It Matters

Take a look at this picture:

This is a little girl. This is a toddler.

Here’s another:

This is a little girl who has Down syndrome.

And here’s another:

This is not “a Downs,” “Downs,” or “a Downs girl.”

There are a lot of things you can call Rowenna: happy, curious, beautiful, funny, clever. But there are a lot of things that aren’t appropriate: Downs, a Downs, a Downs girl. (for starters)

Maybe this seems silly to you or inconsequential but have enough people say to you “Oh, you know those Downs kids” or “All Downs babies…” and it wears you down. You want to hear that person’s name (yes, why can’t it just be “I know a little guy named Ben” instead of “I know a Downs baby”?), you want to hear the cool stuff about them. The diagnosis doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things. And honestly, I’ve stopped caring that people think I’m nit-picking when I ask for People  First language.

Rowenna is more than her diagnosis and when you call her “a Downs” that says a lot about what you think of her. (hint: not very much) I’m looking at you especially, health care professionals and special ed teachers. People who should know better. People who need to know better. People who deal with families at painful, vulnerable times and make things infinitely worse by not bothering to acknowledge the child but only the diagnosis.

It’s pretty simple. Refer to the person first, and add the diagnosis if necessary. Person with Down syndrome. Girl with autism. Man with diabetes. Apply the Golden Rule here and it becomes quite clear why this is important. Do you want to be called obese man? Nearsighted woman? Cancer teenager? No, I don’t think so.

So stop calling my kid “a Downs,” “Downs,” or “a Downs girl.”

Language matters.

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Julie Turkoske on January 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Very much to the point! I’ve been wanting to write a blog about person first language, but I have so many thoughts jumbled up. I think your blog covers it! May I post a link to this blog entry on our fb page?

    Reply

  2. Love love love! Exactly!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Marita on January 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    Other things Rowenna is: A fantastically pretty princess (I love that first picture), and a brilliant budding musician. I am so excited to meet her!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Rob Arnold on January 31, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Thank you for this post. My son Treyton has Down syndrome but that is not who he is! He is an energetic little boy that loves pizza, teasing our dog, and getting into all types of mischief. He is Treyton and has a magnetic personality….anyone that sees him for more than a diagnosis soon sees how amazing he is.

    Reply

  5. Yes it does!

    Reply

  6. Very well said, thanks Melissa! The ones that irk me the most are the medical professionals, educators, and therapists (if Charlotte’s SLP calls her a Down’s kid one more time, or makes another blanket generalization, I may scream!). This needs to be a part of their training (which, as a former teacher, I know it was a part of my training, not sure why others didn’t “get” it?!). Keep spreading this message!

    Reply

  7. I agree with this post absolutely!

    Reply

  8. […] I forward on a wonderful post by a another mother of a precious little girl named, Rowenna. The blog talked about not referring to children with the diagnosis of Down Syndrome as “Downs […]

    Reply

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