Person-Centered Language for Those with Dis(abilities)

Society has come a long way in the treatment of those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). In the past, those with I/DD have been seen as “inadequate,” and have been treated poorly, often times placed in institutions. Overtime, society has grown in knowledge of these diagnoses and towards the mindset of inclusion. Still, the need remains for progress towards a perspective that provides the understanding that these individuals have an identity – one that is far beyond their diagnosis. Even if there is not currently someone in you or your child’s life with an Intellectual or Developmental Disability, there could be at some point in the future. This is an opportunity to help your child understand differences in others and how to extend compassion.

Here are some important points to remember when helping your child understand differences in others:

  • They are aware when someone looks or acts differently.
  • They should know that no one is perfect.
  • They should be encouraged to be kind.

Having a Person-Centered approach helps navigate the way in which we can speak to and about these individuals. Person-Centered thinking makes the independent rights and abilities of the person a priority, regardless of their diagnosis. These examples (below) give us an idea of how modern culture addresses the I/DD population and how we can instead speak with words that encourage their identity as a person first.

  • Artwork by autistic man to be on view in Brooklyn Museum for advocacy fundraising efforts.

This sentence displays the independence and capability of the man, while still being labeled with his disability. A Person-Centered approach to making this statement could be saying, “Artwork by a man with autism to be on view in Brooklyn Museum for advocacy fundraising efforts.”

  • The disabled girl had the chance to be a part of her community through the recently opened fully-inclusive playground at the local park.

The Person-Centered approach to making this statement could be, “the girl with a disability had the chance to be a part of her community through the recently opened fully-inclusive playground at the local park.”

The difference between wording in each of these examples is slight, though the Person-Centered mindset behind them is what continues efforts towards inclusion and acceptance of I/DD individuals in society. Ultimately, it is Person-Centered thinking that helps navigate the way we communicate about and with people that have disabilities.

In this topic, the most important message to share with your children is to treat others kindly despite differences you can or cannot see from the outside.

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References

Robert L. Schalock, Ruth A. Luckasson, and Karrie A. Shogren (2007) The Renaming of Mental Retardation: Understanding the Change to the Term Intellectual Disability. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: April 2007, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 116-124.

Gjerde P, F: Culture, Power, and Experience: Toward a Person-Centered Cultural Psychology. Human Development 2004;47:138-157. doi: 10.1159/000077987

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