Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Down Syndrome Awareness -- 31 for 21 -- People First Language PLEASE!

Ok, my boys are calling for me. They underwent surgery this afternoon and are experiencing some pain and discomfort so this will be VERY quick. Here's the reason for this post:

In discussing how best to administer anaesthesia for my boys during surgery, the anaesthesiologist said, "... I know about Downs kids..."

Really? You have a child with Down syndrome? And, he/she is EXACTLY like mine so you know all about my kids and how they react to meds, anaesthesia, surgery etc.? I held my tongue, smiled and continued... "... previously, my children did not metabolize the anaesthesia well so blah blah blah..." I think he understood that I didn't want them automatically lumped together with a group of people who may or may not react the same way my children do in a surgical situation. Crazy huh? I held back and did not correct his reference to "Downs kids". I thought it better not to insult the guy before he masked my kids.

My boys are children first. If you're speaking about their genetic condition then they're children with Down syndrome. If you're just talking about them they're Brian and Michael. No other labels are really necessary. And, certainly, putting the term Down syndrome first is like making it the most important part of the definition... of what kind of children they are. "They are Downs kids!" Down syndrome does not define them and referring to them this way is inappropriate. I'm sorry if you think I'm being oversensitive and/or you disagree with this sentiment. If that's so, you probably don't have a child with special needs or a child with Down syndrome. But you should be aware that it hurts when you refer to my children this way. That you see their diagnosis first and the wondrous people they are second. That you define them by their diagnosis. If you know me and care, please try and change the way you refer to people with Down syndrome for me. If you don't know me but you ever have the opportunity to speak in a professional capacity to parents who may have children with Down syndrome -- like the good anaesthesiologist did yesterday -- use people-first language so that you do not insult any other patients, clients, parents or individuals with Down syndrome.

Words can hurt!

When you speak about children with special needs -- whether to the parents or to anyone else -- you should refer to them by their names First. If you don't know their names, speak of them as children FIRST and then -- and only if absolutely necessary and pertinent to the conversation -- add the diagnosis or disability language afterwards.

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