The term “special needs” is disliked by many people as it implies that the person labeled with it is “less than” everyone else. That maybe they are not as capable or equal to their peers. While we all know that special needs means that the person requires extra help or time or modifications, it can be viewed as a negative, a limitation in their ability to contribute to the world.
The strange thing about the term is that it is so broad and used for so many situations and circumstances. One child may just need a little extra help in math, another person may struggle with depression or anger problems, someone else may be in wheelchair due to physical constraints and another person may be extremely mentally and physically delayed. In each of these situations, the person has “special needs”. The diagnosis and severity vary greatly from person to person.
Some people think we should say “special abilities” because often the person is uniquely smart and talented in their own way. They may lack in some areas, but they make up for it in others. Their uniqueness does not fit the mold. It is outside the normal. It is a different perspective and viewpoint of the world. And it definitely is not the standard way. The beauty of the special ability is that no one taught it to them. It was developed from the person’s unique interpretation of the world and how they wanted to engage and interact in the world.
Most of us are not allowed to be creative in that way. We are taught how to do things and follow a standard of what is expected from us. When things are done differently, it seems odd or unusual. It stands out to us as it is not normally done that way. We perceive that it is the “wrong” way to do things based on what we were taught.
No matter how severe, every special needs person has a gift they were born to share with the world if we only take the time to see it. Sometimes that gift is to teach us a lesson about our own life or about appreciation of the little things. Maybe it is about taking the time to slow down and be patient, and about being grateful for our own ability to do things. Sometimes that gift is to show us that it is important to be kind and understanding. It is ok to try things in a different way.
My special “ability” daughter is 23 and she has never been able to talk or walk. If you gave her a test to determine her cognitive ability. She would be at a 9–12-month-old level. She has taught me more about the beauty of life than anyone I know. She is not caught up in people’s opinions of her. She does not care about what you look like or how much you weigh or what color your skin is. She is not concerned about how everyone else is doing things or about wearing certain clothes or buying the best brand. She does not spend her time staring at her phone.
She is present. She is curious about the world around her. She loves eskimo kisses and notices the little things that occur in the present moment. She is happy and excited to see the people she loves every day. She has no extra expectations of the people she loves. She does not get irritated because they did not take out the trash. She is simply happy to have them be there. She forces me to pause, be present and enjoy the little things. She makes me laugh from my gut each day and not take life so seriously. I truly wish everyone had someone like her in their life.
I believe we all have our challenges in life and the truth is we all have our own “special needs”. Some are just more visible than others. And they come and go in severity. Sometimes it is labeled as depression or anxiety and sometimes it is ego or pride. Other times it may be immersing ourselves in work while neglecting our families. Someone else may fear getting too close to others so they are always self-sabotaging relationships to “protect” themselves. Many of us overeat to fill the emptiness or void we cannot fill in our life. I could go on, but you can see we all struggle in different ways.
The problem with this hidden “special need” is that we can hide it better. We can avoid it and pretend it does not exist. We can cover it up and pretend that things are “just fine”. Only the weak or different need extra help right?
The reality is that we all need extra help in some way. We all have a unique perspective and gift to give the world. And this is why the term “special needs” is a tough pill to swallow. Those of us that care for someone with special needs get an up close and personal perspective of how amazing that person is. We see the beauty. We see how smart they are even if testing only says they are at a 9–12 month level. Because we recognize that someone’s abilities really can’t be measured by a human made test. We recognize there is so much more to a person than what they can do. We see beyond the physical, mental and cognitive delays. We see beyond any limitation. We just see them and the beauty they bring to the world. It is not a limitation. It is not a weakness. It is not a challenge. It just is.
The next time you see a “special needs” child or adult, I hope you take the time to really “see” them for who they are and what they can offer instead of what they lack or what their struggles or limitations are. I promise you that you can learn from them just as they can learn from you. We all have beautiful gifts. We all have special “abilities”. Just as we all have challenges and struggles. When you really connect with this person and finally begin to “see” them, you will see why the term “special needs” may not be the best way to describe someone with such unique gifts, character and beauty.