By Mark E. Smith
As a classically-trained writer, I understand words – their efficacy or impotence, the way they twirl off of the tongue and echo in the ear. Words are powerful, captivating, emotive. And, sometimes, words are defining, both in the positive and negative.
For some time, as a writer, as a parent and as one with a disability – but, really, just as a person – I’ve been struggling with three words that we use to define what I’ve come to know as an ambiguous, possibly specious term: special needs child.
I, of course, understand our social definition of a special needs child, that of a child with a physical, emotional or intellectual disability. But, is it – special needs child – a logical term to use? I mean, I’m not questioning it from a political-correctness or ethical perspective. I simply question if the label is logical?
And, I don’t think it is. After all, have you ever met a child who didn’t have special needs? Of course not. If we truly acknowledge what each child in our life needs, every child is a special needs child. There are eight children in my close family, and they’re all so unique in character and at different stages from one another that each one has special needs. Why only project “special needs” onto children who have disabilities when every child clearly has special needs?
The label also represents a type of reverse discrimination that’s unfair to all children. If you’re with several children in public, and one has a disability, adults often fawn over the child who has a disability and ignore the other children. Yes, such adults mean well, but they’re doing more harm than good. Such situations inadvertently patronize disability and ignore others – everyone loses.
Instead, let’s see kids as kids. Each is special and unique and has needs, and should be recognized as such. Most importantly, let’s drop the labels altogether, and just let all kids be kids.