During my oh so long college years when I FINALLY started in on the good stuff, that is my major, Special Ed., we often heard the phrase, “people first language”. I even had a professor that you would get a thorough tongue lashing if you did not use it. Now let me be honest, I don’t always walk on the politically correct side of the issues. Some of it is just plain ridiculous but I wholeheartedly agree on this issue in special education. So, let’s just get down to it. I HATE the word ‘autistic’ or ‘disabled’. If you use those words around me you will see me cringe or step back a bit even if I am trying not to do it. Here is the thing. A person HAS autism. They are NOT autism. There is more to people then their disability. When you call someone disabled or autistic they become that label. It is hard to see past the label and to the person. I am not talking about using the r-word in this post. Trust me, that deserves its own entry and I will get to that.
In my professional life I am surprised by how many people that actually work in the field still use the word autistic or disabled. I have had to use my discretion when deciding who to correct and give a mini lesson to. I don’t want to make too many enemies at work! Once I nicely explain the mistake they either see the point or choose to disregard it. It’s their choice to make. When I don’t have time to educate or feel like I shouldn’t I usually just try to reword what they have said into using the term correctly like, “Oh, that is your student WITH autism you are talking about.”
I make an exception when I am talking to parents of children with a disability or a person with a disability. I consider it their choice on how they want to refer to themselves or their children. I feel like they are the experts in this area, not me. So, here is the question. If you are a parent or a person with a disability, what do you feel about people first language? Do you use it? Would you be offended if someone corrected you?
Last Fall I was privileged to attend a conference where Temple Grandin was the speaker. I even had the honor of meeting her and having her autograph some books. I LOVE Temple Grandin. She is brilliant and surprisingly, very funny! She has contributed so much to the field of autism. She has shone valuable light on an area that had seemed foreign not so long ago. Temple Grandin uses the word autistic all the time. I am not about to be the one to correct her. I think she can decide how she refers to herself and the autism community in general!
Special Ed Geek – Amber