Brian Can Help

Why the term "special needs" became an insult

August 24, 2023 Brian R. King, MSW Season 1 Episode 3
Brian Can Help
Why the term "special needs" became an insult
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever found yourself unwittingly stumble upon a derogatory comment or text, particularly about individuals with special needs? This episode will challenge your perspective. We share an intimate conversation with a young client who recently attended a youth leadership conference and came face-to-face with an eye-opening incident that sparked a profound reflection on the language we use casually and carelessly, especially in reference to people with disabilities.

Drawing from this encounter, we delve into discussing the term "special needs" and the stigma it carries, tracing its origins back to street-level colloquialisms and dissecting how it is often used to marginalize people with disabilities. We venture back to our school days, shedding light on the competitive education system's inadvertent fostering of misunderstandings and biases among students. The conversation underscores the dire need for comprehensive diversity training in schools and the power of language in fostering inclusivity. Tune in for a thought-provoking discourse that will hopefully urge you to scrutinize the language you use and its impact on those around you.

. . .

Brian has a Master's Degree in Social Work and is the father of three boys with Autism and ADHD. After receiving the same diagnoses himself, he went on to write 5 books and become a recognized specialist in the field. With a unique approach to helping parents and educators connect with their children who live with these unique challenges, Brian's captivating, interactive presentations and programs continue to change lives around the world. His message of self-compassion, resilience and the importance of working together is one we all need to hear. You can see all the exciting things Brian is up to at

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Speaker 1:

Hey there folks. Brian King, I'm gonna riff a little bit about something one of my clients encountered that puts a larger topic in perspective. This particular client is a young person in 20s went to a leadership youth kind of gathering conference, if you will, and happened to catch the text of someone nearby. Not intentionally, your eyes are wandering around, your eye just happens to fall upon a phone. What this client saw was very upsetting to them. The text said something to the effect of oh, they are probably special needs. No, let me back up. It began with ew very important part here Ew, probably special needs. That's why they had to have their mom with them or drop them off or something. So a fast judgment, derogatory judgment was made about somebody because they needed to have their mom drop them off as opposed to driving themselves. And some people wear their difference more so on their sleeve than others. They don't mask as well, but here's why that was so hurtful. Preface the ew okay, that in front of special needs demonstrates this person sees people that they categorize as special needs as being beneath them, and this client shared this in our community and shared an article, a very lengthy, very well thought out piece about why special needs are seen as derogatory and it says that. Well, special needs is not even a term used in the legal jargon. It's not used in any medical journal. So we don't know where it came from. Or I'll tell you where it came from. It came from the street level, the everyday colloquialisms, the terms that people come up with in order to describe folks they want to other or look down on. When I was a kid, I was babysat by my oldest cousin, was teenage at the time. I routinely heard her use the word speds, which was short for special ed kids, and she wasn't using it from a compassionate place. She wasn't telling you stories about these friends that she made. She was like spitting on them. And then I got into high school and I heard retard, stupid kids, the special ed kids, the dumb ones. I never heard anything complimentary. And then, when my son got into school and the clients that I now work with, the little kids they talk about how bullied they are in gym class, out in the playground. So where does this term come from? Largely, what perpetuates it? The other kids who are not being given adequate diversity training. We talk about diversity in the classroom. We don't practice it. We're always at a race for who's gonna be the smartest kid, who's gonna be the valedictorian on graduation day, who turned in their test first. These kids are encouraged to be competitive and they're looking for any advantage they have over each other, and it is so easy to marginalize the kids that are struggling in a system not made for them, so those are the ones that get thrown aside first, and there are more than one way that the other kids refer to these I don't even know what word to use the kids that are in disability classes. Anybody who's watching this please bring me up to speed on what the current terminology is. How do the teachers refer to the kids that meet accommodations If they're not saying their special needs? What do they say? And are these terms introduced in the classroom so that ignorance is removed for the rest of the students on what they're hearing? Because one thing that it's kind of a double edged sword here maintaining confidentiality of the students with IEPs and 504s. There's such ironclad secrecy around who these kids are, why their needs are different, that the other kids have to make up their own story about who these kids are, why they need what they need, and I promise you it's not gonna be objective. These kids are not critical thinkers. They need help figuring this stuff out. So and I'm not blaming the teachers okay, the teachers too much has asked of them already. It's lack of funding that prevents adequate programs like diversity training from being part of the school culture. So until the funding improves, I don't know that we're really gonna solve this problem, but I think it's important to continue to bring attention to it because it is marginalizing an entire segment of the population, because the kids they grew up with, who are raised to feel discriminatory towards them, aren't gonna be the ones that are looking to actively include them once they're running the businesses. Right. This is a longer conversation, but I at least wanted to share this perspective and hope that it resonates with you, is meaningful for you, and I hope you pass it on. So thanks for listening and I'll talk to you soon.

Viewing someone else's text and seeing a derogatory judgment about a person who needed their mom to drop them off, assuming they had special needs
Viewing someone else's text and seeing a derogatory judgment about a person who needed their mom to drop them off, assuming they had special needs
The "ew" before "special needs" shows this person sees those they categorize as special needs as beneath them
Sharing an article about why "special needs" is seen as derogatory - it's not a legal or medical term, it's a made up colloquialism used to other or look down on people
The term special needs came from street level, everyday terms people came up with to describe and other or look down on folks
We don't get to determine someone's value based on what they can or can't do compared to us
Everyone has a right to live freely without being judged or face derision
We all have special needs - none of us are perfectly abled in every domain of life
We must expand our empathy and realize we are all differently abled in certain areas
Lead with kindness, not judgment about people's differences - we all need support in some way
We don't know others' stories or what help they may need
Next time you start to judge, check that impulse and lead with warmth instead
Share kindness and support to help make the world a little brighter for someone
We all benefit when we build each other up instead of making assumptions and tearing each other down
Be part of the solution in creating a more inclusive, caring world for all