disability or special need - correct terminology for children's book — Scope | Disability forum
New to the community? Remember to read our community guidelines and our community house rules.
Concerned about another member's safety or wellbeing? Find out how to let us know.

disability or special need - correct terminology for children's book

KatieD Member Posts: 2 Listener
I'm researching a children's book about disabilities, aimed at 6+ year olds. For this age group, is it better to talk about Special Needs (as they seem to in the school context) or Disabilities? The latter is harder for kids to read and say, but do some disabled people find 'special needs' offensive? Is there a third term I haven't thought of? 
Many thanks for any advice you can offer.


  • Cher_Inactive
    Cher_Inactive Posts: 4,414

    Scope community team

    Hi @KatieD and welcome to our community.  Thank you so much for asking this question!  Language is so powerful and to ingrain non-prejudicial ways of talking about disabled people from an early age is definitely what we need  :)

    People self-define and describe themselves in ways which feel comfortable and right to them, so for some people 'special needs' is acceptable and for others 'having a disability' is.  At Scope we use social model of disability language which is a way of describing disability that sees society as disabling the person rather than their impairment.  For instance, a person in a wheelchair is disabled by inaccessible shops and stigmatised attitudes to being a wheelchair user rather than their underlying condition.  As a result, we use the phrase 'disabled person' or 'person with an impairment' because disability isn't viewed as something belonging to them.  For more information, visit Scope's Social Model of Disability webpage.

    Just to mention, special needs can be a problematic phrase because it earmarks disabled children as being negatively different to their peers.  The term 'special' also has a history of being used in derogatory ways as an insult so some prefer to stick to the term 'disabled children'  I hope that helps :)
    Online Community Co-ordinator

    Want to tell us about your experience on the online community?  Talk to our chatbot and let us know.

    Concerned about another member's safety or wellbeing? Flag your concerns with us.
  • KatieD
    KatieD Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Thanks so much, this definitely helps. And yes we want this book to be empowering and to educate the readers about how people can live well with a disability so long as society gets it right. I'll go with 'having a disability' for now :)
  • Oxonlady
    Oxonlady Member Posts: 452 Pioneering
    Hi @KatieD and Cher_Scope I agree that language is powerful and in fact the same words can mean different things to different people.
    A lady once described me as a "disabled artist". My initial reaction was to recoil, as I've never thought of myself as a "disabled artist". The lady replied that this description might inspire disabled children and their parents, in that they can aspire to be artists or whatever else they wish to be.
    I understood this lady's point of view but for my part, I feel that my artwork is probably the only thing in my life that doesn't make me feel disabled. The opposite is true, my artwork transcends my disabilities and makes me feel enabled, empowered, creative and fulfilled. I noticed online that I am now described simply as "an artist"! I prefer it this way but it's a very personal view and I do not disrespect other people who describe themselves as "disabled artists". So yes, language in this area can be a bit of a minefield! 
  • Richard_Scope
    Richard_Scope Posts: 2,912

    Scope community team

    I would use 'disabled child' it's more social model
    Specialist Information Officer and Cerebral Palsy Programme Lead

    'Concerned about another member's safety or wellbeing? Flag your concerns with us.

    Want to tell us about your experience in the community? Talk to our chatbot and let us know. 


Do you need advice on your energy costs?

Scope’s Disability Energy Support service is open to any disabled household in England or Wales in which one or more disabled people live. You can get free advice from an expert adviser on managing energy debt, switching tariffs, contacting your supplier and more. Find out more information by visiting our
Disability Energy Support webpage.

Fancy a chat in our virtual coffee lounge?

Put the kettle on and have a chat in our coffee lounge with other members. We talk about hobbies, games and anything else you can think of!

Cerebral Palsy (CP) Online Cafe

Here's a new opportunity for people with CP or a similar disability (aged 20+) to get together and chat. The sessions are in partnership with CP Sport so you can find out more and meet people from both organisations.

Are you struggling?

Read our 'Coping with stress, low mood and isolation' support thread for a run-down of ideas on how to banish those blues and feel happier.

What do you think about the community?

Complete our feedback form and tell us how we can make the community a better space for you.

Information about COVID-19

If you have questions about the virus, please read our information and support which includes guidance on benefits, getting food and essentials and Cerebral Palsy.

Back to school this September?

Read tips on how to settle back in and handle any worries you or your children might be having this new term.