What is the difference between a child with special needs and a special needs child?
A child with special needs, or a child with a disability, is a child first.
This is called person-first language and it is important because it is an acknowledgement and a reminder that people are not defined by their disability or limited to their diagnosis.
It may seem silly to focus on the order of a few words, but as a parent, those words describe how the world sees my child, how they’re valued. I think any parent will tell you that when they think of their child, the image that is conjured up in their mind is not that of a disability. It is a laugh, a unique facial expression or a slight shifty eye. It is a love of Pez candy or tight bear hugs at night. It is love. It is humanity.
In the disability community, we use person-first language, but it is important that we, as professionals, always remember to listen to our community. Some people with a disability, like autism, prefer to be called Autistic instead of person with autism. Lydia X. Z. Brown answers this question on her blog, Autistic Hoya (https://www.autistichoya.com/p/introduction-to-autism-faqs-of-autism.html, retrieved 8/30/19):
How should I refer to people affected by Autism?
Depends on whom you ask! Some of us prefer the terminology Autistic person or Autistic, whereas other people prefer to say person with autism. Still others use the more neutral person on the autism spectrum. The philosophies and beliefs behind the arguments for these terms center around the social and attitudinal implications of the language. People who prefer Autistic tend to see Autism as an important and defining aspect of the person's identity, whereas people who prefer person with autism tend to see autism as something that should be mitigated as much as possible and that does not impact the person's identity on that fundamental level.
The most neutral way to refer to people is to say "on the autism spectrum" or "on the spectrum." This avoids a potential inflammatory response.
Let’s continue to educate one another. Our language is powerful and helps to make a difference in our communities and ultimately create a more inclusive culture for all of us.
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