knowledge, people first and adapting

Last term I was in developmental psychology for a good, oh, quarter term.  During the span of the time in this class, my prof—who was, granted, nearing his seventies—constantly referred to children as their disability first and as children second.  NOT okay.

It pissed me off, so I wrote him a stern but not condescending e-mail exemplifying his errors and explaining HOW to rectify his speech.  I wrote the message sitting in the front row of his class, and received a simple “thank you, Kerri” in response about ten minutes after class concluded.  The next class, he tried to drop an ‘autistic child’ as he had been doing.  He got to “autis—“ paused, and said “child with autism”.

I recieved an e-mail that said a child “IS special needs”.  [ALL kids have special needs, so I actually don’t like that catch-all too much either].

A child is NOT their difference, their disability, their special need . . .

They are who they are and who they are likely is partly shaped by how they have been socialized to feel about who they are with regard to their disability.

As a leader, a facilitator, a friend, it is important for me to know how I can best adapt a program to ANY child’s unique circumstances.  Because knowing SOME level of specifics makes so much make more sense.  How chain-reactions occur, what to watch for, and how far it is okay to push—a big thing we’re dealing with at work with some kids right now.  As a leader, facilitator and friend, it’s hard to adapt something to a child if there’s something behind the scenes I don’t know about.

But all in all, I still need to know the child, the person first.  I go by the same saying with many, if not all, chronic medical conditions, disabilities, et cetera I encounter . . . In my own case “asthma does not define me . . .  but it helps explain me”.


11 thoughts on “knowledge, people first and adapting

  1. That’s a pet peeve of mine. I try to never fall into the sort of speech pattern. However, I’ve noticed in my time working with kids with special needs, their parents often refer to them as “diagnosis” child. I think it’s because of ease of speech…it’s faster, and people understand it.

    However, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to change things, one seventy year old professor at a time.

  2. I always use person first speech.

    I have a lot of contact with people who have disabilities be it in my family, in my old line of work and at the place where I volunteer. I’ve learned to be really perceptive and to adapt to their reality on a dime. Some parents are really up on child first language, which has taught me a lot.

    Yet my aunt, when referring to my cousin says “He swims one day a week with the handicapped kids, and one with the normal kids” using air quotes as she says it. Just yesterday a girl told me she had a disabled sister. Those words sting because I’ve been socialized to use person first and the other way around almost seems taboo to me now.

    Yet I have to realise that they are speaking about their reality, the conditions they are living with everyday. I can’t tell them how to talk about it or deal or process those words. When you really look at it, it’s not about the talking, it’s about the doing.

    I see with my own eyes how my cousin is treated as a teenager first and a person with Down syndrome second. He leads the family, the family doesn’t lead him.

    I’m doing my part to change public perception and to make kids feel awesome. I wouldn’t have hesitated to correct your prof, but I’m also taking a back seat when it comes to the words families use to explain their reality. Especially when I see that they can make their kid feel more normal than any politically correct beat-around-the-bush volunteer like myself can do.

    • I totally agree with what you’re saying, which is why I would never correct a parent. It was the word “is” that got me–if the parent had said ” has special needs too” instead of “is special needs”, I probably wouldn’t have felt it as deeply, you know? I felt as if she was using it to define her child’s friend to me, which I wasn’t digging, especially considering I was told nothing else about her in that sentence like, you know?

      Thanks for your thoughts, though, I guess I tend to think of things from a more socially appropriate perspective as opposed to what the parents have to convey every day.

      • So, you know that you have to do this type of work for ever and ever right? In some capacity, anyway. You write about it so intelligently and passionately, it makes me smile 🙂

      • Hehehe yay! I honestly think I’ve been doing this kinda stuff since I was in grade one or two, and I LOVE it. Whatever happens, be it adapted physical activity through kinese, OT or child life, I think I’m headed in the right direction!

        My school recently started a Disability Studies program, except the intro courses are all online, and I tried it last year [back when it was just a sociology course and not yet part of the Disability Studies major] and the content rocked, but I just couldn’t swing the online learning thing! If I found a similar program elsewhere though, minus the online courses, it would def be up my alley! 🙂

      • Haha, school named it, not me! That may actually be in greater equality, as many other things are ________ studies. Environmental Studies, Developmental Studies, International Development Studies, Criminal Justice Studies. The only things that aren’t Studies are the sciences and what Dean calls the Fake Sciences–all the classes ending in “-ology”.
        Basically Fake Sciences have labs where you don’t have to actually wear lab coats usually. Although physics is a real science according to him, and you don’t have to wear a lab coat there either maybe.

      • In psych we didn’t wear lab coats and they kept telling us we were doing science. Dingy unrelated thing. In Hebrew slang, the humanities are refered to as “Grass Sciences” since it seems the humanities student are the ones who spend all their time on campus sitting in the grass getting a tan.

      • GRASS SCIENCES, THAT’S AWESOME!!! I love that.

        Hehehe dingy unrelated thing ;D. Funny, we also have a giant lawn everybody sits on ;).

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