A couple of tweets from @sarasiobhan have got me thinking this morning. Basically, she deprecates the term ‘special needs’:
I am currently using the term ‘special needs’ in my thesis as a way of differentiating the more general social space occupied by people with Aspergers/HFA and their parents and carers from ‘special educational needs’, which I find problematic as too school-centric, when many of the struggles in the domain are not centred on educational provision and emanate from just living with and raising a child who is perceived as different.
@sarasiobhan’s next tweet, in response to a tweet from me asking about alternative terms got me thinking even more:
So what are my options. I have rejected ‘special educational needs’ because of its association with school and education. I find the term ‘additional needs’ too broad for my purposes – and, in any case, it contains in it that problematic word ‘needs’ with its negative undertones. I dislike ‘special’ because at the end of the day it is a pretty meaningless word.
Maybe I have to go back to my research question to try to think more clearly about appropriate language.
My focus is on parents of children and young people with diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism and the practitioners working with these children and my particular interest is the struggles both parents and practitioners find themselves engaged in, and how far these have origins in the systems set up to support these children and young people and how far they emanate outside those systems in wider community. Some of those struggles relate to the formal SEN system, but not all by any means.
I could speak about the ‘Aspergers/HFA domain’, but I am not sure that is a meaningful term. Maybe that doesn’t matter as whatever term I use is describing a social construction that doesn’t actually exist in the real world. But on the other hand, I need to use language which communicates and which also links some of what I am discussing with issues emerging in the current review of SEN provision and other related debates. In any case, I would find it difficult to talk of the ‘Aspergers/HFA system’, which again would be a construction, but does have a mechanistic tone I don’t find acceptable – but somehow I don’t react in the same way to ‘special needs system’ – hmmm.
I could speak of disability, but that is contentious when speaking of Aspergers/HFA, especially when those conditions may no longer exist when DSM-V is published.
Clearly, I’m not coming to any conclusions in these ramblings, but would be very interested in what language/terms others use and why.