I am an adult with a disability. I have a child with a disability (different from my own). And I am a professional educator.
I have come to loathe the term “special needs”. I feel like it’s a watered-down euphemism for “disability”, originating in the educational sphere and has since been misused all over the place.
“Special needs” does not equal “disability” (my post on that is here). Plenty of people with special needs do not have a disability and plenty of people with a disability do not have special needs.
So I wish people would just say “disability” when that’s what they are talking about and quit saying ‘special needs’ to describe something that is, in fact, a disability.
A big problem of course is the word “disability”.
Frankly (harshly?) speaking, it’s just a pretty meaningless word that only indicates a particular way of seeing, hearing, moving, feeling, thinking or being in the world. People get bent out of shape with the “ability” part of it – and I understand, but for lack of a better word, it’s the one we are working with.
The thing that most people do not understand, however, is that the word “disability” actually covers a spectrum. As my friend Eli said, the autistics got it right when they called it a “spectrum” – and it would be great if we could do the same in the disability community. Because that’s really what we have: a disability spectrum.
We’ve got people who have a particular way of seeing (- the blind, low vision), hearing (d/Deaf, auditory processing disorders), feeling/thinking (- mental, intellectual and developmental disabilities), moving (- people who use prosthetics and wheelchairs), being (being who have chronic illnesses) and so forth. We have an entire spectrum of disability, it is as far as a one-size-fits-all experience as you can get.
But we’re no more a community of people with “special needs” than anyone else in the world is.
That is to say, we have “special needs” like every human being does, no more or less. It’s not the particular and unique needs that we have as humans that will fit us into the disability spectrum; no – it’s the way we see, hear, feel, think, perceive or move that will.
I have to see and do in order to learn. That qualifies as my learning style. I am deaf and I have PTSD and brain injury – that qualifies as my disability. But it’s not a “special need”.
For a more in-depth post: 3 Reasons to Say “Disability” Instead of “Special Needs”
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.