Braceface, Bucktooth, Four-Eyed Fatty Bom Bom.

How would you like it if someone identifies you with these labels?

What is person-first language

We have all been teased at some points in life. However, people with special needs are being labeled every day when others refer them as “autistic guy”, “hyperactive child”, or “special needs person”.

Take Joe for example, he is well loved by his friends and is one of the star players on the school basketball team. Back at home, he helps his mother with household chores, and takes care of his younger siblings. Joe leads his life just like you and me, with the help of a wheelchair. However when people refer to him as ‘wheelchair-bound’, he feels that his abilities are being restricted by their labels. They do not see him as an abled person, but instead focus on his inability to walk.

See also: Common Misconceptions Of Children With Special Needs

What Is Person-First Language?

The language we use influences our thought processes. Instead of using these labels, we should use ‘person-first language‘. It allows us to view the child as an individual first, instead of being tied to the disability. For instance, would you like it if you were called a ‘nerd’, or rather prefer being known as a girl who loves to study? By being labeled a nerd, we will quickly form an undesirable impression of her which narrows our acceptance towards her other abilities or interests.

Instead if she is known as a girl who is studious, we are more accepting towards her interest for music and shopping. Similarly, when we label Joe as being a wheelchair user, we form a mental block on his abilities to play basketball, which he is proficient at. Instead, we can say that he is a basketball player who uses a wheelchair.

Mary, on the other hand, grew up in a supportive environment. Her parents are avid users of person-first language, and would refer to Mary as a person with abilities. Their language influenced their neighbours to see Mary as a person separate from her disability. They know Mary as a girl who loves music, likes to draw and is diagnosed with autism.

By using person-first language, we will be looking at someone in a new perspective who has other capabilities. However, most people are not cautious in their phrasing of words. In order to focus on one’s potential, we must first change our language.

Instead of…Let us use…
Special needs personA person with special needs
Autistic boyA boy who is diagnosed with autism
Bespectacled girlA girl who wears spectacles
Hyperactive personA person who is active

Katie Snow, a renowned author of ‘Disability is natural’ and an advocate for people with special needs, states that severe disability can happen to anyone at any time, “at birth or later- through an accident, illness, or aging process”.

Let us start cultivating a habit of using Person’s First Language, and see each other as unique individuals instead of focusing on disabilities.

By Amanda Goh Jia Xin, Elaine Tan Yilin, Koh Jiat Ru and Yeo Hui Tong Cheryl

This was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine