Is there such a thing as ‘special’ needs?

There is a term ‘special needs’ and when it is used - there is an assumption that we all know what that means. But do we?

Let’s imagine a little girl, I’d like to call her Katy. When she was born, she was quickly diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder. Her parents had some difficulties feeding her, and as she grew, she was slower than other children to sit and crawl and walk. Some of her problems mean that she has difficulty playing with friends, communicating, digesting her food and she also has some problems with her circulation. Katy needs a lot of extra care and support and spends a lot of time at hospital appointments. 

Katy though does not have ‘special’ needs nor even ‘complex’ needs. Katy has exactly the same physical and emotional needs as all of us. She needs food, exercise, sleep, attention, choice, respect, a sense of purpose and achievement, loving connection, a community, occasional privacy and to feel safe.

What Katy does need though is more support than most of us to get many of her needs met. She needs more help to do what many of us take for granted. When any of us struggle to meet our own needs we often turn to others for support. Illness, injury, age and loss cause us to re-evaluate how to meet our needs throughout our lives. If we are not able to meet them, we become, stressed, anxious, angry or depressed. However, if we all acknowledge that we have needs and that those needs are the same for all humans we can understand how to help others undergoing stress. We are all part of the solution. 

I also find the term ‘special needs’ somehow implies that this person has many problems because of the ‘specialness’ of their needs. The term can somehow blame or cause shame for those needing more help or we might be mystified by not understanding these ‘special needs.’ Let’s all be part of the solution. Think for a moment how you feel when one or many of your needs are not met. When you recognise this for yourself you will find it much easier to understand how to help those around you. 

If you want to understand more about how emotional needs impact both you and the people around you take a look at Anxiety Freedom Cards

This simple needs-based approach helps individuals, families and organisations to meet the needs both of those who give and those who receive necessary care. 

Despite Katy’s ‘different abilities’ she is a delightful little girl and helps her parents and many people who know her to get their needs met - especially emotional connection, respect, community, achievement, attention and a sense of purpose. 

We all have the same needs, there are no ‘special’ needs just some special ways to meet them.

Do let me know what you think or if you want to know more.

2 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as ‘special’ needs?

  1. Kat Marlow

    I love this perspective Bindi. You're absolutely right that we all have the same physical and emotional needs and sometimes people need more help getting those needs met. Their needs aren't special but the actions required to get them might need to be! I would love to see a better, more inclusive (and less blaming) term find it's way into common parlance that could cover those of us who maybe find it more challenging to get our needs met than others.

    1. Bindi Gauntlett

      Sometimes we try too hard to find the right words and miss the point Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far from 'handicapped'. There has to be a more helpful term than 'Special Needs'.


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