Up until a month ago when my son misbehaved, got in someone’s space, or became a train and bumped into people at the grocery store I would turn bright red in the face, apologize and say “My son is autistic.” Mostly I would get those indulgent smiles from people. However, every once in a while I would have the parent remove their child from the premises as quickly as they could – as if Autism was contagious. I often questioned whether or not I should share that my child was autistic – then I learned a concept that has me rethinking how I deal with those types of “introductions”
“I have a wonderful five year old son named Chase. Chase loves to play with anything that has wheels, his favorite ride at six flags is the Roller Coaster Pandemonium, his favorite color is green, and he has autism.”
Granted, this isn’t how I introduce him on a regular basis – it is just an example of a new concept for me, person first language. What is this? Well, it is a way to help people working with a child with disabilities to remember that they are a person – first, they are not their disability.
This is what I learned:
- I need to place my child BEFORE the diagnosis. DD has ADD, Chase has ADD, SPD, and autism (can we say alphabet soup?). Emma has the terrible threes! By placing the person before the diagnosis it makes a huge difference. Really! It does!!! Think about it. Who wants to be personified by a list of characteristics? I know Chase wants to be known for his humor - not the fact that he has repetitive, restrictive behavior, for his smile – not his lack of social skills, his loving personality – not his expressive and receptive language struggles.
- Autism is not an excuse. When he bashes into another child I can’t just say “Oh, he has autism” and then expect the other parent to just smile and let it go at that. I NEED to find a way to correct the behavior. Not only that, fact of the matter is, there is a high probability that some behaviors he exhibits have more to do with his age rather than his disability.
- I learned that my child’s behavior doesn’t define who he is. He likes to bash and crash into things – that doesn’t make him a “basher” – what a bad connotation that has. Geez!!!!
- One of the biggest, and hardest to put into place when coming to terms with person first language is that I need to stop talking about Chase without including him. He picks it up. He knows we are talking about him – and he wants to be included. Not only that but who likes to be talked about, as though they aren’t there – NO ONE. Not even a five year old child with autism.
Now What?Next time you see a person with disabilities - put the person first! I know I will!
There is a great book that I highly recommend: "Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew" by Ellen Notbohm. I will touch on this in my next article.