I have three children. They are all special. They each have needs. But I have one child who, according to Official Assessments, classifies as being a kid with “Special Needs”. I am amazed and so very grateful for the slew of resources and assistance that we receive for this kiddo. Both at home and in school, we have helpers and people-with-masters-degrees-and-clipboards, paying special attention to give extra support where it might be needed.
The goal of this all is not to give this child special treatment for the sake of special treatment. The goal of the special treatment is, actually, to smooth the way for all the kids in our family, and all the kids in our class, to be able to relate as healthily and equally as possible. There is an inequality of input (one kid gets extra support) to try and move our little home-and-school community towards equality of output: extra support for one so that the parents and teachers can try to give equal attention and time to all.
I mention this because I sometimes struggle with the label “special needs”, since it seems that by implication it might be suggesting that children without this label are neither special nor have needs. This is obviously not the case. To say I have a child with special needs doesn’t mean my other children—or any other children, for that matter—are any less special or have less important needs. To say I have a child with special needs is merely to identify that we need to pay attention differently to that kid because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they would flounder in the system, and both they and their classmates would suffer as a result.
I’ve been wondering whether the same should not be said about the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not. All lives matter, a truth deeply vested in our being made in the image of God and each person being uniquely imbued with dignity and strength. To say that black lives matter is to identify that we need to pay attention differently because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they flounder in a system which privileges whites, and both people of color and the world at large suffer as a result.
Of course, there will be an angry reader who will write and accuse me of equating blackness with disability…. so before you send me that hate mail, let me say this clearly: that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: those of us privileged enough to not have to think about privilege (be it because of our whiteness, or being physically or mentally “typical” in the school system), may not appreciate how the system might work against you if you weren’t white, or weren’t able-bodied or neutrotypical.
And so to go the extra mile for “Special needs” kids doesn’t mean other kids aren’t special – it means they need special support so they can flourish alongside other kids, because all kids are special. And to say “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more – it means we need to affirm something that has been lacking in people’s awareness and actions, to be active listeners and responders where we hear others’ stories – so that we all can flourish alongside one another, because all people matter.