As a mom of two children with special needs, I was shocked to find that there is so much controversy over what exactly we say. I’m not talking about the basics, like not using the R word.. That’s a whole other post in itself.
I’m talking about the more intricate issues. Do we say special needs, disabled, differently-abled, or what? I obviously didn’t want to be using any language that would be offensive to anyone, and just like with the autism organizations, I did my research.
This is where things got interesting. I found a pretty huge divide between person first language, for example, A-Man is a fun-loving boy who happens to have autism, and identity language, for example, A-Man is autistic. As I did more and more research, it seems that [I’m generalizing big time here] parents of children with special needs/disabilities/etc tend to prefer person first language. However, from what I’ve found, adults with special needs/disabilities/etc tend to prefer identity language.
As a Parent, I Tend to Favor Identity Language
There’s Nothing “Wrong” With Disabilities/Special Needs
I genuinely feel like there is absolutely nothing wrong with A-Man. He isn’t sick. He doesn’t have cancer. He doesn’t need a “cure” for something that is a part of what makes him who he is. I believe that person first identity can unintentionally add to the stigma of disabilities. If you feel the need to tell me 3 facts about a person before you bring up that they also have Down Syndrome, I am going to guess that you’re still pretty upset about the Down Syndrome.
We Know That They’re a Person
We don’t really need to be reminded that someone with a special need or disability is a person. We know that. We know that being autistic or having Down Syndrome or being dyspraxic is just a tiny part of what makes them who they are. If you feel the need to be reminded, or to remind everyone, that your child is a person before a disorder, that makes me really sad.
I have never been in a situation where anyone has ever heard that A-Man is autistic and then thought that completely negated his love of trains and fairies and the fact that he could sing you any song from frozen without missing one word.
It’s Just a Descriptor.
I am a female, white, a mother, a daughter, a friend, an American, neurotypical, and fifty other things that describe me. I don’t “happen to have neurotipicalness” That’s ridiculous. I don’t “happen to have lady parts”, I’m a female. Again, that’s not to say that all I am is neurotypical or all I am is female.
However, I am those things, and they all work together to make me who I am. A-Man is a male, white, a son, a brother, a friend, autistic, dyspraxic, and (because they don’t have an -ic word for it) he has sensory processing disorder. All of these things play a role in making him the sweet and funny little boy that he is. His speech therapist once told us that all of his diagnoses are descriptive not prescriptive. They give us an idea of where he’s at, they do not tell us who he is or where he’ll eventually be.
Of course, there are definitely times when I use person first language. I use it often on my blog because I just write what comes naturally. I am absolutely not saying that everyone should use identity language, but I really feel that it should be up to each individual. When A-Man is old enough to understand and decide, he will choose and I will respect his choice. Until then, I will use identity language which I’ve heard many autistic people use with pride.
What are your thoughts? What language do you use for yourself/your child?
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