It's something I've been meditating on for over a year now. In a webinar about gear designed to help children with disabilities walk, a mom tacked it on to the end of a seemingly-unrelated comment:
"But really," she said, "'special needs' is an inaccurate term. There is no such thing as a special need."
It shocked me. Was she seriously suggesting that my son - who can't walk, talk, eat, or hold things in his hand - doesn't have special needs?
That's exactly what she was saying. And I've come to believe she's right.
Because needing help to meet your needs is not the same as having needs that are special.
"Special needs" is a euphemism we use when we're uncomfortable using words like disability or syndrome or when we just don't know what to say. It seems like a safe catch-all term that will get the point across.
Here's the thing, though: people with disabilities have enough challenges to overcome without living under a label that says even their basic human needs are different than those of the rest of us.
Collin needs food and water. He can't eat or drink it with his mouth, so he uses a g-tube.
Collin needs to get from one place to another. He can't do it on his legs, so he uses a wheelchair and/or a helper.
Collin needs to give and receive love. He can't do it with words, so he uses facial expressions, sounds, and body language.
Am I splitting hairs here? Maybe. But I believe words are important. And I believe the words we use to describe one another should be thoughtful and accurate.
My son is Collin. Collin is six years old. He has Wiedemann-Steiner Syndrome. This means he has multiple disabilities and faces lots of challenges. But it does not make him a "special needs kid".
I don't take offense at the term "special needs." I just don't use it anymore. Because it is inaccurate. Because it is uninformative. Because it separates instead of bringing together.