Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Autistic Student OR Student with Autism?

This post has been a long time coming, but also a post that I have been very hesitant about writing! I've had thoughts of this post for nearly 2 years now, but have put it off due to it being such a controversial topic! I in no way want to offend others, but I'm ready to finally lay this first language thing on the table. I feel that it's way past due! 

So today I'm laying it out on the table! Autistic Student OR Student with Autism?!? Downs Child OR Child with Down Syndrome? Emotionally Disturbed Child OR a child with an Emotional Disturbance? Dyslexic Student OR Student with Dyslexia? To be completely honest with you and how I feel about it...who cares?? 

A child with Autism is an Autistic student. A child with Downs is a Downs child. A child with an Emotional Disturbance is an emotionally disturbed child!!! A child with Dyslexia is a Dyslexic child! How is it different?? I hear people and parents say in forums that I'm in, "Autism doesn't DEFINE my child." Well I'm sorry, but the people using these terms that you don't like, care about your child. They are trying to help your child and I'm sure in no way are they trying to define your child. 

I cannot believe how often I see teachers ridiculing other teachers in FB groups that I am a part of for using the wrong language. For goodness, sake! We have a teacher in a FB group pleading for assistance with a student, a teacher that is passionate about helping her student, that has taken the time to search and the courage to post for help and all the comments are ridiculing her/him for not using the correct language. I've seen them be belittled time and time again! Wow! Really? 

How many of these teachers never post again to ask for assistance?? How sad that we have to worry about such little things! And one member even stated that she was leaving the group due to people not using the correct language! Wow! 

I'm here to help kids and do what's best for kids! I love that we have the luxury of having collaborative groups on FB and I would NEVER, NEVER belittle someone due to their language and terminology! We all come from different cultures, languages, colleges, backgrounds, etc. and we all have different terminologies for different things. 

I LOVE what I do! I am passionate, dedicated and seriously LIVE, EAT, and BREATHE education! My students are a large part of my life! They're my kids! Yet, I often say Autistic student. I sometimes say Downs child. I say Emotionally Disturbed Student! Does that make me any lesser of a teacher? Of course not! Does it make me not as caring and passionate as the teacher that speaks "politically correct?" I think not! 

And speaking of being "politically correct." Here is one of Hilary Clinton's campaigns where this mother refers to her own child as an "Autistic Child." Should this language be a determining factor in who we vote for today? 

Even Dr. Ron Leaf, who is an icon of Autism, co-director of Autism Partnership, and the author of many best-selling books including "A Work in Progress," refers to students as Autistic students in his books. Should this keep people from buying his highly credible resources that help children with Autism?

Over the last year and a half of thinking of this post and seeing teachers and especially new teachers called out for this, I began to interview parents at my school to see if my language really made that much of a difference and if it offended them! I've always had an excellent rapport with all of my parents, so if I'm offending them in any way, I want to know. I interviewed 10 parents. Here are the results:

I asked all of the parents the same question. "I refer to your child as an Autistic Student (or whatever their child's disability is) rather than a child with Autism. Does that bother you? Are you okay with that?"

Parent #1: "Yeah, it doesn't matter to me. I don't see the difference."
Parent #2: "I don't care, I know you're providing him with the best care possible."
Parent #3: "What do you mean?"
Parent #4: "Who cares, we know she's Downs. It's not a secret."
Parent #5: "Should I be concerned?"
Parent #6: "Of course! I didn't know there was a difference."
Parent # 7: "She is emotionally disturbed. Doesn't matter how you look at it. It is what it is."
Parent # 8: "Can you repeat the two? What's the difference?"
Parent #9: "No, I trust that you will always do what's best for ________."
Parent #10: "What are you supposed to call it?"

Those of us that may not always remember to use "first language," or that don't always speak "politically correct," we are not DEFINING your child or your students. We love your child just like our own! Let's not continue to belittle others and dedicated teachers that hold these children dear to their heart. 

Let's leave the politics out and stop worrying about who's speaking "politically correct," and focus on what matters....the children!


  1. Spot on Traci!!!! Love this post!

  2. Take a view at this app http://trackingapps.org/highster-mobile/ to help your kids at school or college

  3. Traci, I am sorry but I do not agree with you. I feel that as an educator we need to help people understand all of the amazing adjectives that can describe our exceptional children and not just use a diagnosis. I am extremely passionate about person first language, however I do not think it makes you a bad teacher by any means. I know you care about your students but we are pillars in the community and often times a voice for our students and should be politically correct when speaking of them no matter who the audience is.

  4. I'm an autistic person, and I believe it does matter. Autism cannot be separated from the individual, and it does define a small part of the person. I recommend checking out Jim Sinclair, as well as ASAN (Autism Self-Advocacy Network). Both have written articles about the harmful affects of person-first language.

    At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you, the [I'm guessing] allistic teacher, or the autistics' parents want -- it's all about what the individual wants. Because when allistics ignore what the individual prefers as their identifying language, they're hushing them up; they're not advocating for the individual -- they're treating them like they're not human. It doesn't matter what you think it right or wrong, because you're not autistic. It sounds horrible, but...autistics, we have a culture...and whilst allistics' feelings matter to an extent, their opinions of what we should and shouldn't call ourselves /don't/. Autistics are born into the community and culture by default, as autistics, and we make our own decisions. We don't want to be babied.

    And, yeah, I'm an autistic adult, but...the education system failed me, alienated me. And now I advocate for other autistics who experience similar things, or who may. And again, I'm not trying to come off as rude, but rather...inform you of our culture a bit more. It doesn't matter what the parents of the autistics want their children to be called. And, really, any other syndrome/disorder/etc. -- it's up to the individual. They should be allotted the ability and confidence to choose. It's like sexuality: a girl who only likes girls may choose to call herself "gay", "homosexual" or a "lesbian". It's up to her and what she prefers more, feels more confident with. Fewer argue with those who use labels pertaining to other forms of their identity -- "gay character", for example, seems to be fine by society, but allistics freak out over "autistic character" like someone has just committed murder. Autistic Hoya has a great article on this anaology to identity and identifying language.

    The language problem originates from Autism $peaks, who doesn't work with or consult with actually autistic people -- and who has zero autistics on their board at all. They don't care about us, yet they continue to try to define our culture by determining what is and isn't okay.


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