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M. Ann Levett, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Savannah-Chatham Co.
Public School System

208 Bull Street
Savannah, GA 31401
(912) 395-5600


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208 Bull Street
(Admin. Offices)

2 Laura Avenue
(Board Meetings)

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How to tell if a child may have a physical, emotional or mental disability

Every child in this country is entitled to a free public education.  This applies to all children regardless of the type of severity or their ability or disability.  If a child you know has a disability, educational help may be available.  To help you recognize if a disability might be present in a child you know, the following checklist of common early signs have been compiled.  However, it is not a complete list, nor is it a professional evaluation.  It is merely a guide.

Early signs that a child may have a disability

The Child’s Sight

  • Child’s eyelids droop.
  • Child frequently complains that eyes hurt.
  • The eyelids are red, watery, puffy, and encrusted.
  • There is crossing of the eyes: one or both eyes may be affected.
  • At age 1, child cannot focus on small objects in order to pick them up.
  • Child frequently rubs the eyes, as though they itch or hurt.
  • Child holds head in awkward or tilted positions when looking at something.
  • Child moves eyes excessively.
  • Eye pupils are of uneven size.

The Child’s Hearing

  • Child talks very loudly, even shouts during normal conversations.
  • Child speaks very softly, almost in a whisper.
  • When called from another room, child does not respond.
  • Child complains that one or both ears ache, or that a liquid “runs” from the ears.
  • At age 6 months, child does not turn toward the sounds of voices or noises.
  • When there is sound, the child always turns the same ear in the direction of the sound.

The Child’s Speech

  • At age 1, the child is unable to say such basic words as “Mama” and “Dada.”
  • At age 2, cannot give the names of toys or members of the family.
  • At age 3, is unable to repeat simple rhymes or common television musical jingles.
  • At age 4, speaks in sentence fragments, cannot say short, complete sentences.
  • At age 5, cannot be understood by people outside the immediate family, only those “used to” the child’s speech habits.

The Child at Play

  • At age 1, the child does not respond to a call by looking directly at an adult; and cannot figure out simple problems (finding objects hidden under cup).
  • At age 2, cannot identify body parts or match like objects, does not recognize self in mirror.
  • At age 3, cannot recognize own name or understand use of familiar objects.
  • At age 4, unable to name colors, tell the action in a picture or count to 2.
  • At age 5, cannot make simple comparisons such as which is prettier, heavier), count up to 4 or understand “yesterday,” “today,” or “tomorrow.”
  • At age 6, unable to distinguish left from right, understand size and weight relationships, count to 6 or understand numbers to 10. 

The Child in Motion

  • At age 1, the child cannot sit without support, pull self to standing position, reach for objects or pick up objects with a pincer grasp.
  • At age 2, is unable to walk alone, kick a large ball, scribble or build a tower with 2 or 3 blocks.
  • At age 3, cannot walk up or down stairs, pedal a tricycle, run without falling, turn the pages of a book, copy circles or draw a cross-mark.
  • At age 4, cannot balance on one foot, jump from bottom step, catch a bounced ball, close a fist and wiggle a thumb or trace a diamond shape.
  • At age 5, unable to turn somersaults, pump his/herself on a swing, fold a paper triangle from a 4-inch square, print a few capital letters or cut with scissors on a straight line.
  • At age 6, cannot skip on alternate feet, jump rope, throw a ball 10 feet away so it can be caught; print his/her name, draw a person (including head, trunk, arms and features) or lace shoes.

For additional information, please call the Department for Exceptional Children at 912-395-5583.