Recently in one of our didactic sessions, a thought provoking discussion was brought up on what it means for people with disabilities to be labeled as special needs. It was brought to my attention that not everyone in the disability community likes to be labeled as special needs. Why are their needs considered special? What are normal needs and who decided they were normal?

I brought this conversation to my sister, an individual with an intellectual disability and a mental health disorder. She said she prefers the term special needs over disability because she doesn’t feel like she has a disability. This may be due her disability being considered an “invisible disability”. When I asked my sister to elaborate, she explained that physically she is fine and no one can tell she has a disability. She also emphasized that she feels fine. However, she explained that being labeled as special needs was okay with her because she has a difficult time learning the way her peers do in school.

This conversation reminded me of a similar conversation in the LGBTQ community where individuals share their preferred pronouns. I think it would be beneficial for people with disabilities to disclose the words they prefer to be referred to in order to avoid offending them. Most importantly, this creates a dialogue regarding the labels society bestows upon individuals and how people identify themselves. This dialogues pushes autonomy as it allows individuals with disabilities the power to identify themselves in a way they want to be addressed.