Why I Don’t Want To Be Called a ‘Special Needs Parent’


OK, so you’re probably thinking, Why would she say we shouldn’t tell people we’re special needs parents? Is she ashamed to be categorized that way? Is she ashamed of her kid?

unnamed (30) Quite the contrary…

I read a lot of great, inspirational stories from parents who have children with special needs.  Beautiful stories that make my heart swell with emotion and pride and hope and connection to other people who clearly know how I feel in a world where so many don’t. These stories are lifelines and bright spots in days when I might be feeling sorry for myself or my beautiful daughter. But then I read those phrases — “special needs parent” and “special needs child” — and, for me, it’s like a slap. I know these amazing parents are trying to label themselves and their kids in a way that’s not offensive or demeaning, but I want to point out a few things missing when we use those terms.

A child (and his or her parents) are people first. The disability or special need or medical issue or whatever, doesn’t define them (or their parents). Don’t we all wish for nothing more than for the world to see our children as just people? Inspirational, strong, beautiful people who happen to have some different challenges than the average person (whatever “average means)? I’m all for embracing the uniqueness of our situations and our children — I see true beauty in it despite the fear, stress and frustrations, but in a world that seems to want to classify our kids as “less than,” I want to challenge those of us who walk this walk to use different language.

People-first language goes a long way. It probably sounds picky or oversensitive to some, but I feel the distinction is important in changing perceptions. Kids born with differences shouldn’t be labeled as anything but kids. They have different colored hair, different personalities, different body shapes and yes, different medical conditions, challenges — and so what?  I’d like to meet a person who doesn’t have a special need of some kind. In the wise words of Robin Roberts’ mother, “Everybody’s got something.”

So to those of you brave enough to share your absolutely beautiful stories of bravery, positivity, love and strength — please consider using people-first language. If parents of children with special needs don’t change perceptions, who else will?

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