What does ‘special needs’ really mean?

The dryer hummed behind the sweet sounds of kids playing. Just a regular Sunday afternoon, everyone relaxing and taking the day slow.

I was enjoying the moment, the baby in my arms, just soaking up the good feelings, when my 5-year-old took a seat next to me on the couch. Her beautiful hazel eyes sparkled, framed by her light brown shoulder length hair.

Shaina. Always full of questions and stories.

She looked straight at me and said: “So, what does having special needs mean anyway?”

Within seconds, memories flooded my mind. While I caught my breath (wishing I could explain how, after being up all night with the baby, I wasn’t sure I was up to answering this question), I knew I had to come up with an answer.

But what does “special needs” really mean?

Is it merely the words to describe the frustrating temper tantrum Chaim Boruch had only moments before? Or the grueling hours spent in doctors’ offices and clinics? Is the term just a phrase lightly tossed around to try to explain the moments of stress when walking in public with a child screaming in a wheelchair?

Maybe the term “special needs” illustrates the disappointment, hurt and unraveled dreams and hopes found in the recesses of one’s heart? Maybe.

But, then again, maybe it defines the raw truth about the incredible physical and spiritual makeup of a human being, with a heart that beats and a soul that breathes life.

Maybe “special needs” illustrates a broader spectrum of color—one that even the most famous artists can’t portray on the canvas of their imaginations?

Or maybe this phrase epitomizes the love and affection that deep down we all admire?

Maybe, just maybe, “special needs” describes a universal syndrome that each of us has been diagnosed with at some moment of self-awareness.

You see, I sat next to my little girl, and her question took my breath away. Not because I wasn’t ready to answer her, but because I saw the very essence of the answer in her. She was the answer.

At all of 5 years old, an integral part of our family and “team” living with and loving her big brother Chaim Boruch, she had not figured out what “special needs” meant. She had no inkling of the extent to which being “special needs” could impact a person. With no context for this phrase in her life, she was simply curious, searching for its meaning.

For her, there were no obstacles to

understanding her brother with “special needs,” a phrase she’s heard thousands of times. She was the example of simplicity, bridging a gap that, in her wonderful world, didn’t even exist.

After all what does “special needs” really mean?

I looked into my daughter’s bright eyes and saw a very capable, fun, loving little girl. And I answered her. I told her that we all have “special needs.” I told her that everyone in the world struggles with something. We all learn to do things that are challenging and difficult, that we all require help, extra love, care and sensitivity from others.

And sometimes, we too can’t find the words or the strength to take another step, either physically or emotionally.

We become paralyzed with fear, crippled by challenge and handicapped by our insecurities.

So, like Shaina, I ask: “What does ‘special needs’ really mean?”

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