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Terminology for the Special Needs Community


We’re making huge strides working within the special needs community in the United States to introduce Strider® bikes to individuals who have been told they will never be able to ride a bike. While we still have a lot to learn, we want to share some of the terminology we’ve learned along the way that may help as you develop this market in your territory. 

• In general, using the term “kids with special needs” or “individuals with disabilities” is professional. Please avoid saying “special-needs kids.”

• Never, under any circumstances, should we use the words “retard,” “retarded,” and/or “mongoloid.” If possible, also avoid using the word “handicapped.” 

• An individual is not their diagnosis; instead, an individual has a diagnosis. For example:

    • Gary is not autistic. Gary has Autism.
    • Sam is not a Downs kid. Sam has Down Syndrome. 
             Never say “Downs;” instead, say “Down Syndrome,” even though it takes longer to say.

• Please don’t say “Pat suffers from multiple sclerosis” (or any other diagnosis).
NO ONE “suffers” from anything; they have it, plain and simple. It isn’t who they are. They are a person first; diagnosis can be mentioned after that.

• Don’t ask people what they “have” or even worse, ask a parent what their child “has” (or what they are diagnosed with). If they want to share, great! If not, it’s none of our business. Instead, ask what sort of struggles they have had with riding a typical bike in the past. Or what has kept them from trying.

• Don’t pretend to be a doctor or therapist. If you don’t know what someone is talking about, say “I don’t know.” No one will judge you for this, I promise.

• When talking about children without special needs or comparing them to other children, please use the word “typical.” Avoid using the words “able bodied” to refer to typical kids. This implies that children with special needs are not able bodied. Our goal is to show everyone the exact opposite… individuals with AND without special needs are all VERY MUCH able bodied!

• Remember your audience: Adults with disabilities aren’t kids or children, so we need to constantly remind ourselves who we are speaking with. If you are working with children and adults, use the word “individual.”

For Terminology Guidelines specific to Special Olympics, click here


Finally, if you have any questions or suggestions on terminology you would like to share, please do! Most of us are ALL new to working with the special needs community, and we are all learning every day. We encourage you to begin implementing this verbiage all the time, even within your office so it becomes second nature. Thank you for taking time to read this and for joining the effort to have Strider be an essential partner in the special needs community!