Children with Special Needs - Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Some children have developmental delays or difficulties right after birth, while others might have delays a little later. You can help by learning the early signs. By knowing if your child might have delays or special needs, you can get him or her help when it is first needed. The best time to get a child help is from birth to age 3. It's important to get help as soon as you can, even if your child is still a baby or very young. It can make a big difference as a child grows and might prevent more serious problems later on.

Some things can put a child at higher risk for special needs. Here are some things to look for:

  • The child was born too early.
  • The child had a low birth weight.
  • The mother took drugs, drank alcohol or smoked when pregnant.
  • There is violence in the local area or home.
  • The mother and child have poor eating habits.
  • Family stress. This could be poor housing, homelessness or death in the family.

Children with special needs have differences in the way they develop or act. Some ways of acting might just be a child's personality. Others can be cause for concern. For a full list of developmental signs and stages, please read our three-page "Tip Sheet" that will answer many questions you might have about how your child is moving, communicating, thinking and playing, and if he or she might need some special help.

When Your Child Is Diagnosed with a Disability or Other Special Need

All parents want their children to grow up healthy and happy, and are proud of their accomplishments and delight in watching them grow. Parents of children with disabilities and special needs are no exception. If your child has been diagnosed with a disability or other special need, First 5 California has the following tips that will help encourage their healthy development:

  1. Look for support: As your child learns and grows, you may have to talk to many people to find the right information and services. Both you and your child might also need help dealing with your feelings and other people's attitudes. The most helpful support may come from other parents who have children with disabilities or special needs. They can help you find resources and information, and provide emotional support. If you need a break or help with housework or child care, contact In Home Support Services through the County Social Services Department. Your family may qualify for help.
  2. Love, support and nurture your child: As children grow, they need opportunities to play and learn. Help your child find ways to do things independently or with the least assistance possible. Allow them to make mistakes and be creative. Involve them in making decisions, which will build self-esteem and confidence and help your child to become a self-assured and capable adult. Decision-making skills are especially important as your child gets older, so start early so your child can have a lot of practice.
  3. Learn more about your child's disability: Go to the library and find out all you can or visit Web sites such as or


If you think your child or a child in your care might have special needs, here are some ways you can learn more and get the support you need:

  • For children from birth to age 3, call the California Department of Developmental Services at 1-800-515-BABY (2229) and select the "Early Start" extension number. They will tell you places in your local area that can help. This might include a Family Resource Center. There you can also get support.
  • For children 3 and older, call your local school district or special education program of your county's office of education. They can help you find out if your child qualifies for special needs services. These services are confidential and do not cost anything. To use these services, parents must sign an agreement to get their child tested. They must agree to have the child get special education if it is needed.
  • For information on children with special needs in child care settings, contact:
  • California Department of Education "Reasons for concern that your child or a child in your care may need special help."