People First Language

“Remember: a disability descriptor is simply a medical diagnosis; People First Language respectfully puts the person before the disability; and a person with a disability is more like people without disabilities than different!” –National Inclusion Project I was so excited to watch that video from The Ellen Show of a young adult with Autism who worked at Starbucks and danced throughout his shift. I thought to myself “Isn’t it great that Ellen DeGeneres uses her talk show to educate her audience about people with Autism and how they are employable members of society!” And then I heard it at the beginning of the segment. “He is Autistic.” I cringed, because he is so much more than that! Working in this field there are so many acronyms, medical terms and labels thrown around when talking about people who have Autism. One that I hear a lot is Autistic. Most of the time this term is used by people who don’t understand it’s implications. Ellen, for example, obviously had the purest of intentions when having this young man on her show. However, by saying, “He is Autistic”, I believe it implies that that man can be defined simply by his Autism diagnosis. This can make someone with Autism feel as though their diagnosis is the only thing that defines them. It affects the way they may see themselves and discourage them from reaching their full potential as an individual! By saying “He is a person with Autism” I believe it implies that that he is an individual with abilities, interests and needs that has been diagnosed with Autism. This is called People First Language. No matter what disability, ability or medical diagnosis you may be referring to, it is always important to address the person first. You can use terms such as “child with autism”, “student who has a developmental disability”, “people with exceptionalities” or “individuals on the spectrum”. For me, as a teacher, it is easy to rationalize this. I get to know my students for their likes, dislikes and unique personalities. Each child, whether they have Autism or not, has strengths and weaknesses in the classroom which need to be addressed on an individual basis! If you focus on the idea that everyone is their own individual person, their diagnosis is only one aspect of what makes them who they are, therefor doesn’t define them. At Lighthouse, we treat each of our students as the unique individual that they are, in order to help them grow in to their best self! By doing this, we aspire for all of our students to find their niche, contribute in their community and maybe be on Ellen someday (as long as she agrees to introduce them with person first language)! Written by: Jenna Williams, Teacher at The Lighthouse

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