Middle Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Category — 2.4 Children with Environmental Risk Conditions: Poverty


The term “environmental risk” covers a variety of factors that place children at a risk for developmental delay. To learn more about environmental risk, please visit the zero to six section of this course.

Poverty is considered a big environmental risk factor. It regularly appears to be a determining factor in the developmental outcome of children. Please visit the poverty section of this course in order to learn about the definition of poverty (Fig. 1).

living in poverty

Figure 1. Living in poverty

Children who grow up in poverty face many risk factors, including:

  • Living in an unsafe environment;
  • Moving frequently;
  • Not having a lot of stimulating material in the home (for example: books and toys, or anything that is relevant to one’s culture);
  • Not being able to spend a lot of time with parents because they may have two and sometimes three minimum-wage jobs;
  • Living with a single parent;
  • Not having enough nutrition;
  • Not having access to health care.

Children growing up in poverty may have delays in many developmental and academic areas. The delays usually result from the environment in which the child lives. These delays can be found in the following areas:

  • Cognitive skills: some children who live in poverty experience certain delays in the acquisition of basic cognitive skills. They may struggle with attention and concentration and may take longer than their peers to learn basic concepts such colors and shapes.  Children may struggle with such tasks simply because he or she is hungry. In a school environment, children who live in poverty may have difficulty solving problems and processing information;
  • Academic skills: studies generally show that many children who live in poverty are delayed in most academic areas. They often struggle with reading and writing and math. They may not know how to play with certain toys or materials available in the classroom because they have not been exposed to them. Often, they score lower on standardized norm-referenced tests, such as IQ tests (see full Glossary). This may or may not indicate a cognitive delay. That is, some children perform poorly on an IQ test because they are cognitively delayed. Others may perform poorly because they are not familiar with some of the content of IQ tests. Because of that, the standardized test scores of children who live in poverty should interpreted with extreme caution;
  • Language and communication skills: studies show that many children who live in poverty have immature language and communication skills. They appear to have a smaller vocabulary than their peers and often use very simple terms and words when communicating with others. They may struggle with complex and multi-step directions. They may not understand the pragmatic rules of language;
  • Motor skills: although most children who live in poverty appear to have adequate motor skills, some do not. Some experience difficulties with activities that require the use of fine motor skills, such as writing and drawing. Others may have gross motor difficulties, which can be manifested in awkward movement and poor balance;
  • Social/emotional skills: some children who live in poverty experience great difficulties in the social emotional area of development:
    • Social skills: some children who live in poverty may have inappropriate social skills (please note that these skills are culture-dependent). They may not know that they sometimes have to wait for their turn, stand in line, or share a toy or book with others. Some may interrupt others during a conversation and others may use inappropriate language when communicating with children and adults;
    • Emotional skills: some children who live in poverty experience difficulties with their emotional skills. They may find it difficult to understand and recognize their own emotions, as well as those of others. They may have poor self-esteem and very little self-confidence. This could be the result of feeling that they are not as good as others because they have very little while others have a lot. In severe cases, emotional difficulties could lead to difficulties with mental health;
    • Adaptive skills: most children who grow up in poverty are perfectly capable of dressing and undressing themselves. Some may struggle with hygiene and cleanliness, but that is usually because they have not been taught how to groom themselves;

    Mental health difficulties: some children who grow up in poverty may struggle with depression  and different types of anxiety-based disorders.

Children who grow up in poverty can benefit from  a lot of help. They are usually children who can achieve anything that they put their mind to. When they do not it could be because of lack of opportunity, not lack of ability. Children who grow up in poverty do not usually qualify for special education services in school, but they could benefit from services from the following professionals:

  • Special educator: the school’s special educator can teach children who grow up in poverty essential learning skills that they may not have learned at home. They can teach them how to be organized, pay attention and concentrate. They can coach them on how to finish their homework, and will often help them with reading, writing and math;
  • Speech and language pathologist: the SLP can help children who grow up in poverty improve their language and communication skills. They will help them increase the size of their vocabulary, and improve their language and communication skills. They may also help them with pragmatic language;
  • Occupational therapists (OTs) and physiotherapists (PTs): OTs and PTs can help those children who struggle with fine and gross motor difficulties improve their large and small muscle skills;
  • School counselor: some children who grow up in poverty may need counseling sessions with the school counselor. The school counselor can help them adjust to being in school and teach them how to behave in socially acceptable ways. They can also help these children with any difficulties they may be having at home;
  • Psychotherapist: some children who grow up in poverty may struggle with depression and/or anxiety. In such cases, regular psychotherapy sessions with a clinical psychologist may be helpful.

There is nothing that children who live in poverty cannot achieve. Many thrive when given a chance. It is the duty of everyone working with these children to ensure that they are given all the stimulation that they need, in order to grow up to be healthy and happy adults.

see References
Berk, L.E. (2012). Infants and Children: Prenatal Through Middle Childhood (7th Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Boyle, J. R. & Danforth, S. (2001). Cases in Special Education (2nd Ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Rawlinson, R. (2011). A Mind Shaped By Poverty. New York, NY: IPublishing.

July 15, 2012   No Comments