So yesterday I officially played the special needs card for the first time. Sam is now taking swimming lessons, and as he does with many new(-ish) physical experiences, he really needs 10 minutes or so to warm up to the idea. It's not like he'll scream and throw a bloody freaking fit if he doesn't get those ten minutes (at least not anymore), but the whole experience is just so much smoother, more productive, and pleasant for all those involved (and anyone in earshot) if he gets to warm up first. BUT. There is no "free swim time" before lessons. So I got some bitchface from the lifeguard, and I just said "My son has some special needs and he really needs to warm up to the idea of being in the water for 10 minutes or so before his lesson starts." She gave me a "what a pain in the ass" look and then said okay. I was within arm's reach of Sam at all times and made sure he didn't interfere with any other lessons.
Which is bullshit. I suspect that there are any number of kids that need some time to warm up to being in the water before they start a lesson, and there's no reason why everyone shouldn't be allowed to do that if they genuinely need it. But because we, as a society, treat disorders instead of children, having that special needs label can work wonders. It was, quite frankly, pretty awesome to be able to play that card to get my kid what he needed, no more questions asked.
Of course, it also SUCKS to label your child. Sam is SO much more than just a "special needs" label, and I'd lay money that every mother feels the same way about her child, regardless of how severe the disability. I don't even consider ADHD to BE a disability, just a different way of experiencing the world. And so it feels really weird and awful to say "Oh yes, my kid has special needs." Even though it's true; he DOES need accommodations that most other children don't because of how his brain works. And the very fact that I feel shitty saying so is an indication of just how much stigma society still attaches to anyone who is different. That's clearly an issue I need to work on. No parent should feel shame in asking for what their child needs.