Development of Children with Additional Needs

Children with additional needs are those that have not followed the expected development path and are, thus, slower than peers in areas of language and communication (Short, Edie, & Kemp), socio-emotional development (Lippman & Darling-Churchill, 2016), physical development (Maciver et al., 2019), and cognitive development (Zucker, 2010), among others. The additional needs and interventions are discussed below.

Language Development

One of the key developmental skills acquired during childhood is language use. It includes attainment of better understanding, capability to use worlds for self-expression, and effective use of grammar. Short et al. (2019) stated that language development affects the long-term attainment of children in academics as well as social and economic participation. Problems with language and communication have negative implications on the affected child, parents, and the society. The effects mainly occur financially and in area of life quality. Unfortunately, one in every five children usually show poor language development tendencies around the age of 4 years (Short et al., 2019). The authors linked the language difficulties to social aspects (based on disadvantages in the areas of income, home ownership, employment of parents, etc.).

Difficulties in communication are usually detected during entry to school. Dockrell, Howell, Leung and Fungard (2017) explained that speech and language delays happen to many children, who then join school having poor language skills. Language difficulties lowers literacy levels and causes poor social participation, higher academic failure, student disengagement, mental health issues, and adulthood challenges like unemployment (Dockrell et al., 2017; Short et al., 2019). Children with these outcomes often come from households with low income (Short et al., 2019), as parents living in such situations expose the young ones to difficult life circumstances due to their low socio-economic status.

Socio-emotional Development

Social-emotional development happens when children of ages 0 to 5 years begin forming close relationships with peers and adults, start experiencing and expressing emotions that are socially and culturally acceptable, and study their environment or learn from family members and the community (Lippman & Darling-Churchill, 2016). Socio-emotional development affects the functioning and well-being of children. Similar to language development, socio-economic advancement influence school performance of children and their success in settings they engage with later in life. Social and emotional encounters with parents or caregivers and other relationships with peers and adults in early life determine future academic and personal outcomes. Development of socio-emotional skills enables children to attain the confidence and competence levels required for relationship building, solving problems, and coping with emotions.

However, Lippman and Darling-Churchill (2016) stated that maladjustments in socio-emotional domain limits a child’s ability to participate in family, school, and community activities.  A child that fails to form secure attachments with caregivers faces communication and emotional management difficulties, and may develop poor connection with peers. These emotional and behavioural issues could cause health and behavioural challenges at adolescence stage, which lead to dropping out of school and health disorders like anxiety and depression (that negatively affect academic achievement). Lippman and Darling-Churchill (2016) explained that age 5, when children join school, is the most appropriate time test socio-emotional development. Predictors of this capability include behaviour management, building of social connections, and ability to keep up with frustration from peers.

Physical Development

A 2007 disability report by the World Health Organisation revealed that 5.1% of children from birth to 14 years old show signs of developmental delay, learning difficulties, autism, and behavioural disorders (Maciver et al., 2019). Despite these challenges, no one can stop the children from joining mainstream school because it is their right. Academic professions must, thus, prepare to receive the children diverse needs and include them both socially and educationally. When teachers utilise the appropriate school-based approaches and involve families of children with additional needs, the children participate actively and fully in school. The school-based activities in which children can participate include: organised events like arts, sports, and clubs; unstructured activities that involve playing and making friends; and classroom activities such as studying and group work.

Children with disabilities will show limited participation in these school activities. The restrictions that the disabilities place on children affects their achievement, overall well-being, and quality of life. In other words, children with disabilities interact less and rarely participate in the playground, have lesser school attendance rates, and show lesser engagement in the school clubs or organisations. There is surely a need for interventions that boost participation of children with disabilities in school but Maciver et al. (2019) argued that understanding of processes for accomplishing this is limited.

Cognitive Development

Children show complex interactions between the age of one and two years. Zucker (2010) noted that a two-year-old child without additional needs is capable of following commands, can feed themselves, and are capable of reaping several words within a sentence. Thus, a two year old should have a vocabulary list consisting of around 200 words. The child’s motor ability gets more sophisticated by three years and their language skills show substantial improvement. However, a child with cognitive development issues will be unable to form simple sentences of three to seven words by this stage.  

In some cases, even their sense of humour does not emerge by three years of age (Zucker, 2010). Most of children at this age tend to imitate their parents and older siblings’ verbal expression and actions. A four-year-old should express self-sufficiency in many areas. They should help out and identify themselves with parents of same gender. Public schooling begins at 5 years and children should assume formal learning but children with additional needs may not be interactive enough. They may fail to play board games or sports, and find no pleasure from interactions.

According to Fischer and Bullock (1984), children mostly spend time in school environment when they are 4 to 18 years old. Four levels of cognitive development should happen during this time. At age 4, a child with cognitive disability will show inability to handle relations within representations. In other words, they will be unable to complete tasks that require coordination of at least two ideas or will not relate two social categories (such as relationship between a doctor and patient). According to Piaget’s hypothesis, children should start thinking of things not yet in present by the age of two, and this should advance gradually so that complexity of their presentations rise through preschool years (Fischer & Bullock, 1984).

By six or seven years, a child should enter the stage of concrete operations. However, with disability, children do not develop fast enough. At this age, a child’s social cognition also improves so he or she deals with complex challenges regarding perspectives, coordinates several social classifications, and understand them. For instance, a child with normal cognitive development should understand that a man can be a teacher and a father to a boy who is both his student and his son.

Strategies to support the Learning and Development of Children with Additional Needs

This section reveals two strategies for supporting the learning of children with additional needs.

Strategy 1: Emphasising the Early Childhood Learning Domains

Early childhood years are characterised by children’s desire to comprehend content, sharpen communication and language skills, and share knowledge with others. Zucker (2010), thus, states that provision of stimulating and supportive environment is necessary at this stage to enable the children participate in language learning, literacy activities, math games, and science adventures. The following are the critical domains, according to Zucker (2010):

Oral language

At kindergarten, children should be engaged in an environment with rich vocabulary to they master the skill quickly and develop complexity. Children here understand and can say up to 4,000 words. Their language skills also enable them to speak three- to five-word sentences coherently. A vocabulary rich environment should help children who struggle with content storage, processing, and retrieval to learn alongside others that are better at this. Addressing oral language (vocabulary and phonological knowledge) in pre-school improves literacy development in children. Phonological awareness relates to hearing and sound manipulation. It enables division of oral language into sound-words and syllables to enable children remember the sounds in letters when formal instruction commences.

Parents, teachers, and older siblings should engage the children in conversation on all the important subjects to make this strategy effective (Hebbeler & Spiker, 2016). New conversations with interesting topics are recommended, and should happen daily. Topics should cover household and academic areas. The young children tend to imitate what adults say, hence they will repeat such conversations until the time when they start processing the content and make the ideas and vocabulary their own. Other than telling stories, adults (teachers and parents) should encourage the young ones to retell the stories.


Literacy skills development starts from birth, as children learn to copy what they see the people around them doing. Unlike in low socio-economic settings, children from families with higher socio-economic status experience text at an early age and learn to write (Zucker, 2010). To nurture this skill, teachers and parents should encourage pre-schoolers to play games and sing songs with sounds and letter to improve exposure to phonetic concepts. Parents and teachers should lead the songs and pronounce the letters and sounds appropriately so the children repeat them. Games such as play dough, painting of fingers, sand play, and plastic words are important.

Mathematics and Science

Introducing numbers, algebra, measurements as well as data analysis and collection minimises the chances that children memorise process and answers. Interactive math activities are quite enjoyable to children. Parents and teachers should help children to identify shapes, and guide them on how to use language to explain what the shapes are. For example, the young children should know that a circle is round. Language for describing distance and quantity such as near, more than, greater than, and far, can also be shared at this stage.

As for science, teachers should know that children enter pre-school curious for scientific content. The interaction children encounter with technology today greater influences their academic and social achievements. The experience with DVDs, phones, and game boys builds the foundation for science hence science vocabulary and scientific inquiry should begin early. Children should also get exposure to the equipment used to explore the new world. Making the science activities interesting encourages engagement.

Social Competence

Social competence domain includes a child’s ability to make and retain friendships, understand the feelings and needs of others, solve problems, express emotions, adjust behaviour to match demands of specific social circumstances, and express emotions. With the guidance from teachers and parents, the children learn to exercise social competence in ways that are socially and culturally appropriate (Hebbeler & Spiker, 2016). An important concept for young children to learn is self-regulation, which is perfected through patience and proper planning.

Strategy 2: Inclusive Education

According to Yoro, Fourie, and van der Merwe (2020), inclusive education helps to support the learning of children with neuro-developmental disorders (NDDs). These are children who experience abnormal brain development, making them experience difficulties in communication, behavioural skills, and cognition. Young children with NDDs could inconvenience teachers by giving them extra workload, performing poorly academically, and their slow pace in grasping content may result in inability to complete syllabus on time.

Based on these reasons earlier education policies discriminatively left out the children with additional needs. Inclusive education is the system that allows all learners to equally access education. The strategy supports social justice and equity, with the aim of ensuring that the school system embraces diversity of barriers. Still, the implementation of this strategy requires use of approaches that accommodate the needs of all learners, and make the environment receptive enough. Schools should provide the support and learning aids that enable children with additional needs to catch up.

Rationale for the selected Strategies, with theoretical perspective(s)

The strategies are based on the understanding that conscience is shaped at an early age and a child’s morality begins externally. These are major concepts of morality development theories (Ma, 2013). Both strategies recognise that the younger children learn from teachers, parents, older siblings, and peers, and should, thus, these people should offer the support they need to participate in school activities. In accordance with social learning theory (Celliers, 2021), the selected strategies agree that children learn new behaviour through observation and imitation of the adults around them.

A school environment is where children learn content by repeating what the teacher says, and the social setting in the home environment has a major contribution towards this. Lastly, in relation to cognitive development theory (Marwaha, Goswami, & Vashist, 2017), the strategies identify school environment as a major setting that helps with development of intelligence, perception, integration of information, and reasoning. Of course, support from home environment also has a direct contribution towards successful running of the school-based activities.