Yesterday…did something happen here?

Oh yeah, I got a surge of traffic, with nice people pointing out things, some who agreed, some who disagreed, then I got called out over using religious phraseology incorrectly, and informed that I needed to use “People First Language”.

I was telling this all to my friend last night, who went “Wait, what is this People First Language you speak of?”

I tried explaining, giving them example of how one commenter pointed out that I referred to people in our situation as “special needs families” and how this was offensive, that the proper way is “a family with a child with special needs”.

My friend said (and I’m not directly quoting, forgive me) –  “But that doesn’t sound right, it’s like the child isn’t really part of the family, that that child is over here (gestures with hands to one side of the table) , and the rest of the family is over here (gestures with hands to other side of the table).”

She pointed out something that I realized was part of why I find People First Language a bit awkward.  To me, instead of highlighting the person first, it seems to highlight the difference more.  I also find it a bit cumbersome and not always sounding grammatically correct when writing.  It also just isn’t the right descriptor.  I can’t describe my family as “A family with a child who happens to have special needs” – Maura is not a separate entity attached to the side of the family.  She is dead-center, screaming for attention, she is the Sun and we all revolve around her (or at least, she’d like us to.)  She is our epicenter – while we work hard to not let her issues affect too many areas of our lives, the fact is, her issues DO affect our lives.  Every single one of us – parents, brothers, sister, grandparents – even the dogs!  Special needs is a huge part of our family. We are not a typical family.  We are a special needs family. There’s no shame in that.

What’s a bit funny about all of this is that just a few days ago, another fellow blogger posted about why she doesn’t do People First Language, and I commented how I thought it was a bit awful that anyone would chastise the mother of a special needs child – the mother who’s in the trenches, at the doctors/therapists/schools, the mother up at 3 am for the third night in a row, sleeping in a hospital chair, fighting for her child’s right to be part of the human race, being the best advocate she can – she’s the one getting chastised for not using People First Language?

And now it’s my turn.  Well, good thing I’ve been thinking about it this week!

Here’s the deal – most of the time, I will actually try to use People First Language when being more specific or speaking of an individual.  I will say “The child with Down’s Syndrome” or “My friend’s child, who has autism.”.  But when I start getting more general, I use phrases like “special needs children” and “special needs families” – I’m trying to make a point, be more succinct. or just typing fast enough to keep up with my brain.  If you met us for the first time, I’d introduce Maura, and say “She has special needs” or even “She’s special.” (which is always given with a wink and a smile.)  To me, it’s more about what fits the situation, what’s the easiest way to get my point across, and most of all, what the intention is.  Why is it offensive for a mother to describe her family as a “special needs family”?  Especially when she is trying to advocate for them?  What if a person who happens to have autism wrote how “as an autistic..”?  Would you correct him?  State that calling himself “an autistic” is offensive to all those with autism?

I’ll be honest – I’m not that PC.  I mean, I am, obviously, but I also spend so much time dislodging my foot from my mouth, it’s a wonder I buy shoes at all.  And while we can all (mostly) agree that certain words used certain ways is extremely offensive, there are other more grey areas in the realm of disability that we all may have to agree to disagree on the importance.  We’re all fighting for acceptance, whether it’s for a loved one or ourselves.  I accept the special needs that accompany my daughter in every area of our life.  Those special needs are part of who she is. They have shaped the person she has become, and the mother I have evolved into.

At the end of the day, I am aware of the laws of People First Language, but I do not always follow them.  Does that make me a bad special needs parent  parent of a child who just happens to have special needs?