: of a particular kind
: peculiar to a particular person, thing, or purpose
: unusual, exceptional
: especially important or loved
– New American Webster Dictionary
Back in the days when I had time to write more than one post a month and actually read other peoples’ blogs, I came across somebody’s post suggesting (boldly, I thought, and perhaps rashly) that special needs aren’t special. And I couldn’t figure out if I was offended or simply indignant, but I do remember thinking, That’s ridiculous. Of course special needs are special! My son needed full-time, one-on-one assistance in the classroom – that’s a special need! For years my son needed laminated cue cards in order to communicate – that’s a special need! At age 19, he needs me to keep track of all of his appointments, finances, medication, and hygiene – special needs, I tell you. I could not see how anyone would think otherwise.
But due to the fact that my son, who has autism, among other disorders, recently said this to me: “I don’t like it when you say ‘special needs’ or ‘developmental disabilities’ about me. It makes me feel like I’m incapable of doing things,” I have spent the last few months trying to find an acceptable alternative (since he vetoed ‘differently abled’ and asked, “Why is it so important to you?” when I pressed for his preference).
And so I refrained from saying “special needs” in his presence even though I continued to use it when he was not around. In all honesty, I’ve never really liked it. After all, “our” kids are not any more special than anyone else’s kids, or our other children who don’t have disabilities, for that matter. But some of our kids’ needs are special. Of that I was certain.
And then last month I started attending the Partners in Policymaking program. A 6-month leadership training program for adults with various types of disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, it exists in 46 states. Partners in Policymaking makes participants better advocates for themselves, their family members, and the greater disability community. I highly recommend that everyone should attend it at any point in their parenting journey. Why? It will rock your world. It will turn everything you ever thought about disabilities and “special needs” upside down, no matter how many rodeos you’ve been to.
So why aren’t special needs special? Because we all have the same needs. I know this is revolutionary, so bear with me. We all need to:
-Be loved and appreciated for who we are
-Be safe, well, and comfortable
-Have a creative outlet
Some of us can meet these needs without any assistance. And some of us need support to have these needs met. But that doesn’t make those needs special – because they are the same for all of us. Some children (or adults) need assistance so that they are safe (tracking devices, locks and gates), comfortable (weighted blankets, sound protection, head support, etc.). Some need support with communicating (voice devices, iPads with apps, PECS cards). Some require a power chair, medical transportation, or other assistance with getting around. But the need is to get around, the need is to communicate, or be safe, and those needs are not special. We all need them, unless we want to say that we all have special needs.
My son requires support in meeting several different needs, but his needs are not special. I have the same needs! I just don’t need assistance in meeting them (most of the time). It may have taken me a while to get to this point, a point where I’m ready to embrace an idea that just a few years ago made no sense to me at all, but I’m here. And I’m here because my son told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to change my entire way of looking at his needs: “It makes me feel like I’m incapable of doing things.”
I’ve been in the parenting trenches a while now, feeling like I’ve earned some kind of a badge, like I’ve got this. But the old adage is true – I’m learning that I still have a lot to learn. And I probably have at least a few more rodeos, too.
Image courtesy of Wireandtwine.com