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Once we use the special needs descriptor, we stop thinking about an individual child, and ingrained assumptions take over. "Oh, yes, we know about special needs kids..." And then, we effectively rob a child of opportunities and put limits on her potential.

Kathie Snow

Words simultaneously reflect and reinforce our attitudes and perceptions; words shape our world. Many disability descriptors evoke feelings and imagery that perpetuate archaic and negative stereotypical perceptions. And these perceptions create a powerful attitudinal barrier—the greatest obstacle to the success and inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

Using People First Language (PFL) is a step in the right direction. (See the PFL article.) And to speak more respectfully, many of us are consigning stigma-laden descriptors, like “high/low functioning,” “developmental age,” “wheelchair bound,” and others, to the junk heap. But one term—special needs—continues to be embraced by many. Because this term is so commonly used, we seldom consider what message it sends or what image it evokes.

"Special needs" is a loaded descriptor that has done nothing to improve perceptions and everything to reinforce negative images.​ Click here to continue.

The Case Against "Special Needs"

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