February 20, 2010

Special Needs Rant

I hate the term "special needs".

There, I said it.

To me, "special needs" brings up images that scare me....and make me sad. It focuses on what a child (or adult) is lacking, or unable to do. I've never heard someone say "that boy has special needs because he is so smart" or "that girl has special needs because she is too darned healthy".
The term "special needs" is such a wide term: it can refer to mental or physical "disabilities", or issues in the medical, behavioral, developmental or emotional realm. So in reality, "special needs" can refer to someone who lisps and needs speech therapy; has food allergies; can't walk and uses a wheelchair; has profound mental retardation; has ADHD; etc, etc, etc.

It's such a catch-all phrase, and rarely does it cover the positives.

I NEVER say that A has "special needs". I say that she has "special medical needs". This differentiation is important to me. Yes, she has a breathing tube. Yes, she has (although is not currently using) a feeding tube. Yes, she is profoundly deaf in one ear and mildly deaf in the other ear. Yes, she JUST started walking at age 3 1/2. But these issues don't define her. A is NOT her medical chart, her medical history, or her medical future. A is a bright, curious, gorgeous, fun, amazing little girl who just happens to have some medical issues.

One of my favorite quotes is "all children have special needs". And isn't this true? My kindergartner, D, who is as typically developing as they come, and is as healthy as a horse, has some (mild) behavioral issues at home and at school. I truly believe that EVERYONE in this world will have an issue to deal with. Some examples are medical issues (needing glasses or fighting cancer), emotional issues (battling depression), behavioral issues (having impulse control problems), addiction issues (needing food or alcohol), social issues (having a hard time making friends), or learning issue (having dyslexia), just to name a few. No one in this world gets through life unscathed, without having a challenge to overcome. NO ONE.

And that's why I hate the term "special needs". It singles someone out for lacking something, when truly aren't we all? Don't we ALL have special needs?


  1. I often say the same thing. Austin is not a special needs child, but a child with special needs. Sometimes if I am feeling rebellious I will say he is "medically fragile". :)

  2. I agree. Every kid has a "need". I mean, you see these kids at the park, pool, mall. Throwing tantrums, acting like nuts, etc. Kids who cannot sit still, kids who are having trouble in school. Every kid has something going on that makes them a challenge, makes them unique. I never see A as special other than the obvious things that make her special. Same goes for D. What makes her "special" is how she is blowing these so-called "needs" out of the water.

  3. The challenges we face allow our souls to grow. I love that you don't let A's chart define her, I think sadly that it would be so easy to do that. To go through life letting her medical needs limit her enormous potential would be such a disservice to your amazing daughter. Each child will have their own unique challenges, and present you with your own unique challenges, as they grow but neither will be limited by any labels that society might be tempted to place on them-because they have a Momma that will go to bat for them and always expect success.


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