Why my child is “differently abled” not “disabled” by Tracey Dee Whitt

Tracey Dee WhittAfter my son was diagnosed with Autism, I began reading articles, blogs, Facebook statuses, and Tweets written by Autism parents. I noticed some parents don’t have a problem with the word “disabled” and some don’t use it.

I didn’t have a problem with the word in the beginning of my journey with my sons Autism. I thought, “My son is disabled, why can’t we use the word?” Parents were disagreeing with many words; “My daughter has Autism, she’s not Autistic,” “My child doesn’t need a label.” When it comes to parents and their children, there can be many things to argue about, but when your child is diagnosed with a disorder or disability that defense of your child can go from hot to boiling over in seconds.

I felt parents were being particular about issues that didn’t really matter. But did they? Those issues/word definitions mattered to those parents because we are all individuals and have different experiences. It’s okay to feel strongly about something and tell others what we think, but sometimes it’s not worth arguing about. And sometimes it is, and should always be done respectfully. Unless of course someone is calling a person with a disability “retarded.” Then it’s perfectly fine to be less than poised and proper. (Side note, you can take a pledge and tell others to end the R-word here.)

In reading these articles and blogs, I came across a mom who didn’t use the word “disabled,” but said her child is “differently abled.” I like it. I wish I could remember whose blog it was on, if I did I’d send you straight over there. She was right. This idea of not using the word disabled isn’t new, I first noticed it when my son started attending preschool at an inclusive school. The school had shirts made for the students and staff that say, “I see your ABILITY. Everyone matters.”

Differently abled is right. My son isn’t disabled. I will fully acknowledge he has Autism and believe diagnoses are important to help our children because we then know what they are dealing with, but he has several abilities, they’re just different. So I love what that Autism mom said about her daughter being differently abled. Exactly!

Jeremiah sees what we don’t see, he notices what we don’t observe, he hears what our ears tune out, he processes the world through a different filter. That doesn’t sound like disabled to me, it sounds like he has different abilities than we do.

I could go on forever about how amazing our son is; how he’s taught me about what life is truly about, how to be aware every moment of what’s around me, how his differences brought out a passion in me, how love conquers any disability. But you can just read more about him and Autism in the posts Discovering the Child Behind the Label and Viewing My Nonverbal Child Differently.

I don’t mind if people use the word “disabled.” I’m not offended, at least at this stage I’m not, but I would love for others to spread the word about the ABILITIES of special needs people. It’s beginning to happen, but we will always run into the fools, who are like the guy I overheard, say, “They overwhelm teachers with large class sizes and have high expectations, then stick the stupid kids in there.” We have a lot of work to do, but some amazing parents, professionals, adults with Autism, and advocates have paved the way.

Tracey Dee Whitt blogs to help foster and adopted children who have experienced loss, neglect, abuse, and/or trauma by supporting and encouraging foster and adoptive parents. She hopes to provide common sense approaches to helping children who suffer from past trauma (even removal from a birth parent can cause trauma), neglect, or abuse.

She says:

“My husband and I are a team, with God at the center, guiding us every step of the way. I would like to give all the credit of any helpful information to this blog to Him. He infuses us with wisdom and strength every day, and I could not travel this road without Him”.

Find her blog at http://lovinadoptin.com/

5 thoughts on “Why my child is “differently abled” not “disabled” by Tracey Dee Whitt

  1. Thankyou for this Tracey,

    It’s important to keep reiterating that ‘different’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘lesser’.

  2. I’ve never heard the term ‘differently abled’ before but I’m going to start using it! It makes sense and can hopefully reduce the marginalisation and knock down those labels. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. My son is now 25 and on track to buy a house with his very lovely fiancee this month. From birth he was labelled with ‘special needs’ ‘learning difficulties’ ‘slow’ ‘autistic’ and many more variations by well meaning professionals. As a family we reclaimed the word ‘special’ as being a positive – how brilliant to be special! We also rejected ‘difficulties’ and ‘disabilities’ for the word ‘different’ but always used it in the sense that different was equally as good -in fact sometimes better than ordinary. He is still unique but that difference from the norm has not stopped him enjoying and succeeding at life – he has faced more struggles than some of us but he has acquired skills and strategies that most of us would benefit from because of his unusual path. Different is good – aspire to be special!

    • How cool is that? Whenever I hear stories like your son’s I’m reminded of that lovely principle that finding a place in the world is often more than half the battle. Your son seems to have done just that, regardless of professional labels and expectations.

  4. Whenever anyone tries to tell me that I’m ‘differently abled’, I just say, “Well, we’re all differently abled, aren’t we? After all, I’m really good at writing fanfiction, and you’re really good at (insert ability here).” You see, I have no problem in admitting that I can be made disabled by a society that does not accept and make reasonable accomodations for the differences I have because I’m Autistic.

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