Special Needs Moms
“Special Needs Mom” is a term that is used by moms to refer to the fact that they parent a child with a disability.
They don’t want to say “disability.”
They don’t want to say that their child has a disability either because they have a fundamental lack of understanding about the word “disability” itself – which I totally understand! The word “disability” is misleading! – or because they have deep seated ableism and think there is something inherently wrong about disability, so don’t want their child to be part of this group.
They go with “special needs” instead.
Now, there are a few things that are problematic about saying “special needs” instead of “disability” with regard to your child. I want to talk about these, but largely from my professional perspective working in Human Resource Development and Training.
The reasons why it’s problematic to refer to your child as having “special needs” instead of a “disability” are:
1. A disability in America is protected by law. A special need is not.
If you want your fruitcake to be frosted, that’s a special need. If you want a ramp to access your school, that’s a disability.
If your child has a need that is the direct result of the presence of a disability, they have LEGAL RIGHTS, and your child needs to grow up learning about those rights in order for them to become the proud, strong adults that you want them to grow into.
They don’t need to apologize for who they are.
They don’t need to be wishy-washy or flim-flam or hem-haw about the fact that they think, move, emote, communicate, hear, see or express in a way that directly results from a disability.
They are not going to be served well in their future if they grow up thinking – BECAUSE YOU TOLD THEM AND THE WORLD – that they have “special needs.”
Being clear and direct about what they have – in terms of being specific about their disability, what the direct accommodation needs are, and what their legal rights are – is going to change their lives in a powerful way.
2. Everyone (literally EVERYONE!) has special needs
Before I even joined the community of parents who have kids with disabilities, this “special needs mom” stuff confused me.
I wondered if they were saying that THEY had some special need, the mom?
Or, I wondered, were they trying to say they were disabled moms, like moms with disabilities? If so, why not just say what they were, “moms with disabilities”?
Then I found out it was about their KIDS; like, they were using their child as a source of identification for THEMSELVES.
“Autism Mom” and “Down Syndrome Mom”, “special needs moms” and all that; hugely confusing, and frankly, kind of weird.
From an HR/Educational Perspective
I knew then as I still know now that we all have special needs.
Some of our needs are the direct result of disability, and some are not.
But every.single.human.being on this planet, I swear! Has some special need. And the job of a good HR manager or a good teacher is to figure out what that need is (or needs are).
The reason is that when we are working with what each of whatever our particular special needs are, we are harnessing the collective talent of all. We are creating productive environments. We are fostering growth, and figuring out how to help everyone tune in, tap on.
Does Johnny work better with a plant nearby? Does Janey get stressed out with fluorescent lights? Does Billy need to stand up every 5 minutes?
These are the questions that should be in the back of every good HR Manager AND teacher’s head.
In both education and in employment, radar needs to be up to how each person behaves, learns, produces, and I promise you: EVERYONE HAS SPECIAL NEEDS.
As parents, we
want need to be specific about the fact that our child’s needs are, in this case, related to the presence of disability in their life, and that as such, it is legally protected.
We are not asking for favors.
We are asking for the law to be implemented, and trust me: our kids are watching us. They are taking their tune from us, so if you want to be raising proud, strong disabled kids, you need to believe in your child. You need to understand in your gut, your marrow, that the presence of disability is, while life changing, is NOT a bad thing.
Our children are experiencing their lives from a framework, a vantage point, that we can never fully understand.
And it’s not ours to understand, because they are the stuff of the future – it’s simply our job to be, as Gibran says, a stable bow and help them fly.
I have 3 kids and 2 of them have needs that are associated with the presence of disabilities (Down syndrome and Autism, respectively).
I also have needs that are associated with the presence of disabilities (deafness, Traumatic Brain Injury and Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
You would think that either from the perspective of being a mom who parents kids with disabilities, or from the perspective of a mom with disabilities I’d be a “special needs mom.”
But I’m neither.
I’m just a mom with disabilities – a disabled mom – who is raising kids with disabilities.
And we have special needs that include a deep love for Groot, Goose, all things rainbow, quirky and awesome.
Opinion PiecesPosts that I've written about disability access, inclusion or things said
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.