Is your son special needs?
This was a question posed to me this week about Edgar—who, just like your son or your neighbor’s son or your grandson, is most assuredly special.
As an English teacher, though, and a mother who is “the parent of a child with special needs,” the word “special” has been on my mind since this person’s well-meaning question.
Type “special” into your thesaurus or thumb through the “s’s” of your old paper edition and you will see synonyms such as “singular,” “unusual,” “different,” and “separate.”
Think about it in other arenas, such as a special photograph or memento or a special set of dishes you inherited from your grandparents, and you are left with connotations that hover around notions of fragility or breakability—that a person with “special needs” needs “special care,” needs to be handled with kid gloves lest they crumble.
And fragility and breakability are not concepts I want associated with my son.
Yes, my son has epilepsy and he has ADHD. Accommodations in his educational program need to be in place not to mention on the home front—accommodations that help to even the playing field for him, that will allow him to be successful and to achieve the same standards as his peers, as those who get to traipse through life without the burden of labels.
But Edgar is strong; he is resilient. He is wise and has been through more in his short eight years than I have in my four-plus decades. And despite his particular set of necessary accommodations it is important that the world not see him as “unusual” or “separate.” His is among us and one of us.
The intentions of the phrase “special needs,” I believe, are pure; but in reality, and at least for my son, they ring as demeaning, endeavoring to keep him separate, to have him viewed as different and delicate.
So, no, my son is not “special needs” any more than anyone else. The needs he has as he navigates the planet are special and unique to him just as the needs you have as you navigate the planet are special and unique to you. Expect the same from him as you would from yourself while remembering the burden he carries that you do not. Offer accommodations that are empowering and appropriate.
Then drop all the labels and just call him Edgar.