“Special Needs”

In the book, “The Seeing Glass: A Memoir”, by Jacquelin Gorman, she writes in chapter eleven about her brother, who was living with autism:

I hate anything having to do with the word special ever since they started using it to describe my brother. Robin has special needs. He has to go to a special school with special teachers. Now it’s called special education, but there is nothing special about any of it. It’s the perfectly healthy child who is special, who gets to live the privileged childhood that is denied their “unlucky” sibling.

I remember this really striking me when I read it. There were a lot of things this book made me really think about. It was a book that took me places I had not anticipated going when I first read it. She has such a good point . . . why did they pick the word “special” to represent those who have challenges that most of us don’t have to contend with? Maybe it was society’s way of trying to even things up for these people . . . give them a little leverage.

Sue Klassen, editor of the RAHA (Rochester Area Homeschoolers Association) News newsletter, wrote in their June/July 2006 issue about this topic:

My son contends that all children have special needs, and I heartily agree. One child needs hours of intense physical activity each day while another needs an endless supply of books at bedside. Some learn best through auditory channels while others learn best through seeing things. Others can learn anything if it’s set to music and still others thrive on a logical-mathematical approach. However, I resent when the term “Special Needs” holds overtones of “Defective Child.”

This is exactly what special needs has come to connotate . . . being defective. And yet, as she so aptly delineated, we all have our very own specialness . . . uniqueness . . . individuality. At the beginning of the diagnosis of my children with autism, it was such a foreign word to my lips. Admittedly, however, I soon found myself using it as a crutch, wanting to convince people that the differentness they were seeing in my child was not due to poor parenting, but to something biological. And yet, these very insecurities were deepening these negative perceptions of different people.

After living and learning more about someone with extraordinary perspective differences and having needs that cognizantly address things we all take for granted, like being sensorially balanced, it has helped me become more comfortable around a higher level of differentness. What have I chosen to do within my own home at this time as it pertains to how I view my “special needs” children? I’ve come to the place where they are simply themselves now, as they have always been, without a label attached to help others feel more comfortable. If my children need additional information shared with others in order to help themselves be more comfortable, then so be it. Otherwise, it is simply, “This is my son, Adam.”


9 responses to ““Special Needs”

  1. Thanks for the visit, AND the comment. Would you mind emailing? If you’ll send me your email address at glenda.leigh@gmail.com I’ll send you the email address I actually use. 🙂 All providing you don’t mind of course. I’d love to talk further about the reading thang

    Love the post. So much truth. I never introduce Bria in any other way now, she’s Brianna. period. I don’t mind questions, asked politely, but I’m not going to make her stand out by giving personal information I don’t about the others either!

    thanks. Again.

  2. Wow, you’re post really touched me. How true it is that all children have their own unique needs. I also whole-heartedly agree about the label issue. Although my kids were both diagnosed with autism we rarely ever use that label anymore.

    We did at first but then came a kind of peace with it and a letting go and then we just gave up the label. Now most days they’re just regular kids, with their own uniques needs like every other child. I’ve found that such labels are really only useful in a handful of specific situations, most of which center around the school system.

  3. Good post. I have noticed that I have an urge to “explain” my son Aidan to those who first meet him. I didn’t really put into words to myself that it was to justify myself — to excuse myself from an impression of “bad parenting.” Anyway, I’m glad that I usually resist the urge and let people just look at him as he is unless it seems that knowing his diagnosis will actually help the people to relate better to him.

    In day to day life Aidan seems much more like everybody else than he is different from them. Even his behaviorial “differences” as you point out are his unique and often quite successful ways of coping with sensory integration and motor processing difficulties.

  4. Glenda! I’m looking forward to our e-mail chats. What you said about being fine with others asking questions politely, I agree. Certainly I want others to see how wide-open we are about the differences in our family and comfortable with who we are enough to graciously give information when and where appropriate for the benefit of all. But, as you also said, I have also had to figure out where it is good information sharing to contribute to helping others see the beauty of autism, and where it is infringing on my child’s right to privacy with personal information.

    Susan! Your description of using the label and then coming to peace with it all and letting it go until they’re just you’re regular kids again is very similar to how the transition went for me. I also find using the label useful only in very specific situations overall, particulary for my high functioning kiddos.

    Willa! It was a hard admission for me that I was using the label as a crutch for myself and my insecurities at the time. Adam is very obviously living with autism . . . he is moderately verbal and high behaviors, so you know within seconds, now that he’s 13 especially, that he is unusually different. Being stared at is pretty typical for our family for more than his reason. Of course, we all remember the judgment stares when they were young as being considered “brats”, and as an unschooling mother, I had come to pride myself in my parenting, and so these uninformed judgments jostled my confidence. But, it also eventually strengthened me because I had to find my confidence from the inside out, and as always, only the great love and admiration I have for my children would push me to stretch myself and grow in new and better ways.

    As you mentioned about how you relate your child’s diagnosis to others, if it will better serve my child, then my role as interpreter, facilitator or guide comes out as well 🙂

    Thanks all, for your comments!

  5. Thank you for visiting and for sharing this wonderfully articulate and wise post! Adam is a very handsome guy. 🙂

  6. Cindy of Apple stars,
    I understand completely about the need for better education. Most people look to see how I ( the parent) are reacting to a meltdown or other inappropriate behavior. Only once did I have a stranger badger me about “what I was going to do about my son?” I told her when she had a cure for autisum then she could judge. I told her that if I approch him too roughly, he may become violent and hurt her family. You should have seen the look on her face. Education is the only way. Eve

  7. He is such a cutie!

    I often have to “explain” Nick within a few moments of introducing him to someone new because he is non-verbal. I could never pinpoint why the term “special” always got under my skin. Thank you! Now I know why! LOL

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