Understanding the link between mental health and children with additional needs in early childhood is the first step to supporting children with additional needs.
What are additional needs?
Differences exist among all people; one such as when a child has a disability or condition that requires some additional support. This may be, for example, a developmental disability, a medical condition or a mental health issue. Children with additional needs may face challenges across a number of areas including their physical health, mental health, ability to learn, or they may face difficulties when trying to do things other children without additional needs can do.
Supporting children with additional needs enables them to feel included and to participate; this also may reduce their risk of developing mental health difficulties and helps promote their strengths. Strategies for supporting children with additional needs can vary greatly because every child is unique.
Some children with additional needs and their families can experience stress because of the daily challenges they may face. These challenges can mean children with additional needs are at higher risk of developing emotional, social and behavioral difficulties that may further impact on their daily experiences. Even all children with additional needs will not develop mental health difficulties, though having to rise above multiple challenges can significantly reduce well-being and increase stress.
There are many things we can do to reduce the stress that experience children with additional needs and their families. Some of these things are at the level of:
- an individual child – encouraging them and building on their strengths
- families – being understanding and placing ourselves in their shoes
- the school or early childhood education and care service – finding ways to help all children participate
- the community – being conscious of attitudes towards people with additional needs.
When we do these things, we are able to support children with additional needs and their families in respectful and sensitive ways. This creates an environment that fosters inclusion, belonging and positive mental health.
All children with additional needs benefit from:
- feeling a sense of belonging
- experiencing warm and responsive relationships
- having opportunities to develop positive friendships
- play with other children.
With careful planning and attention between families, educators, and other involved professionals, children with additional needs can be encouraged to participate, well supported and included. In this way, families and educators can work together to develop a partnership with respect, trust, and understanding.
The support that helps one child with additional needs may not work for another because every child is different. Children are likely to benefit more when the support they receive is tailored to their individual additional needs. Families may be aware of individualized strategies that help support their child. When families share these with their school or educators can feel confident in how to respond and support children with additional needs.