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Types of Special Needs and Supports

Children can have many different types of special needs. Fortunately, many resources and supports are available to help. Learn about the types of special needs, or disabilities, and supports most common for children from birth to age five.

Boy with special needs playing with blocks

Children develop at various rates, often learning and mastering skills differently from one another. This is why there are age ranges for when children typically show certain skills in the areas of social-emotional, language/communication, cognition (learning and understanding), and/or movement/physical development.

Developmental delays are a possibility when a child continually shows skills behind the skills expected for that child’s age range. Some delays can be short-term, and your child’s ability to learn new skills can improve with early intervention. However, other delays can be signs of developmental disabilities and/or other disabilities typically diagnosed later in a child’s life. Some children are born with disabilities, while other disabilities aren’t determined until later in development.

If you think your child might have a disability, health issues, or mental health condition, you should seek a doctor's help immediately. Trust your instincts – no one knows your child better than you!

More than 10 percent of California children under five years of age have a disability or special need that may affect their ability to play and learn.

Early intervention services and therapies, which can address each area of development (speech and language therapy, behavioral therapy, occupational and physical therapy, and academic/cognitive support services), are most effective if started before a child turns three.

If your child is under three years old, your local regional center will be able to help assess and connect you with services for your child. If your child is three years old or older, your local public school can assess and connect you with services for your child.

What should you look for at each age? Check out our Developmental Milestones topic page.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, you should ask your pediatrician. Your pediatrician can help you understand what is expected of your child and determine if there is potential for a developmental delay or disability.

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First 5 California
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