The “Special Needs” Issue

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t use euphemisms like “special needs” or “kids with disabilities” or even “disabled kids” to describe children with different abilities.

Better outcomes for all special needs kids

It is our motto. It forms the “sn” in our name, but we know it is a bit contentious – especially as we’ve gotten to know more disabled adults. We’ve tried different mottoes, we’ve even tried to come up with new language: “alt-abilities” and “all abilities”.

When we started and even today, we are mostly a parents group. For most of us, our first significant encounter with disabilities is when our own child is diagnosed with a disability.

Image of Quotation on 'special-ness" and segregation for people with disabilities from David Frydman
“Special” and Segregation for People with Disabilities

We then spiral rapidly into the world of “special education”… and it goes on and on and on from there.

Special, special, special, …. there seems to be a lot of “special” and not a lot of “education”…. “special” needs seem to be supports and services that aren’t actually provided for.

As parents who care about disability and ALL kids, we are sure we have a different perspective than disabled adults who have lived in the world of disability all their lives. But, we are looking at two sides of the same issue.


While you have experienced stigma directly, we have experienced it indirectly through not seeing you, no hearing you, and not being in community with you…. just like most of our non-disabled peers.

We haven’t experienced good models of the world of disability to plug into… it wasn’t there for you and isn’t there for our kids.

And, far too often, stigma causes damage that adults with disabilities might not see:

  • There are parents who won’t get their disabled children the help and services they need simply because of the stigma of disability.
  • There are kids who, as they get older, opt out of the services and support they are entitled to (and may need) simply because of the stigma of disability.
  • There are kids and families who are suffering because they don’t quite meet the clinical or educational diagnosis for a disability… and can get no help at all.

What words do we use to welcome those people in and help both them and their kids?

We’ll say whatever we have to say to try to reach those in need.

Even worse, the general stigma of disability in our society makes it hard to connect parents of disabled kids to disabled adults. We would LOVE to have disabled adults to help us to navigate the crazy systems that we all deal with (contact us and we’re working on our advisory board with a big focus on including adults with disabilities). It is a key part of the outreach we have been doing as we’ve gotten smarter about disabilities.

And the silos within the disability community are so demoralizing

The battles within the autism community. The “hierarchy” of disabilities. The language wars. Parents of kids with disabilities vs. disabled adults.

The hurt that we do to each other …knowing what we all know…

There are not enough of us.

We need to pull together.

ALL of us… leaving no one behind.

We look forward to the day that we no longer need “special needs” in our motto and that “sn” is a historic artifact in a snappy organization name.

Heck, we look forward to being obsolete.

Join us… and help us put ourselves out of business 🙂

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