I don’t have special needs. I just have needs.

If I were growing up today, and my Asperger’s/autistic status was known, I would probably be classified as having “special needs”.

I’m not sure I’m on board with this idea.

Let’s break it down, starting with the minimalist elements.

The word “special”, according to my friend Merriam-Webster, could take on any one or combination of several meanings:

1 – distinguished by some unusual quality; especially; being in some way superior; example: “our special blend”

2 – held in particular esteem; example: a special friend

3a – readily distinguishable from others of the same category; unique; example: “they set it apart as a special day of thanksgiving”

3b – of, relating to, or constituting a species; specific

4 – being other than the usual

5 – designed for a particular purpose or occasion

Of all of these, perhaps the fourth one, “being other than the usual”, might have merit.

Because lord knows I’m not like coffee (a “special blend”), nor am I “held in any particular esteem”, nor am I “designed for a particular purpose or occasion”, nor do I constitute the whole of a species, either human or other.

I might give them the part about being different from the usual.  But that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

But then again, maybe not.

Now let’s build on that “special” concept, by considering the term “special needs”, which is defined as:

“a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

Isn’t every human being an individual?  And as such, don’t we all share some needs in common?  And don’t we all also possess different needs that few other people have?

Let’s look at some examples.

All human beings across the planet need what are referred to as the Hierarchy of Needs: food, clothing (or some other means of temperature control), water, oxygen, sleep, and likely, shelter.

Almost as universally, but not quite, most humans need some kind of support, contact, love, and/or kinship.  Unlike the first tier of more-physiologically-oriented needs listed in the preceding paragraph, these aren’t quite so crucial for physical survival.  There are plenty of people who do without these elements, and physically, they’re OK.  Many of them might even be emotionally OK.  There are many others, however, who do without these elements at an invisible expense; those people often experience depression and isolation.  Some of them are aware of it, and some aren’t.

And then there are individual needs.  (There may be a few unmentioned needs-layers in between, but I honestly don’t know enough about the subject to elaborate further.)

These individual needs are variable and unique from person to person.  Many of them could be perceived as luxuries, because they’re not crucial for survival, and one must have enough financial resources left over after taking care of the basic necessities.

My survival may not hinge on the availability of these individual needs, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t use them, that they couldn’t help me, and that my life would be worse off without them.  To go without wouldn’t sacrifice my life in the physical sense, but it would sacrifice my wellbeing, my life in the mental, cognitive, and emotional sense.

For example, I need a gluten-free diet in order to keep my brain and nerves from eating themselves.  If I didn’t adhere to such a diet, I would need a wheelchair to move around.  Sure, I could forego both of these, and I would probably still live, as in my heart would keep beating, but I would be confined to my room, probably my bed, likely alone, with massive mood swings between intense irritability and debilitating depression, severe dementia, and a total loss of what makes me human.

What kind of life is that?  As someone who loves to think, create, move, remember, joke around, and interact with people close to me, that gluten-inclusive, wheelchair-free, support-less life sounds like the definition of a personal hell.

No thanks.

But I don’t consider that a “special” diet.  It’s just modified–modified for my individual needs.

Let’s take another example: education

Education is treated like a one-size-fits-all mediocrity, but that’s not the truth, and for many, it’s not even acceptable.

Growing up, I actually needed to be home-schooled by my mom.  I didn’t get to do that beyond the age of five, so I suffered from then onward.

I had individual needs I didn’t know I had.  There were subjects that I (much like many–and I would say most–other children) naturally excel at and are attracted to, and there are others that I need to approach more slowly, in smaller pieces, in order to grasp and absorb.

That doesn’t mean that I needed “special education”; it simply meant that I needed different education.  Since every child has different interests and abilities, it seems to be a little condescending and “othering” to label one child as “special education”, while the rest get to avoid the stigma of the label.  Meanwhile, they suffer, too, because their own different interests and challenges aren’t being met by the one-size-forces-all educational system.  They might (or might not) suffer less, and it may (or may not) have an equally significant impact on them or their lives from then onward, but they suffer regardless.

I’m not sure what the solution is.  Homeschooling, private schooling, or at least education conducted in smaller groups certainly appears to present one realistic, doable option.  But it’s not an option for all, of course.  Not everyone can afford to send their children to private schools with tiny student-to-teacher ratios, and not everyone has the luxury of assigning one of the parents to stay home and serve as the child’s educator.

So until I can offer any other solutions, I think that the best approach I can take for now is to highlight the potential downfalls inherent in the current system and bring some of these issues–and their aftermath–to light.

🙂

 

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20 Comments

  1. I must disagree with you and point out that #2 most definitely applies to you😍
    I don’t really like the term special needs, it seems condescending, to me anyway. With that stated, my kiddo does need many supports to help him learn & grow & be happy. He is in public school (an awesome art & music focused school) but he is in an autism class. They do their basic reading, writing, social studies, etc in that class then join their grade peers in music, art, science. It’s a great mix of adaptive & inclusive. We had to fight to get to this school (his 4th) but he’s so much happier now. 👍🌻😎

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, darlin! That’s the coolest disagreement I’ve ever heard! Mutual vibes, dude, mutual vibes 😘🤗😘❤️

      As for the rest of what you said, hell yeah! Totally agree on all points 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼💖🌟💖

      Like

  2. So much food for thought. The ‘special needs’ labelling particularly resonated with me. In Australia, ‘special needs’ means so many things, but most people take it as ‘needing remedial support’ which is only a tiny, tiny part of it. We have so far to go with regards to education … everyone bangs on about the fact we are no longer ‘one size fits all’, but we aren’t further from the truth. What is the answer?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t help but think of a favorite martial arts film at this, concerning an autistic girl who learns martial arts through observation: the tagline is “A special-needs girl with a special need to kick some ass.”

    In its own right, I found it to be a fairly sympathetic and well-researched portrayal of autism, while still being a good beat-em-up movie.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I too loathe the use of labels, but in our bureaucratised, managerial, top down individualised comptetive social systems we need to justify our needs for supports – and that means labels.

    And as far as acceptance goes – you’re far MORE likely to be ‘tolerated’ if you look different but think the same as the dominant majority than if you look the same but think differently. Wnich explains why cognitivr differences such as autism & mental illness are routinely discriminated in almost every society (& cultural grouping – LGBTI folk) on earth. And yes – LGBTI is not as inclusivd as it makes out.

    And even in the disability sectot, the nature of our society makes it hard – I know of people from differing sectors with common goals who won’t work together – because if anyone’s going to get the credit they are not the other mob.

    And goverment’s won’t change this social structure anytimr soon because they’re committed to the maintainence of the status quo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree with you 😊.

      “you’re far MORE likely to be ‘tolerated’ if you look different but think the same as the dominant majority than if you look the same but think differently.”

      Absolutely! It’s interesting how much superficial society acts, in this way. It’s cool if you look different on the surface (it wasn’t always that way, but at least society has come around this far), but the minute you say, do, think, or suggest something different, people look at you like you’re from Mars or something 😳

      “LGBTI is not as inclusivd as it makes out.”

      This is so true also! And so unfortunate. Here’s a group that has been ostracized so terribly–one would think that they of all people would understand and be a bit more universally empathetic. And while many are, and the tide is turning to include more who are, there’s still a long way to go.

      “And goverment’s won’t change this social structure anytimr soon because they’re committed to the maintainence of the status quo.”

      Oh my, yes! This! They benefit from things just as they are. As long as there are social issues, there’s a need for the governments and their current levels of size and power. So when they talk about solving these issues, they don’t really mean it, and it’s obvious, because problems still persist. Because they’re not really interested in solving them; if they were, those problems would be long gone by now.

      Thanks again for commenting! 👍🏼👏🏼👏🏼

      Like

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