“Oh…He Is Just Special Needs”


I was sitting at a family gathering when I heard someone dear to me say,  “its ok do not mind him he is just special needs.”  I cringe inside because without meaning too the person has labeled Johnny and quickly made an excuse for him.   Its as if two words will explain away any behaviour under an umbrella.   He needs understanding, acceptance and re-direction not excuses.    I personally don’t like the phrase “special needs” and instead I prefer inclusive words.   The word “special” in itself means setting someone or something apart and doesn’t feel like you are including the person at all.    Without meaning too there is a sense of segregation or setting apart when we use the word “special” in a positive and negative way because someone looks or acts differently.


In Webster’s dictionary here is the definition of the word “special.”

*Source : https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/special

Being other then usual” is what stands our for me.

Special needs to me are really human needs.  We all need help sometimes and some of us need it more then others.   For some, our  needs are more obvious while others it is more invisible until we act.  I often hear well-meaning good intentioned people will use the label not realizing that it somehow feels condescending.   I know that some folks reading this might feel like I am making a mountain our of a mole hill but try to put yourself in the child’s shoes.  Are you presuming they can do everything and anything other children can do with some re-direction or assistance or are you just excusing their actions or inability to do something because they have a learning disability or a medical issue?  I have not met an elderly person yet who appreciates being reminded that they are old because that leads people to assume they are now incapable.

In the end it really is just about human needs and lifting someone up so that they have the same opportunities.  Its about giving a child the help when they need it.  Its about understanding when a child does something and a willingness to not judge the child or the parent about what is happening.  Instead  when I hear, “oh he is just special needs” I am not going to apologize when I ruffle a family members or a friends feathers when I say I do not like that term.  I will try and do what a good friend of mine suggests which is to use the opportunity to change one person’s heart and mind one person at a time.   We are all born with gifts to share with the world even those of us who need extra help to move around or to learn at school.

I remember that  Johnny says he hates the term “special needs”  term when all he just wants is someone to understand is that he just needs extra help sometimes… doesn’t everyone? 🙂

“I just  help Mommy.”

So instead of tossing around the phrase ‘special needs” it would be nice to move towards using more positive words like human needs and help or assistance.   I know that many programs, centres and schools use the term “Special Needs” and I am not sure yet what term can be used in its place.   I know where my son goes to school the school board refers to special needs children as having an “exceptionality.”  Being exceptional does have a nice ring to it.


Clip Art found here:  http://www.okclipart.com/Special-Needs-Clip-Art30lchxegrz/



One comment

  1. To me, it’s the verb that’s the main problem. A person can’t BE special needs, but they might HAVE special needs, or more accurately additional needs in certain circumstances. The lone woman in a battalion of male soldiers might have the “special needs” of sanitary products and a separate place to sleep. Someone with a peanut allergy has the special need for a peanut-free environment. The way the person used the term in relation to Johnny is just defining him by one aspect of him, and an aspect that isn’t even really about him – it’s about how other people accommodate, or don’t accommodate, his individuality. I’m sorry you face this constant struggle to open people’s minds.

    Liked by 1 person

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