Why I Don’t Like the Special Needs Label

The first time someone referred to my son as special needs it struck me like a slap across the face. It wasn’t intended that way; I just don’t consider him special needs.

But I guess his food allergies are special needs. I just don’t want them to be. I want him to be normal, whatever than means.

Food allergies are an invisible disability, which might be why I don’t think of them as special needs. I don’t see my son’s food allergies when I look at him. I see an adorable three year old who melts my heart. Of course I would see him that way; I’m his mother. But others don’t see his food allergies either. They just see a toddler.

And therein lies the threat.

Last fall, before my son had any awareness of his allergies, we went to a parade where participants were throwing candy into the crowd.  A well-meaning grandmother (no relation) kept handing candy to us. I didn’t have the energy to explain to her why our son couldn’t have the candy. Thankfully, at two, he wasn’t all that interested; he was more into the fire trucks.

This year, we went to the same parade and he delighted in collecting candy (we came home with a bagful) but now he understands that some foods, candy included, make him sick. For the most part, he’s happy with whatever safe alternative we provide. And he doesn’t get upset when he’s eating a Popsicle while all his classmate get to enjoy ice cream.

I hope that one day this won’t be the case. I hope that one day he won’t have any special needs. But, for now, food allergies are our reality and the only label I care to deal with is a nutritional label.

Disclaimer: This post was inspired by Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic, a beautifully written memoir by Martha Beck about expecting a child with Downs Syndrome. As a member of the From Left to Write Book Club, I received this book for free. These opinions are my own. This post is not intended as a review. The book link is an Amazon Affiliate link.

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  1. The first time I heard that label for my son, I also felt that slap. Unfortunately, for my son, who has autism, it fits. Autism can also be an invisible disability, and my son, who is four, still looks young so it doesn’t seem too strange that he doesn’t talk when people speak to him. But more and more, this will start to happen.

    There have been kids in my son’s class that have allergies, but are non-verbal and don’t have any understanding of what could hurt them. I can’t imagine how scary that would be. I’m so thankful your son has this awareness, though I’d still be so scared anytime he was anywhere without me!
    Jennie B recently posted..Expecting AdamMy Profile

  2. Labels are so misleading. From mommy blogger to special needs to conservative or liberal. To be fair, I think they’re meant as a way to create bonding mechanisms, but far more often, they’re forms of exclusion.
    April recently posted..Smart Financial TipsMy Profile

  3. Shannon, My son is also 3 and out of my 4 kids, he’s the only one who’s lactose intolerant and the first to have a nut allergy. And you’re right, no one sees that special need, but it does exist. Sadly, the nut allergy is deadly and sadly my inlaws can’t seem to remember he has a nut allergy. They’ve given him yogurt with granola that’s mixed with nuts and walnut brownies. Each time he’s thrown up after a bite, thank goodness both times my husband was there in the nick of time. i feel like i should put a sticker on his forehead that says no nuts and dairy. It’s scary. I feel awful for him. My one boy, my handsome little comedian man, has a special need for ppl to listen to his mama and remember not to feed him certain stuff. I’m fearing when he starts school. call him special needs, call him disabled, i don’t care if it helps family and teachers remember not to feed him ice cream and pb&j sandwiches.
    vanita recently posted..Klout – Bitchin or Something To Bitch About?My Profile

    • (my head meets table) Its frustrating that so many people don’t get it. Although, honestly, I don’t think I got it either before I lived it. You make a good point about the label — if it helps keep our food allergic children safe, then its served its purpose. Thanks for commenting!


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