I read an article yesterday, titled, “Children With Disabilities Don’t Make Parents ‘Special,'” of course written by a special needs parent. A neurotypical parent could never get away with a such a title for two reasons. Firstly, the obvious, they would be virtually crucified. Secondly, it wouldn’t be controversial click bait, and what is fun about that. Of course, I fell for it. The article was far less enticing than the title and attempted to pass off some half-assed moral of the story. Something to the effect of, we shouldn’t call special needs parents “special” because as a result, new special needs parents will feel inadequate and insecure because they don’t think they are “special” enough to raise a special needs child. Ugh. Where do I begin?
This article irritated me on so many levels. We get it. You’re cutting edge, and breaking all the rules. A special needs parent rejecting the sole complimentary phrase we are occasionally doled out. You rebel you. Look, I certainly don’t walk around calling myself special, or even thinking it. I don’t think any of us do. We’re too busy being special. I know we are living in the gold stars for everyone era, and if I have to say it, of course, ALL parents are special. They are. But that’s not the point.
To the neurotypical parents who don’t think special needs parents should be called “special” parents:
Whether it’s our generation’s pathological need to overanalyze every. single. word. or just plain boredom driving these runaway thought processes, I don’t know. But stop it. All parents are special. All children are special. All animals are special, and gold stars for everyone. The phrase “God only gives special needs children to special people” does not imply, in any way, that neurotypical parents are not special too. It’s implicit. Completely disregarding common sense is one thing, it’s annoying, but it’s expected. It’s the qualification that really adds insult to injury. When you need to qualify my life by automatically involving everyone else’s life in the equation, it’s demeaning. Nobody said all parents aren’t special. Not everything is about everyone all the time. You’re special too. Now go sit down.
To the special needs parents who don’t think we’re “special:”
Are we too proud to accept a nicety? Can we not allow the people in our lives one cliche to ease their tensions when they have no fricken idea what to say to us. Is it so terrible of a phrase? Is it not a well-intentioned saying? Can we not cut the outside world a break, and just say thank you for a compliment? You know what’s even better than being special? Being gracious. Try it.
I have a news flash for you. The very last thing on the very long list of things to worry about as a new special needs parent is not feeling special enough. Actually, it’s not on the list. We don’t get the luxury of examining our own feelings of inadequacy most days. It’s not about us. We are too busy worrying for our children, caring for them, driving them to appointments and therapies, calling caseworkers and insurance companies, and trying to make our neurotypical kids feel special too. We’re too damn busy to be concerned about our level of “special.”
If you are truly concerned that a special needs parent will not feel “special” enough for the lifelong task they’ve recently inherited, then perhaps, instead of insisting that none of us are special, tell them that they sure as hell will be. Special needs parents aren’t born; we go through rigorous training, life’s boot camp if you will. For example, as an autism parent, you will take crash courses in accepting the unknown, guessing what your child needs, handling meltdowns, maintaining a routine, and avoiding sensory overload, just to name a few. Don’t forget the intensive de-sensitivity training you will need to master in order to leave your house.
Before we start saying that none of us are special or all of us are, we must ask ourselves what it even means to be “special.” Merriam-Webster has several definitions, but the two that apply here are as follows:
1) being in some way superior
2) readily distinguishable from others of the same category: unique
I will fully stipulate that special needs parents are not in any way superior to neurotypical parents. We all work our butts off. We all worry. We all love our kids so much it hurts. But in all fairness, can we not agree that special needs parents are, in fact, readily distinguishable from neurotypical parents. Do the additional 600 days (on average) I waited with bated breath to hear my child call me mama for the first time not distinguish me from the average parent? Do the extra thousand steps I take every day, being led by my child’s hand to each and every need and want count for nothing? They don’t make me superior. I won’t even say that they make my life harder; we ALL have our battles. But is my experience not unique; can we not all admit that special needs parents are in fact “special,” in the sense that our experience is different from the norm?
If the word “special” strikes a nerve, you can bet the next debate will be over this phrase blaming God for disabilities or something equally absurd. Do me a favor. Take God out of it, take the special out of it, and just hear the phrase for the meaning. When someone says to you, “God only gives special needs children to special people,” or any variation of the phrase, what you should hear is, “I want to acknowledge that your journey is unique.” That’s it. It’s an acknowledgment. It’s not offensive and it’s not untrue. To hear anything else is to miss the forest for the trees. Instead of seeking out an opportunity to add another harmless saying to the politically incorrect list, just say thank you.
We work so hard to gain acceptance for our children, to cultivate compassion and kindness toward disability, but when we are offered a kind phrase we should reject it? This type of article offers wonderful advice if you want to live in a world where no one wins. If you’re a special needs parent, you’re not special! If you want to support a special needs parent, don’t you dare tell them they’re special! Can we spend our valuable time writing and reading articles that encourage kindness and communication between “special” and neurotypical parents? Listen, I don’t need to be special. I don’t need you to think I’m special. I just don’t need you to tell me I’m not.