Friday, February 7, 2014

Discussion time: People First Language

Discussion Topic: People first language

Leslie asked: Are you hung up on people first language. Is society trying to be too politically correct? What words are on your offensive list or what words could you not care less about?

Kathy said: I don't care if someone says "Special needs child" versus "a child with special needs" (or replace "Down syndrome/autistic," etc, for "special needs). I catch myself ensuring I say it child first, but it doesn't bother me if someone reverses it. When I had my son who has DS-ASD, one group I was in literally gave out a list of phrases I was now apparently supposed to be offended by. I think the problem is many people get caught up in word order or choice over the intent by the person who stated it. Often people are helpful and care, but may not know exactly what to say or how to say it, but they are well meaning and supportive. I look at the intent behind what us said.

Cindy commented: I just want to make sure that my child is identified by himself and not his disability. So "autistic" or "downs" child makes me cringe...I try just to be a good example and teach when I can! People generally mean well. "Retard" makes me so angry!

Jana mentioned: What gets me is when someone says "he doesn't look autistic", like the doctors were wrong, or I'm dramatizing things. I just say, "We were shocked too. We knew something was up, but our only exposure to autism was Rain Man 25 years ago. We are glad we found the right professionals to get an answer."

Amy felt: I don't think it's just political correctness. I mean, this is a group of people who are still widely disrespected and rampantly discriminated against. As a society, we need to change these attitudes not because it's polite, but because it saves lives.

Leslie. here at Smart Apps for Special needs, covered people first language in her Advocacy 101 series, you can read all about it here:

Last year, I did a university assignment which looked at the different models of disability, and I did some research into the subject of people first language in the context of these models. The social model considers that disability is not the individual’s problem, it is society. For example, a person in a wheel chair does not have a disability, they are disabled by their environment. I found an article online where Lisa Egan explains it much better than I can! You can read it here: .

When talking about people first language, it is important to consider the wants of the person with a disability. Generally I use people first language, as demonstrated by that last sentence! However, I listen to the person and use the language they use to describe themselves. If someone tells me they are Autistic I would use that label, if they said they had autism, I would use that.

Last week, this very topic came up on a facebook group I am on for parents of children with autism in my local community. One of the Mums on the group calls herself and her children Autistic. Another Mum said that she had an issue with that language and preferred people first language. In response the Autistic Mum pointed us all in the direction on a very interesting article by Lydia (who blogs at Autistic Hoya) –

In the article Lydia said:

When we say "person with autism," we say that it is unfortunate and an accident that a person is Autistic. We affirm that the person has value and worth, and that autism is entirely separate from what gives him or her value and worth. In fact, we are saying that autism is detrimental to value and worth as a person, which is why we separate the condition with the word "with" or "has." Ultimately, what we are saying when we say "person with autism" is that the person would be better off if not Autistic, and that it would have been better if he or she had been born typical. We suppress the individual's identity as an Autistic person because we are saying that autism is something inherently bad like a disease.

Yet, when we say "Autistic person," we recognize, affirm, and validate an individual's identity as an Autistic person. We recognize the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person -- that being Autistic is not a condition absolutely irreconcilable with regarding people as inherently valuable and worth something. We affirm the individual's potential to grow and mature, to overcome challenges and disability, and to live a meaningful life as an Autistic. Ultimately, we are accepting that the individual is different from non-Autistic people--and that that's not a tragedy, and we are showing that we are not afraid or ashamed to recognize that difference.

You can read the rest of the article here:

As a parent, I will most likely always refer to my daughter as someone ‘with’ her conditions; however, if she grows up and wants to identify with them another way (such as say that she is Autistic) then I will change my language to match hers. I think that respecting the person’s wishes is the most important thing we can do. What do you think?

If you have your own question to ask, please head over to our Facebook page where you can easily enter your question for discussion by using the Questions tab.


After writing this article while sick, Odd Socks Mummy is wondering if she is a sick person or a person with sickness....

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