analytically.
Developmental Disabilities -
Often used to describe a variety of conditions, with
implications ranging from mild to severe. It is usually used
to describe any condition or disorder - physical, cognitive,
or emotional - that interferes with a child's normal progress.
Disrupted Adoption -
Occasionally, an adoptive family "disrupts" or
severs an adoption. When this happens, the child returns to
foster care and reenters the Minnesota Waiting Children
Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD)
- Children who are diagnosed with emotional or behavioral
disorders have an established pattern of behavior
characterized by one or more of the following:
Severely aggressive and impulsive
Severely withdrawn or anxious,
depression, mood swings, pervasive unhappiness.
Severely disordered thought
processes manifested by unusual behavior patterns,
atypical communication styles, and distorted interpersonal
Inability to build or maintain
satisfactory interpersonal relations necessary to the
learning process with peers, teachers, and others.
Failure to attain or to
maintain a satisfactory rate of educational or
developmental progress that can not be improved or
explained by cognitive, sensory, health, cultural, or
Emotional Disabilities - Some
children, due to their past history, genetics, or both, must
cope with emotional difficulties in their daily living. These
children may require special therapeutic school programs and
special living arrangements. The school programs usually have
Educable Mental Retardation (EMR)
- Mental retardation affects people in different ways. Some
have educable retardation, meaning they can be educated and
trained for future responsibilities. EMR classes and programs
help them achieve a level of independence. Roughly 85 percent
of those with retardation fall into this category.
FASD - Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and
Fetal Alcohol Effect -
Conditions that result from
alcohol use by the birth mother during pregnancy. Children
born with FASD or FASD can have organic brain damage, low birth
weight, birth defects, mental retardation, and learning
impairments in varying degrees.
See our Factsheets on
Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Diagnosis and Adoption
Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Strategies and Interventions
Guardian ad Litems - People who are appointed by
judges to speak on behalf of the best interests of a child
whose case is in juvenile court. Duties include reading
court documents, visiting the child in the foster home, and
consulting with social workers, teachers, doctors and family
members before making a report to the Court about the child's
situation. For more information, see
Impulse Control Disorder -
mental disorder characterized by an individual's recurrent
failure to resist impulsive behaviors that may be harmful to
themselves or others.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
- A 1978 federal law that protects the rights of Native
American children, families, and tribes. ICWA states that when
placing a Native American child for adoption, preference
should be given to extended family, tribal members, a Native
American foster or adoptive family, or a Native American
institution. The tribe has the right to make decisions
regarding the Native American child's placement, and
non-Native American families are considered for placement as a
last resort. ICWA adoption provisions do not, however, apply
to every Native American child in foster care - especially in
cases where the children's Native American birth parents are
not registered tribe members, or the tribes have given up
their claim on the children.
Individual Education Plan (IEP) - A plan drawn up by a
child's special education teacher and other parties that
outlines specific skills the child needs to develop as well as
learning activities that build on the child's strengths.
See our Factsheet on
Making IEPs User-Friendly
Learning Disabilities (LD) -
Some children find learning in regular classrooms difficult.
Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above
average intelligence, but have difficulty learning, sorting,
and storing information. LD classes may be recommended to help
them achieve their potential in school.
In school, when a
child is moved to a regular classroom from a classroom where
he or she receives extra help or special services.
Motor Skills -
ability to use large and small muscle groups. Gross motor
skill refers to use of large muscles in activities such as
running or jumping. Fine motor skills refer to the small
muscle coordination required for things like writing or
buttoning a shirt.
Neglect - The failure of parents to meet the basic
human needs of their children. This may include situations
where children have been abandoned, or where there was a lack
of care and support due to a parent's chemical use, other or
situations where parents neglected or refused to provide the
child with proper food, clothing, shelter, nurturing,
education, or medical care.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- A disorder characterized by behavior such as frequent loss
of temper, a tendency to argue with adults, refusal to obey
adult requests, deliberate behaviors to annoy others, spiteful
and vindictive behavior, use of obscene language, and a
tendency to blame others for mistakes. Symptoms sometimes
indicate the early stage of conduct disorder.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) - PTSD develops when a child experiences,
witnesses, or is confronted with an extremely traumatic event.
This could include actual or threatened death, serious injury
or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. For
children, sexually traumatic events may include
developmentally inappropriate sexual experiences or the threat
of same to the child or others. These incidents cause the
child to experience intense fear, helplessness, or horror. The
child may also exhibit various physical symptoms related to
Pre-Natal Drug Exposure -
Cocaine or other drugs used during pregnancy can significantly
increase the risk of damage to the child's nervous system.
Children exposed to drugs in-utero may appear stiff and rigid,
have prolonged and piercing crying episodes, are easily over
stimulated, and face an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome. Long term effects are uncertain.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
- A condition resulting from an early lack of consistent care,
characterized by an inability to make appropriate social
contact with others. Symptoms include developmental delays,
lack of eye contact, feeding disturbances, hypersensitivity to
touch and sound, failure to initiate or respond to social
interaction, indiscriminate sociability, self stimulation, and
susceptibility to infection.
See our Factsheet on
The Nine Stages of Grief in Parents of RAD Kids
Residential Care -
live-in treatment for children with emotional and/or
behavioral difficulties. This residential treatment may last
several months or up to a year, depending on individual needs.
It generally includes a school component.
Sexual Abuse -
It's estimated that 90 percent of those defined as children
with special needs have been sexually abused. This includes
both boys and girls and even extremely young children.
Therapeutic Foster Home -
where the foster parent or parents have received special
training in dealing with a wide variety of children, including
those who are moderately or severely disturbed, delinquent,
mentally retarded, or medically fragile. Parents in
therapeutic homes are also supervised and assisted more than
parents in regular foster homes.