Special. The word warms my heart in many ways.
Except when it is used in the context of my disability.
Then it kind of drives me crazy.
Maybe it’s the label.
When I was in school, I was mainstreamed. It was decided very early that it would not be appropriate for me to be in “special education.” From the time I was in preschool until the time I graduated with from high school, as a student with a disability, I received the free and appropriate public education that the law entitles me to. Then I went on to college and obtained a Master’s degree after that. My needs were accommodated as they arose, and my teachers and professors had the same expectations of me as they did of my peers. I was expected to learn to the best of my ability. And that is the way that it should be. Even if all of my peers had been affected by disability as well.
These days, I am not a “special needs” adult. I am an adult who has the same needs as everyone else. To be accepted, included, and given dignity, respect, and choice. I need employment. A social life. A group of friends to connect with. The way I accomplish things may be a little different than what is typical, but that simply makes me unique, not special.
There are many things in my day to day life that are special to me. Snuggling with my service dog. When a caregiver tells me they enjoy their job. Getting a phone call from someone I haven’t talked to in a while. A handwritten note from a friend, or a text that reminds me someone is thinking of me. When there is something to celebrate, sometimes I have a special dinner or say that something is a special occasion.
And I think I am special, too.
I’ve heard people say I have a great laugh. That I’m a good writer. That they enjoy watching me dance. A few years ago I had a friend tell me that she had never met anyone who such an interesting perspective of the world. I have had other people tell me that they learned a few lessons about how to handle adversity from watching how I live my life. Compliments like that are really special.
I care about the environment. Advocacy. Empowerment. Communicating well. And I want to be heard. And taken seriously. I want my needs to matter.
I want to encourage other people. To have a positive impact. And teach things that others might not already know. And if I change a negative perception or two in the process, then I have done what I set out to do.
All of those things make me who I am.
There are all kinds of ways that I believe I am special.
I just don’t believe that my having cerebral palsy is one of them.