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Is using the term 'special needs' offensive now?

(262 Posts)

I've just witnessed a FB conversation in which a mother with children with special needs says that 'special needs' is offensive and it's now 'special educational needs'.

This is new to me, I've not heard of this.

How long has this been the case?

whatsthepointthen Tue 05-Mar-19 10:05:41

Yes I have also heard its offensive now.

IceRebel Tue 05-Mar-19 10:06:27

As far as I know it has been SEN for a considerable while, i've certainly been using the term for at least the last 5 years.


Does anyone know why it's become offensive?

I personally can't see why, but I'm not a parent of a child with special educational needs but I don't want to cause upset either. I work closely with children that have disabilities, and I've still not heard this.


Yes. SEN has been around for a long time.

But how long has 'special needs' been offensive. And we can only use SEN?

I guess I didn't work it quite right in the OP.

Prequelle Tue 05-Mar-19 10:09:42

I worry about when I'm like 80 and not as connected to the world and I end up being one of those grandma's who come out with completely inappropriate things without realising sad I struggle to keep up now.

WorraLiberty Tue 05-Mar-19 10:09:53

Are all SN educational though?

WorraLiberty Tue 05-Mar-19 10:10:41

Prequelle there's no need to worry about that as long as you're happy to be corrected.

Hadalifeonce Tue 05-Mar-19 10:11:03

This whole labelling thing really gets my goat.
My DB (64) used to be 'mentally handicapped' if we needed to communicate to anyone about him, they more or less knew what to expect. Then he became 'special needs' which covers a whole spectrum of problems. When we employed a cleaner for DM, brother lives with her, my sister advised them that he was special needs, when she arrived, she was expecting someone with physical needs, and she was somewhat taken aback.

Special educational needs, sounds like someone in school/college. I'd love to know who it is who is offended by these terms.

IceRebel Tue 05-Mar-19 10:12:14

there's no need to worry about that as long as you're happy to be corrected.

I agree. It only becomes a problem if you refuse to listen to others, and deliberately use terms which are antiquated.

tabulahrasa Tue 05-Mar-19 10:12:32

SN and SEN don’t mean the same thing though.

I’m in Scotland neither term would be used in a professional setting, partly because special needs has been a pregorative for decades... partly because it’s not an especially clear term.

MeredithGrey1 Tue 05-Mar-19 10:13:06

Sorry if I’m being a bit dense, I understand why schools would say SEN, but surely some SEN children may also have additional needs beyond education, so saying special needs would cover this?

Traveler001 Tue 05-Mar-19 10:13:29

Worra- that’s what I was wondering. I don’t want to offend anyone but what is the term if someone’s special needs aren’t educational and you can’t say they have special needs?

Prequelle Tue 05-Mar-19 10:13:50

True worra. I just hope that there is a correction and not a lambasting complete with social media post as seems to happen.

tabulahrasa Tue 05-Mar-19 10:14:34

Prejorative - I have literally no idea how I got a g in there... my fingers aren’t that fat, lol

keepforgettingmyusername Tue 05-Mar-19 10:15:07

The term you should be using is 'a child with additional needs.'

Sharkirasharkira Tue 05-Mar-19 10:17:17

I have a DS with SN and personally I prefer SN. I think it covers a wider spectrum of needs, as a PP pointed out, not all SN are educational. I genuinely cant see why it would be considered offensive, it's just a way of making it clear that someone has extra needs over and above the 'average'. It's not derogatory.


Once someone with disabilities is old enough to leave school is it still considered SEN?

IamtheDevilsAvocado Tue 05-Mar-19 10:17:21

What about...

Learning disability... The old 'mentally handicapped'
Learning difficulty... A term I think confuses people... Which can include dyslexia type difficulties... ie someone with normal range ability.

In my understanding special educational needs was a term included in one of the education acts (please lawyer readers correct if I'm incorrect) where kids were statemented

WrinklyFingers Tue 05-Mar-19 10:17:26

No I don't believe so. It is used to describe children with a whole range of various needs that need extra adjustments/attention. For example a child with anaphylaxis has a special need, not a special educational need. It is not just used in educational settings, but all settings involved with children.

WorraLiberty Tue 05-Mar-19 10:18:24

I think the word 'offended' is bandied about far too often though and that's what makes people nervous.

Generally speaking, most people won't be offended but they'll be happy to put others right on the new terminology, which is fair enough.

Sometimes you'll get the odd twat who'll have a keyboard warrior moment but often you'll find they don't even have family/friends with SN. They're just jumping on some sort of weird bandwagon, that makes them feel superior.

I think as long as it's clear the person is coming from a 'good place' and they're happy to be corrected, no-one is going to be 'offended'.

tabulahrasa Tue 05-Mar-19 10:18:36

Oh FFS, I’ll just give up typing today...

Anyway, they’re not the same thing was my main point and yes SN is a loaded word.

IamtheDevilsAvocado Tue 05-Mar-19 10:19:01

PS also mentally handicapped /learning disability can include a huge range of ability... From someone who can work (with support) and be able to read /write and other people with profound mental and physical impairment.

keepforgettingmyusername Tue 05-Mar-19 10:19:59

@STOPSCRATCHINGTHECRADLECAP why can't you just say someone has a disability? Why do all disabled people have to be labelled as 'they are special needs' as has already happened in this thread. Just say they have a condition and state what the condition is.

Jinglejanglefish Tue 05-Mar-19 10:21:27

I think SEN is mainly used now, but I think the word ‘special’ is a bit loaded and I would generally say ‘additional needs’. I did some training in an old job and we were told not to use SENco anymore but INco instead, or inclusion coordinator.

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