Sticks & Stones May Break Bones But Words Can Last Forever

Names.  Not the ones we are given, but the ones others give us.
Names and labels...  Horrible things.

A topic near and dear to me.  Very.

Kids are parrots, I think we can agree on that.  What is more, I noticed when I was a teacher that young kids think their parents' (and other trusted adults') opinions are the law of the land.  Because of this, I feel it is important that we model "Person First Language" and show our kids that all individuals are worthy of being treated with dignity and equality.

Two moments I will never forget:

When I was a teacher, a sweet little 5 year old in my class said she thought that people "with black skin" were bad people.  I remember the torturous feeling inside of me as I looked for words to say to her.  I didn't want to stand by silently and I didn't want to contradict her parents, who had taught her this.

My other memory was when I had my little cousin along with me as we were shopping for a new fridge, she was 5 at the time.  Down the aisle from us was a man using an oxygen tank on wheels.  He walked slowly down the aisle pulling the tank along.  I stood there for a moment praying that my little cousin wouldn't say anything rude.  She looked up at me and said, "Do you think we should move to the next aisle so that that gentleman can come down this aisle?"  I smiled (totally impressed) and said, "I think that is a very nice idea, sure."

You hold the remote control to your child's belief system; what are you going to do with it?

Person first language: What is it and why is it important?
"Person first language" means putting a descriptor (a disability or an obvious characteristic) at least second to the fact that what you are looking at or talking about, is most importantly, a human being.  This is crucial because if you put the quality or characteristic first you are saying that that is what that person is before just being a person like the rest of us.
Here is an easy way to remember it.
The characteristic, is as important as the color of their shirt.
Karin is not "the Autistic kid," she is "a girl who has Autism."  She has on a blue shirt; she has Autism.    Another example is, "he is a Downs baby."  He's just a baby who happens to have been born with Down Syndrome... he's not "a Downs."

*In all cases, if the situation is such that it (the descriptor) is irrelevant, don't even mention it.*

If it mattered that someone had on a blue shirt you would mention it, but if it is irrelevant to the story then of course you would not mention it.  This can be applied to race, gender identity and any other characteristic, that is at that moment irrelevant to the context of the situation or story that you are telling, as well.
Ask yourself if it would be a challenge to tell a story about someone you saw in the grocery store that uses a wheelchair but neglect to mention that they used a wheelchair because it had nothing to do with the story.
Two pages of examples of "Person First Language"
Page 1- Person First Language Examples
Page 2 - Person First Language Examples

Pity and Limits:
Having worked as a special education teacher, there were two common things I saw.  People in the general populous who felt pity for kids with special needs, and teachers who had strong opinions about the limitations of their students' skills in life.  They wouldn't typically verbalize it to the child, but if you feel something that strong the message is going to come through to the child even if you are not saying it out loud.
I feel that having pity for someone is degrading.  Also, believing that a child has a limitation because of their disability is setting them up for failure.
This mind set is just wrong.  Nearly anyone can do ANYthing that they set their mind to... like Hellen Keller did.

For example, here are some people with dyslexia.  I'm thankful that someone must have believed in them along the way.

Do you recognize a few?  Did they become what their peers or teachers thought they'd become?
In so many cases, a person's adversity becomes the reason that they rise above everyone else or have the resiliency to keep trying, so don't pity them and don't limit them.  Give them the same level of respect that you would give any other person.

I want to end with something that I love to share.  It is a sort of story that explains how having a "disability" or difference does not make that person less... just different... and aren't we all different?

It is called "Welcome To Holland."

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  1. Another interesting an important blog post, RCMom, that is as important for parents with young children as it is for us adults. While I'd like to think I know better, my knee-jerk reaction is to recognize difference before I recognize commonality and thus define by difference rather than mutuality. For me it is a constant struggle, but an important struggle in which to find myself. Your post helps by reminding me to see one another as a person first and by doing so in such a vivid way.

  2. So true David. I think many struggle with it but better to be aware of it than not, like you said "an important struggle." Thanks for your thoughts and kind remarks.