"Special needs" is the term today for identifying children with various disabilities. The former word was "handicapped." The general estimate is that 13 percent of our children (about one out of eight) have special needs, requiring some adjustment to their lives and to the learning situation for the classroom teacher.
Do other children have "special needs," even of a diverse kind? Consider:
■ Children who live below the poverty level, often with a single mom working two jobs, often without an involved father. In Kentucky this is 27 percent, but 17 percent nationally. For black families, the figure is almost double, 47 percent.
■ An estimated 20 percent of children have an undiagnosed mental illness, according to Jon Akers, Kentucky Center for School Safety. The U.S. surgeon general says 20 percent, a total of 15 million, for the nation. Anecdotal evidence puts the figure closer to 30 percent
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■ Children who are obese, about one out of five, who must deal with their self-image, diet and eating problems. Obesity is regarded as epidemic today.
Many children come from families where feelings are never discussed so they have no way of understanding their own emotions and moods.
■ Many children, for diverse reasons, feel painfully different from other children. They know they are regarded as "outsiders." They are more likely to be teased, ignored or bullied.
■ One study showed that nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying.
Girls are three times as likely to engage in bullying as boys. Furthermore, electronic bullying is seldom reported because kids are afraid their parents will take away their devices
■ As many as 14 percent of high school students admit to making actual plans to commit suicide. About 4,000 succeed yearly. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens. Boys are four times as likely to commit suicide as girls.
■ The widespread use of mobile devices not only decreases classroom engagement and social connection, but adds to the frequency of electronic bullying.
■ Too many children, teens and adults do not realize they can control the chatter between their ears.
Given this environment of emotional insecurity, every school system has children struggling with feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of harming themselves.
All children need to feel cherished and to find encouragement in their situations. They need learning situations, caregivers and stories which can inspire.
Spellbinders is the name of the Lexington group of storytellers who teach children to use their imagination to solve challenges in setbacks. Folk tale themes of Encountering the Monster, Rags to Riches, etc., help inspire children to find hope, courage and resilience, no matter what.