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Miss, Am I a “sunny”? Or How Important Are the Words We Use about Children… with Special Educational Needs

19 July 2023

Miss, am I a “sunny”?

Or how important are the words we use to talk about children…

This story started over 10 years ago somewhere in a small local school. I was working as a resource teacher. I was entrusted with 10 wonderful children whose education I had to support…

To this day I remember the words of a 12 year old girl who stormed into my office during the big break crying and sobbingly asked me, “Ma’am, am I a “sunny”. Everybody calls me a “sunny”! But I don’t understand why?” she sobbed and cuddled into me…

Actually, everybody called her “SENny” and by everybody I don’t mean just the children…

The abbreviation SEN (Special Educational Needs) was introduced to facilitate communication in professional circles. It carries weight in a scientific and in an educational context. However, when it enters everyday communication… It gets scary. And sick. And somehow unfair! 

So many years have passed since then, reforms have been attempted, innovations have been introduced in the education and therapy of children with special needs. But has the most important thing changed? Respect and acceptance of differences in society. Have we changed the language we use to talk about or to children…

How many of you have any chronic, autoimmune or other health conditions… How many of you do people approach with your diagnosis? How would you respond if they did that?

There’s a lot written these days about bullying among children. Solutions are being sought. And we keep waiting for someone else to do something significant – for the state to introduce reforms, training, other drastic measures. We want teachers to do their job, psychologists and social workers to do their job. Parents to educate their children! But of course – it’s always the parents’ fault (as if that’s the presumption!?!).

And while we wait for others to do something great, it occurs to me to ask: can you do something small starting from today that will make a big difference. Like the change in the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that could lead to changes on the other side of the planet… That little something is to exclude the word “SENny” and all its derivatives from your vocabulary… And replace them with more sparing, more respectful and more accepting words, like: “THE CHILDREN”, “THE CHILD”, “THE SPECIAL CHILD”, “THE CHILD’S NAME”. Surely you will find many other appropriate words.

“The difference between ‘almost the right word’ and ‘the right word’ is like the difference between a firefly and a lightning bolt” said Mark Twain. All of us, every day, in every second, make the choice to create a storm or a light in the inner world of children. Change is up to us.

Author of the text: Virginia Vasileva – psychotherapist and child psychologist at Karin Dom Foundation. In her practice she combines established and innovative therapeutic methods and approaches for working with children with developmental difficulties, as well as tools for psychotherapeutic support of children and adults.

Virginia is also the author of the children’s book Playing Together, the first story in a series about Karin, Elephant and superpowers that transport young and old readers into the world of childhood emotions and experiences. The storylines weave Karin, Elephant and their friends into seemingly ordinary everyday situations. However, there is nothing ordinary about a child’s world. Every day is filled with the challenge of getting to know and accept yourself, finding your strengths, being accepted in the group, and having friends.

More recently, a Parent’s Guide has also been published. For families with children aged 0 to 3, which is also distributed by Karin Dom.

She participated in a webinar, “Words That Do NOT Harm. How to talk about children with special needs without labels”, which you can watch in the Karin Dom Digital Video Library.

Строим новия терапевтичен и образователен комплекс във Варна

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