A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I would love for people to stop using the term “special needs” when referring to Moses or other people with a disability. The next week, a couple of my friends at work asked me what I would rather people say if not “special needs”.
Their question took me by surprise, but I was even more excited that after they read my post, they didn’t just dismiss my thoughts. It got them thinking and they were genuinely curious about what to say instead. (Yay!)
I realize that I left that last post unfinished because I did fail to offer an alternative for saying “special needs”.
So what would I prefer you say when referring to Moses having Down syndrome or a disability?
Exactly those words.
‘Down syndrome’ and ‘disability’ are not bad words. They don’t mean bad things. They aren’t wrong to say in any way, shape, or form. So to not say them and try to sugarcoat what he has with something that sounds “nicer”, such as “special needs”, there is the implication that the other words are somehow bad or wrong.
That a disability is a bad thing.
That it’s bad to have Down syndrome.
That there’s something wrong with the person as a human being.
The implication may be subtle and seemingly harmless; however, the impact can be quite significant to those with Down syndrome or another disability.
Do I think that my son is special?
Moses is special because he is fearfully and wonderfully made exactly the way he’s supposed to be. (Just like you are.)
HE is special, not his needs.
I understand it might be hard to get out of the habit of saying “special needs”. It might seem like an inconvenience that isn’t really that big of a deal and not worth the effort.
However, it is a big deal to those that fight against the stereotypes and challenges that come with being labeled “special needs”. It’s a big deal to the parents of children with disabilities that want nothing more than for their kids to be valued and accepted for exactly who they are. Please believe me that your effort is very much appreciated and does not go unnoticed.
So if it’s relevant to the conversation to include the fact that a person has a disability, then just say “disability” or the specific name for it, such as “Down syndrome”. You don’t have to whisper the words or look around to make sure no one outside of your intended audience heard them. I pinky-promise you that they are not bad or hurtful words in any way, shape, or form.
Just call it what it is.