Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Bunch of Considerations on People Centered Language - A literal stream of consciousness

(NOTE: it is quite early for me, and I really just want to get these thoughts down. This is why I have put stream of consciousness into the title, although it is somewhat ironic to the subject matter...)
     Since I have come into contact with individuals with exceptionalities, I have always spoken with people centered language, or people first, language. That is to say, rather than the "glasses wearing man," one ought to say the "man wearing glasses." It is interesting to think of the former statement in this way, because, in language, we would never think to say "the glasses wearing man." However, it is fairly common, and doesn't evoke the same pause in speaking, to say the disabled child.

     I won't take too long to philosophize on this point more than to make a few notes on why saying "autistic child," vs. "glasses wearing man" probably rolls off of the tongue easier for a few reasons. First, how spoken language is traditionally set up and syntax. It is inherently description/action before individual. Let's think to the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The description of the animals comes before the animals themselves. When we think about the language, the pangram still would work, but we would need to add a few more words to make it creature centric, such as "the fox, who is quick and brown, jumps over the dog who is lazy." Honestly, the reformatted sentence makes the dog sound lazier than the original, but at least we are remembering he is a dog before he is lazy.

     Secondly, because autism is a diagnosis. We do not speak of the man wearing glasses because he may have astigmatism, may be near- or far-sighted, etc. because when we think of glasses, and simply know he has something that requires them. We do not think about, and may not even care!,as to why he has glasses.

     Lastly, up until about a decade ago, many may not have even considered labeling a child an "autistic child" or a "child with autism," they would be, to use a terribly archaic phrasing, mentally retarded.  In this instance, however, it is interesting that one would not say that "mentally retarded" child so easily as they may say "the child with mental retardation." I am sure the former has happened, but in briefly thinking on it, the latter always seems more prevalent to me.

     There are less units of language required to say "disabled child" than "child with a disability," but it is an important distinction that respects the child first. 

     Which gets me to the main point of this post. I am thinking on people centric language. That is, language that puts the person before the description. For example, again, saying the child with autism (people centric) vs. the autistic child (diagnosis centric). I behave this way all the time. I always put the individual first when speaking about individuals with exceptionalities, always. So, when I was recently tasked with writing an essay on exceptionality, I became distraught at the fact that I kept writing "non-disabled peer." I thought, why am I so sensitive to putting the child before the disability, and throw to the wayside the child without when writing comparisons of the two. Needless to say, I have thought on it, and am going to change my wording from "non-disabled child/peer/counterpart," to say "child without similar barriers." I know it's a mouthful, but I think it is important.

     Change of topic. I wonder if it is better to refer to a child with autism/Downs/Noonian, or better to have one, singular term that we usually apply, such as exceptionalities/developmental delay. Should we focus on lumping all exceptionality into one boat, or refer to the child's specific, or prominent, diagnosis? Which is more respectful and dignified? I tend to think that referring to the specific diagnosis is better, but then are we placing too much emphasis on it? But, then, if we group it all together, are we ignoring the individual difference and similarity? I'll need to think more on this...

No comments:

Post a Comment