You’re not so special

You’re not so special. I mean, I think you’re terrific. Truly. I’m a fan. But special? Not so much.

Why the distinction? Special means separate, in need of something different, hard to get close to, touch, or help.

I resist the label, special, because for me, it’s not so nice.

Years ago I worked as a special education teacher. Special meant quite a few things. On the one hand, it meant entitled to extra time on tests and extra help from teachers, and in need of patience. All good things. But it also tended to mean, it won’t count against us if he/she fails; don’t expect much; keep separate from other children; don’t push too hard; or even don’t bother.

Oh, and the other thing special meant back in my teaching days? Extra money from the school district. Oddly that isn’t so different for psychotherapists: A special client means this guy/gal is gonna be coming to therapy for a long time; he/she won’t be too disappointed if he/she doesn’t get much help (he/she’s used to it, right?).


A new word has emerged lately that seems to convey this specialness even more fully: Exceptional! (For example, The Council for Exceptional Children represents special education teachers and parents). Far worse than special, exceptional conveys exceptionality, a removing or separation.

TWICE Exceptional!

The name change, I’m told, was meant to include a “special education” constituency often forgotten: Gifted children. Not surprisingly (wrap your head around this one!), it didn’t take long for someone to coin the phrase, “twice-exceptional” to describe kids who are both gifted and have learning disabilities.

Enough! We simply have to find ways of providing good supports of those who need them, including those who need help outside of the mainstream without hanging labels on them that make them exceptional! And we need to hurry, but because I don’t think I can stomach the phrase, “thrice exceptional” coming across my twitter feed.

My group therapy pitch:

In group therapy, we don’t do special. Everyone’s different, and everyone has different stuff to give to the building of the group. But that doesn’t mean anyone’s excluded, or off the hook from helping to build the environment. “I’m not that old.” “I’m not that smart.” “I don’t know much about this topic.” These fragments of stories we tell ourselves just don’t fly in group therapy. While not everyone has the same stuff to give at any given moment, everyone has the same responsibility to give. The group’s job (with my help) is to figure out how to make use of everything.

Not such a bad model for special education, actually. (Gratuitous link to my book.)