...and they are supported in the best possible way throughout their lifetime. However, we have never at any point in time, seen them as “children with special rights”, a term coined by a group of well-meaning undergraduates in their letter to Today on 19 February 2016.
Though well meaning, the term has met with strong objection across the special needs parenting support groups I am in.
Why do we disagree with this term?
Our children, we believe, should always be seen as children first, before their disability or differences. As children, they have rights, the same rights as any other typical child. As an adult, they have rights, not dissimilar to that of any other adult – the right to live, the right to education, the right to a safe living environment, the right to employment, the right to have access to whichever services they need in order to be their best, the right to be protected by law. Therefore, the term "special rights" is superfluous because these rights are the rights of every person regardless of their condition. Furthermore, the term may suggest "special privileges" which is not our intention. Instead, what we are advocating is that our children's unique or special needs be better met so that they can realise their inherent rights and live in a society that treats them with equity.
Though we all share the same human rights, the ways by which our rights can be fulfilled may differ because our needs are unique. Hence, if we truly wish to help this community of people with disability, we need first to unabashedly acknowledge their very special, specific and unique needs so that we can help them achieve something more important – equity. Engaging society in a conversation overtly focused on what and how to label their differences is less important than delivering equity. In fact, overt emphasis on labels can instead further isolate and disengage them from the rest of society.
Equity can perhaps be defined as “the quality of being fair, unbiased, and just.” In other words, equity involves “ensuring that everyone has access to the resources, opportunities, power and responsibility they need to reach their full, healthy potential as well as making changes so that unfair differences may be understood and addressed.” (source: SGBA , Rising to the Challenge) For equity to be achieved, an unapologetic acknowledgment of their special needs must first happen - that these needs require adaptations, and changes made in processes, in their environment, in policies, in order that their basic human rights can be fulfilled.
“Special Needs” is in no way a derogatory term suggesting neediness. It merely declares in an honest manner, the needs that are very unique and specific and which requires vigilant respect as a means to preserve and protect the individual’s well-being.
A friend brought my attention to a quote in a book by Harper Lee “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” This perhaps, said it all – we are all the same, fellow humans with the same human rights albeit the ways we fulfil them are varied.
See us as fellow human beings. See us as parents first. See our children as children. We are not obnoxious and do not relish any claim for superiority, or special rights that put us above the law. What matters to us however is the acknowledgement that our children needs help and adaptations in order for their basic rights to be met, rights that are by no means special.
To the well-meaning group who first suggested this term, thank you for the desire to help advocate for our children. However, this term “Children with Special Rights” is not how we want our children to be seen as. Instead, help us achieve equity in the classroom, and at every available opportunity within your circle of influence.
Notes: The following groups of people have been consulted prior to writing this response
a. Parents of Children with Autism
b. Parents of Children with Rare Diseases
c. Members of Public who are parents of neurotypical children
d. Educators who work with persons with special needs
e. Parents of Children with Down Syndrome
f. Parents of Children with Cerebral Palsy
g. Parents of Children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy