This piece speaks to our experience as Neurodivergent, sometimes abbreviated as ND, means having a mind that functions in ways which diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of “normal.”NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS Neurodivergent is quite... parents and students. “Special” is non-inclusive, discriminatory language. It is a deficit and medical model euphemism that excuses segregation and exclusion.
“Special” is the language of patients captive to a disability industrial complex. “We have a medical community that’s found a sickness for every single human difference. DSM keeps growing every single year with new ways to be defective, with new ways to be lessened.” “We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient-hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.” Identity-first is the language of agents. By replacing “special” with In the broadest sense, the social model of disability is about nothing more complicated than a clear focus on the economic, environmental and cultural barriers encountered by people who are... language, we can begin the transformation from patient to agent.
“Special” is the language of Noncompliance is a social skill.Noncompliance is one of the most important social skills. Noncompliance skills make it possible to say no, even when others want your right to say no to.... The label "disabled" means so much to me. It means I have community. It means I have rights. It means I can be proud. It means I can affirm myself... kids “are driven to comply, and comply, and comply. It strips them of agency. It puts them at risk for abuse.” “Prioritize teaching noncompliance and autonomy to your kids. Prioritize agency.” “The most important thing a developmentally disabled child needs to learn is how to say “no.” If they only learn one thing, let it be that.” “It’s of crucial importance that behavior based compliance training not be central to the way we parent, teach, or offer therapy to autistic children. Because of the way it leaves them vulnerable to harm, not only as children, but for the rest of their lives.“
“Special” is the language of Forced intimacy is a cornerstone of how ableism functions in an able bodied supremacist world. Disabled people are expected to “strip down” and “show all our cards” metaphorically in order....
“Special” is the language of abuse. People that are “special” can be tormented and murdered.
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Change our vocabulary, and change our framing. Use the inclusive language of Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.NEURODIVERSITY: SOME BASIC TERMS & DEFINITIONS Neurodiversity is a biological fact. It’s not a perspective, an approach, a... & the In the broadest sense, the social model of disability is about nothing more complicated than a clear focus on the economic, environmental and cultural barriers encountered by people who are.... Use the The 20th Century political scientist Karl Deutsch said, “Power is the ability not to have to learn.”I quote this statement often, because I think it’s one of the most important... of identity first language to connect disabled kids with an identity and tribe. With Identity-first language places the disability-related word first in a phrase. People who prefer identity-first language for themselves often argue that their disability is an important part of who they are,... pride and a social model tribe at their backs, kids can better develop voice, agency, and the tools of Self-determination Theory (SDT) is... — a model, a macro theory, of human motivation. It’s one of several models of human motivation, but it’s one that has been confirmed over and....
The time is now for social model inclusion. Our needs are human needs, not special needs. Language matters. We have a moral imperative to connect with the communities we serve and use the language they prefer.
Although human diversity, the social model of disability and inclusion as human rights framework concepts are developing traction, for much of society the “special story” still goes like this:
A child with “special needs” catches the “special bus” to receive “special assistance” in a “special school” from “special education teachers” to prepare them for a “special” future living in a “special home” and working in a “special workshop”.
Does that sound “special” to you?
The word “special” is used to sugar-coat segregation and societal exclusion – and its continued use in our language, education systems, media etc serves to maintain those increasingly antiquated “special” concepts that line the path to a life of exclusion and low expectations.
The logic of the connection between “special needs” and “special [segregated] places” is very strong – it doesn’t need reinforcement – it needs to be broken.
Further, the “special needs” label sets up the medical “Care work makes all other work possible. Putting care—not just care work, but care—at the center of our economy, our politics, is to orient ourselves around our interdependence. Care is...” model to disability rather than the social inclusion model of disability. It narrows and medicalises society’s response to the person by suggesting that the focus should be on “treating” their “special needs”, rather than on the person’s environment responding to and accommodating the person – including them for the individual that they are.
There is another insidious but serious consequence of being labelled (as having or being) “special needs”. The label carries with it the implication that a person with “special needs” can only have their needs met by “special” help or “specially-trained” people – by “specialists”. That implication is particularly powerful and damaging in our mainstream schooling systems – it is a barrier to mainstream schools, administrators and teachers feeling responsible, empowered or skilled to embrace and practice inclusive education in regular classrooms, and accordingly perpetuates attitudinal resistance to realising the human right to inclusive education under Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In other words, the language of “special needs” leads to, and serves to excuse, a “can’t do” attitude as the default position of many general educators – it effectively deprives inclusive education of its necessary oxygen – a conducive “can do” classroom culture.“He ain’t special, he’s my brother” – Time to ditch the phrase “special needs” – Starting With Julius
It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.
Every time someone says “special needs,” they reinforce the false notion that disabled people are asking for “extras” when we require Accommodation is fundamentally about not changing the person but changing the environment around the person.Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences Yet on a programmatic..., modifications, and/or support to access the same things that non-disabled people are able to access, such as education, public spaces, community involvement, and so on.
That’s the first problem, because access is not “special” for disabled people. It’s our right.
The second problem is, the phrase “special needs” flies in the face of the social model of disability. The social model says, the disabled person’s inability to access things is due not to the disabled person’s failings, flaws, or deficits, but on the environment’s failure to provide access to the things. For example, a Blind person is not disabled because they can’t see, they are disabled because the world was set up by seeing people for seeing people and is made of many things that are inaccessible to non-seeing people.
To make a metaphor of it, imagine taking a brand new car and submerging it in a lake. The car is disabled; there’s nothing wrong with the car itself, it still does everything it’s designed to do, but it cannot operate in its current environment. If were in an environment well suited to its needs and purposes, like say a road, it would be able to do all the things a car does.
So, when you say “special needs” instead of disabled, you are saying, this person needs all sorts of special things to help them do what we can do. We, the people who designed the buildings, the curriculum, the programs, the services, so that they are tailored to our needs – we don’t need anything special to access those things. Well of course!
Some people shy away from the word disabled because they feel that it’s stigmatizing. (Some people feel the same way about the word Autistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If....) But you don’t remove stigma by dancing around it and being coy and hush-hush about it. That actually increases stigma. Disabled is not a slur and never was; it’s a neutral description. I believe that the Justice, equality, fairness, mercy, longsuffering, Work, Passion, knowledge, and above all else, Truth. Those are my primary emotions.Very Grand Emotions: How Autistics and Neurotypicals Experience Emotions Differently » NeuroClastic https://youtu.be/uPRa6G2a48E... is people are not just uncomfortable with the word, they are uncomfortable with disability itself.
Having “special needs” classrooms upholds neurotypicality, for instance, as the dominant model of existence. Drugging our children because of their attention deficit is upholding a The existence of the word neurotypical makes it possible to have conversations about topics like neurotypical privilege. Neurotypical is a word that allows us to talk about members of the... Normal was created, not discovered, by flawed, eccentric, self-interested, racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist humans. Normal is a statistical fiction, nothing less. Knowing this is the first step toward reclaiming your.... Sending our black and indigenous children to juvenile detention centers in disproportionate numbers is upholding a neurotypical norm which takes, as neurotypicality always does, whiteness as the standard.
Because the When it comes to human neurodiversity, the dominant paradigm in the world today is what I refer to as the pathology paradigm. The long-term well-being and empowerment of Autistics and members of... has been dominant for some time, many people, even many who claim to advocate for the empowerment of Autistic people, still habitually use language that’s based in the assumptions of that paradigm. The shift from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm calls for a radical shift in language, because the appropriate language for discussing medical problems is quite Our friends and allies at Randimals have a saying, What makes us different, makes all the difference in the world.Randimals We agree. Randimals are made up of two different animals... from the appropriate language for discussing diversity. The issue of “Identity-first language places the disability-related word first in a phrase. People who prefer identity-first language for themselves often argue that their disability is an important part of who they are,...” is a good basic example to start with.
If a person has a medical condition, we might say that “she has cancer,” or she’s “a person with allergies,” or “she suffers from ulcers.” But when a person is a member of a minority group, we don’t talk about their minority status as though it were a disease. We say “she’s Black,” or “she’s a lesbian.” We recognize that it would be outrageously inappropriate – and likely to mark us as ignorant or bigoted – if we were to refer to a Black person as “having negroism” or being a “person with negroism,” or if we were to say that someone “suffers from homosexuality.”
So if we use phrases like “person with Autistic ways of being are human neurological variants that can not be understood without the social model of disability.If you are wondering whether you are Autistic, spend time amongst Autistic people, online and offline. If...,” or “she has Autism,” or “families affected by Autism,” we’re using the language of the pathology paradigm – language that implicitly accepts and reinforces the assumption that Autism is intrinsically a problem, a Something-Wrong-With-You. In the language of the neurodiversity paradigm, on the other hand, we speak of neurodiversity in the same way we would speak of ethnic or sexual diversity, and we speak of Autistics in the same way we would speak of any social minority group: I am Autistic. I am an Autistic. I am an Autistic person. There are Autistic people in my family.
These linguistic distinctions might seem trivial, but our language plays a key role in shaping our thoughts, our perceptions, our cultures, and our realities. In the long run, the sort of language that’s used to talk about Autistics has enormous influence on how society treats us, and on the messages we internalize about ourselves. To describe ourselves in language that reinforces the pathology paradigm is to use the master’s tools, in Audre Lorde’s metaphor, and thus to imprison ourselves more deeply in the master’s house.
It is also to acknowledge and discuss the fact that the disability rights movement has been having conversations about language and disability terminology for decades, and that many nondisabled people are (perhaps willfully) unaware of these conversations. They come up with complex and tormented euphemisms to talk about disability instead of just asking a disabled person if there’s an appropriate term. Many nondisabled people are shocked that many people with disabilities, including myself, view ‘special’ as a rank insult that is horrifying to encounter. This word makes me so angry. So angry.
Thus, when I say ”special’ troubles me,’ I mean ‘please do not use this term to refer to me, because I find it personally insulting, and I have an identity, that identity is disabled, please respect my identity by using the word I self identify with to refer to me’ and I also mean ‘I would vastly prefer that you consider not using it as a default/general term, but use it for self identification if you identify with it, and to describe other people who self identify with it.’ And, in return, if I know that someone identifies as special needs or with any other term involving ‘special,’ I will refer to that person that way, because I believe that respecting self identification is a critical thing. However, I note that I don’t personally know anyone who identifies with this term; I see it being used by nondisabled friends and family, applied as a label by others and not claimed as a self identification.
So, here’s what I, personally, don’t like about special: I feel like it’s an isolating word. I feel that the concept of ‘special’ stands in the way of full integration into society, and it also perpetuates some very harmful myths. It sets people with disabilities aside and stresses that they are different and I believe all persons with Autism need the opportunity to become friends with other Autistic people. Without this contact we feel alien to this world. We feel lonely. Feeling like.... That using a wheelchair, for example, is ‘special’ and different and Be proud of what you are.We’re weird, and we’re glad we are.Weird Pride Promo 2021 https://twitter.com/MxOolong/status/1499306544449662977?s=20&t=XYCmQe4y50Kl7ZpwjY4S5w https://twitter.com/MxOolong/status/1499306546693607427?s=20&t=XYCmQe4y50Kl7ZpwjY4S5w What and who are you?You don't fit in here.Randimals Book 👏 Let's be....
This word, to me, stresses a The belief in the existence and relevance of social hierarchies must be suspended.The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations The extent to which a community... of Normal was created, not discovered, by flawed, eccentric, self-interested, racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist humans. Normal is a statistical fiction, nothing less. Knowing this is the first step toward reclaiming your.... And, thanks to the way that it has become twisted, it has become a singularly loaded word. Everything from ramps to quiet rooms for taking exams is considered ‘special treatment’ and sneered at. Nondisabled people think that we are pulling off some kind of giant scam here and that’s reinforced when we talk about, for example, ‘special education.’
The very idea that accommodations are ‘special’ stresses that they should not be expected. That they are a prize or treat. That you don’t deserve them. I want to see accommodations normalised. I want to see it assumed that everyone who wants to participate in something is able to do so, that no barriers are presented by other participants or the venue. I don’t want that to be ‘special.’ I want it to be ordinary.
Likewise, the idea of referring to human beings as ‘special’ is one I find troubling, not least because this term has become weaponised. I have trouble parsing whether it is being used as a celebration of identity or an insult whenever I encounter it.
The “special needs” language falls into normativity. There’s a “Normal was created, not discovered, by flawed, eccentric, self-interested, racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist humans. Normal is a statistical fiction, nothing less. Knowing this is the first step toward reclaiming your...” and a “right” way to do things, and that way is how able people do it. If you don’t do it that way, suddenly it’s “special” because it’s different and scary.
“Special needs” is part of this dichotomy which is used to split able and disabled. Indeed, to alienate disability. Disability is different and “special” and hard and weird. “Special” is an isolating word, in fact, because it sets people apart, and not necessarily in a good way, no matter what the original meaning of the word is.
Think “special bus” or “special education,” both of which are used to isolate developmentally disabled folks from their peers, often under the argument that they are “hard to control” or “disruptive” or “upsetting” or, sometimes, just “gross.” People use “special” to push these folks away, to isolate them somewhere where they cannot bother the nice able people.
It’s one of the many euphemisms for disability which is used to create a veil of obscurity. Disability as Other. Indeed, “special needs,” a term which people often use because they are fumbling for something else to use, looking for the “right” way to say it, is intensely othering.
For one night, the special needs community will shine! And then the day after, they will go back to being ignored by much of their What I have always been hoping to accomplish is the creation of community.Community is magic. Community is power. Community is resistance.Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century https://www.amazon.com/Disability-Visibility-First-Person-Stories-Twenty-First-ebook/dp/B082ZQBL98/ https://www.amazon.com/Disability-Visibility-Adapted-Young-Adults-ebook/dp/B08VFT4R9T/....
Here’s the real problem for me – why put this money behind isolated, segregated, events? I know Tebow et al. think they are doing good here, and I’m sure the people who go will have a good time. But it accomplishes nothing other than a brief moment of fake normality.
“Prom” didn’t matter to me, but to many people prom = normal highschool experience. So if people with disabilities are being excluded from such activities, if that’s something they want, then the solution is to put time and money behind making such events more inclusive and more accessible.
A segregated special event for special needs, no matter how well intentions, just reinforces the idea that people with disabilities cannot function in “normal” society.
My son, who has Down syndrome, is 10. By the time he was 3 (thanks in part to spending his first few years There are three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading.The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning Most schools and... everything I could get my hands on), it was pretty clear to me that while he had particular needs, they weren’t all that special. He needs an education, safe housing, independence, meaningful community, health care, and basically all the other stuff that everyone else needs. Our means to get him there might vary and require specific techniques, tools, and resources, but it’s not because his needs are so “special.”
Moreover, as a euphemism, “special” has become its own brand of insult. Anecdotally, I increasingly see people substituting the word where they might have used the word “retard,” because ableism can always survive the shifting of norms. “Special,” appended before “snowflake,” was the “defining insult” of 2016, according to The Guardian. “Special” connotes both undesirably different and unjustly self-centered.
In fact, there’s a broad cross-disability movement dedicated to working against euphemisms like “special needs” or “differently-abled.” While the origins of the expression “special needs” are complicated and debated, Rebecca Cokley, executive director of the National Council on Disability, explained to me that it’s clear “the term was never chosen by our community; it was chosen by educators, family members, and other professionals who felt uncomfortable by the use of the term ‘disability.’”
It’s not just about law, either. Lawrence Carter-Long launched the #SayTheWord campaign in 2016 to get people to use “disability” or “disabled” rather than dodging the issue. He told me that in the past, “Disability was only a diagnosis, but it now equals identity, it equals community, it equals history, it equals constituency. So part of saying the word is the recognition of the She tells of a radical fringe of scientists who are realizing that natural selection isn’t individual, but mutual—that species only survive if they learn to be in community.Emergent Strategy: Shaping... of what the word has become.” He’s equally opposed to special needs, as a concept, because, “A need isn’t special, if other people get to take the same thing for granted.”
The #NotSpecialNeeds video doesn’t say the word disability, but I don’t know that it needs to do so. It’s an impressive piece of work, chipping away at the euphemism “special needs” with hilarity, positing scenarios that would qualify as special, like needing massages from cats or celebrities to conduct wake-up calls (the latter scene features John C. McGinley, the actor from Scrubs, whose son has Down syndrome).
As Linton explains, “terms such as physically challenged, … handicapable, and special … are rarely used by disabled activists and scholars. Although they may be considered well-meaning attempts (by people without disabilities) to inflate the value of people with disabilities,” these terms “can be understood only as a euphemistic formulation, obscuring the reality” that disabled people are not “considered desirable.”
We predicted and observed that persons of all ages are viewed more negatively when they are described as having special needs than when they are described as having a disability or having a certain disability.
Our research supports many style guides (and disability scholars) who prescribe not using the euphemism special needs. In addition to its negative connotations, we argued special needs is imprecise; it can refer to groups as unrelated as minority and bi-racial children in the realm of child adoption; middle-age adults and persons without personal transportation in the realm of disaster preparedness; and pregnant women and people with nut allergies in the realm of airline travel).
Special needs also connotes segregation. Most special programs (e.g., Special Olympics and special education) segregate persons with disabilities from persons without disabilities. Special needs also implies special rights. In our research article, we pointed to an OpEd in The Chronicle of Higher Education that misconstrues legally mandated disability rights as special rights, as well as similar misconstruals observed in common vernacular.
We concluded that special needs has become a dysphemism, similar to lame (e.g., a lame idea), Some people with disabilities call themselves “crips.” “Crip” used to be a mean word for disabled. It is short for “cripple.” But some disabled people call themselves “crips” on purpose...., blind (e.g., blind to evidence), and deaf (e.g., deaf to reason). Our research did not explore whether non-disabled people’s use of special needs is intentional (although some instances clearly imply negative intentionality). Perhaps, as Simi Linton suggests, non-disabled people’s ambivalence about disability rather than sharp repulsion underlies their use of the term special needs. Regardless of speakers’ and writers’ motivation, our research recommends not using the euphemism special needsand instead using the non-euphemized term disability.
Although euphemisms are intended to put a more positive I don’t know who invented the phrase “special interest.” Probably some researcher. Autistic people don’t really love the term because the term “special” has become tied so closely with terms... on the words they replace, some euphemisms are ineffective. Our study examined the effectiveness of a popular euphemism for persons with disabilities, special needs. Most style guides prescribe against using the euphemism special needs and recommend instead using the non-euphemized term disability; disability advocates argue adamantly against the euphemism special needs, which they find offensive. In contrast, many parents of children with disabilities prefer to use special needs rather than disability. But no empirical study has examined whether special needs is more or less positive than the term it replaces. Therefore, we gathered a sample of adult participants from the general population (N = 530) and created a set of vignettes that allowed us to measure how positively children, college students, and middle-age adults are viewed when they are described as having special needs, having a disability, having a certain disability (e.g., is blind, has Down syndrome), or with no label at all. We predicted and observed that persons are viewed more negatively when described as having special needs than when described as having a disability or having a certain disability, indicating that special needs is an ineffective euphemism. Even for members of the general population who have a personal connection to disability (e.g., as parents of children with disabilities), the euphemism special needs is no more effective than the non-euphemized term disability. We also collected free associations to the terms special needs and disability and found that special needs is associated with more negativity; special needs conjures up more associations with developmental disabilities (such as intellectual disability) whereas disability is associated with a more inclusive set of disabilities; and special needs evokes more unanswered questions. These findings recommend against using the euphemism special needs.
They are not “special” needs. They are needs I have because of disability. Saying it differently doesn’t change the fact. Saying it differently actually perpetuates the stigma around disability, increases the likelihood people will continue to see me as other and broken, and decreases the chance my needs will be met.
Too often proclaiming a person has “special needs” is the trigger for people to give up, asserting that sometimes there is “just no solution” and that the disabled person will have to “learn to cope” and “develop their skills” so they can “fit in to society” and “have a hope of getting a job and making friends”. When in fact there is always a solution that respects the rights of the disabled person, and we regularly live meaningful valuable lives as ourselves without having to change and fit in to societies unrealistic expectations and arbitrary rules of existence.
All people have needs. When their needs are met, all people live their lives well. All people receive help to see their needs met from time to time. Our society works on shared ideas, spaces and resources. Assisting a non-disabled person to see their needs met is not perceived as heroic, patient or inherently good. It is called living life in community.
During these 12 years, many things have changed, my vocabulary too. I don’t use the word “normal” anymore, I use “typical”; I don’t use the word “special” anymore, I use “disabled”; I don’t use the word “gift” and I don’t consider my daughter as a superheroine; I’m not a “special mother” and my daughter is a girl with Down syndrome who lives her life with the same need to belong as everyone else. Euphemisms are not helpful so let’s call things by their name – disability #saythewordit’s what disability activists ask for. To tell it like it is allows me to look at things without hiding, to face life in a direct way. And it allows Emma to do the same. I feel as if I am respecting my daughter more, as if I am giving her the chance to define her own identity over time, of which disability is part.
Adults with disabilities ask that you say “disability” and not “special needs” when you are talking about disability. As Louisa Shiffer said,
Disabled people should control the conversation about their disabilities, and the language used about them, not their parents.
“Handi-capable”, “People of all abilities”, “Different abilities”, “Differently abled” and “special needs” were made up outside of the disabled community, by people without disabilities. Their continued use, and the defense of their use by people without disabilities reeks of able-splaining; that is, people without disabilities explaining disability to people withdisabilities.
Then the word “disability” makes complete sense. Those of us living with a disability are absolutely living a dual existence: we move through the mainstream world which is largely inaccessible and not disabled, and we have our own experience with the fact of our bodies.
We see, hear, speak, think, learn, process, read, write, move, and/or feel in ways that are less common than most. We have a lot to offer, by dint of our experience with disability and where our interests lie. Our needs are not special, so please: say the word, as we are asking you to.
Why, oh why is this still such a common term? It makes no sense to me. By much the same logic that explains why “differently-abled” is inaccurate, it’s clear that “special needs” is too. If you are a human, you have needs. Everyone has needs. What makes mine so “special” just because I have a disability? Nothing.
My needs are not “special” just because they’re not met in ways identical to the needs of non-disabled people. I need a ramp; you need steps. Not special, just facts. I need a wheelchair; you walk. Not special, just facts. Moreover, the needs of non-disabled people certainly aren’t all met in the same ways. Just like every other living, breathing human being on this planet, I am a person who has needs that must be fulfilled in ways appropriate to my abilities.
Whether you’re disabled or non-disabled, I urge you to realize why euphemisms really aren’t a show of respect, no matter how well meaning your intent might be. They can be disempowering, patronizing, and even hurtful. So please, just call me a disabled woman, because that’s who I am, and that’s who I’m proud to be.
“Special needs” is a patronising euphemism. Special, by definition, means “better, greater or different from what is usual”. In reality, ‘special’ in the context of “Special Needs” is a disingenuous use of the word. What people seem to mean when they say ‘special needs’ is that people with impairments require more attention, they are more expensive to care for and are more difficult to provide for than those without impairments. So what is the result? A situation where people with impairments are excluded because they have “special needs” they are more difficult than those without “special needs”.
However, in reality, we all share the same needs. Everybody requires water, food, shelter and love, in order to survive. In parts of Africa, we have seen disabled young people who have been isolated. They have had no food or drink and no love. These people are not special, their needs are the same as all of ours.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of people (including me) use certain terms with the very best intentions, sometimes it is counter-productive. Merely labelling a group of people – disabled people – as “special” implies they are recognised as being far different from everybody else. The consequence of this is that they will be treated differently, ensuring that the stigma (which exists in all cultures to varying degrees) remains. This is the opposite of inclusion, despite the fact that inclusion is often the aim when using the term “special needs”.
Terminology and language are so important: once we separate people in discourse and our minds, we then start to separate people in practice. History shows us that this is a dangerous thing to do.
I believe that a reason why, as a society, we have not embraced children with disabilities as full participants in our schools and communities has to do with the limitations of our own mental models around disability.
We have moved from hiding and institutionalizing kids to a world where children with disabilities are seen as special and placed in special settings and given special services with special caregivers and they, and their families, have become disenfranchised from the community at large and they have become in fact their own separate community.
I believe that “special” has become a euphemism for “separate,” and when we separate kids and we place them in separate settings and give them separate services we are teaching them that their place is over there, with people like them and not as part of the full community, and when young, impressionable children learn that their needs are too great that they are too different and that they don’t meet our very narrow definition of what normal is, this has a life-long effect on their ability to contribute positively to society.
Although euphemisms are intended to put a more positive spin on the words they replace, some euphemisms are ineffective. Our study examined the effectiveness of a popular euphemism for persons with disabilities, special needs. Most style guides prescribe against using the euphemism special needs and recommend instead using the non-euphemized term disability; disability advocates argue adamantly against the euphemism special needs, which they find offensive. In contrast, many parents of children with disabilities prefer to use special needs rather than disability. But no empirical study has examined whether special needs is more or less positive than the term it replaces. Therefore, we gathered a sample of adult participants from the general population (N = 530) and created a set of vignettes that allowed us to measure how positively children, college students, and middle-age adults are viewed when they are described as having special needs, having a disability, having a certain disability (e.g., is blind, has Down syndrome), or with no label at all. We predicted and observed that persons are viewed more negatively when described as having special needs than when described as having a disability or having a certain disability, indicating that special needs is an ineffective euphemism. Even for members of the general population who have a personal connection to disability (e.g., as parents of children with disabilities), the euphemism special needs is no more effective than the non-euphemized term disability. We also collected free associations to the terms special needs and disability and found that special needs is associated with more negativity; special needs conjures up more associations with developmental disabilities (such as intellectual disability) whereas disability is associated with a more inclusive set of disabilities; and special needs evokes more unanswered questions. These findings recommend against using the euphemism special needs.