Special needs?
by Joan Fleitas
Special needs kids? Yuck. I don't particularly like the term 'special needs' when it's used to define kids. We all have needs, don't we, many the same and some unique to each of us? The way I see it is that when someone is labeled as 'being' a special needs kid, an odd thing happens. When the focus leaves the child, his sense of humor, her great singing voice, his creativity...and moves to whatever challenge demands 'special' attention, the child feels the difference, and doesn't like it one bit. <>

Think of it this way. Imagine that we are in a 3-D movie, and people love coming to watch us in all of our dimensions. Then imagine that the super-duper projector breaks down, and now they can only see us in one dimension. How boring, and how easy it becomes to assume that that one dimension defines us. Of course it doesn't, we are much more complex and interesting than that. But that's all that people seem to notice.

Here's something else I learned about kids who have 'special needs', like the need to use a nebulizer, or a wheelchair, or a seeing-eye dog. They tell me that they want to be liked for who they are, not for what their need is. And they want you to ask whatever questions you'd like to, about their asthma, or muscle condition, or blindness. They figure that if you knew about those things, then you wouldn't have to spend so much time
wondering about them, and you could get on with enjoying Katie, or Dominic, or Shaneele, or whomever. 

So I see 'special needs' as those things about each of us that reach out for a little bit of help from others, not as a category of personhood. What do you think?

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Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: September 9, 2005