why my child is “differently abled” not “disabled”



After 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 dis 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.

I want others to see the ABILITIES in every person with special needs.
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7 thoughts on “why my child is “differently abled” not “disabled”

  1. Great article! I personally think that word labeling is over analyzed… I mean in the end words are just a means to describe something. Political correctness is a way for someone to make a big deal out of nothing at all. I am a paraplegic and have no problems about any terms on my condition to include derogatory ones. I think by people making a big deal of certain terms they inadvertently put down those they so wanting to protect. From personal experience I notice that my parents and people I care about generally remind me that I am disabled because they are the ones who could not cope with the fact. I understand that to parents their children comes first, but to really support those you love you need to accept their disabilities and treat them as you would any other.

  2. Hi,

    I love this. I too have a stepson on the autism spectrum. He’s 17 and doing fine, I’m happy to say. But that’s not why I’m replying to your post.

    I edit a monthly magazine called Care To Share. It’s a free PDF supported by a wordpress blog. I’d like to include this article in issue 5 if that’s OK. You’ll get full credit and backlink of course.

    You can check out the magazine & previous issues at http://www.caretosharemagazine.wordpress.com

    Please let me know if it’s OK to use your article.

    Many thanks,

    Stuart Sorensen

    1. Stuart,
      Thank you for writing, I’m so glad your son is doing so well! Yes, you have permission to run the article. Thank you for including my post in what you’re doing to spread awareness. If you need one in a different format, let me know. You can email me at whitts99@gmail.com.

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