I cannot work out whether as I get older I am turning into my mother, Hyacinth Bucket or Victor Meldrew. I suspect I am channelling all of them and quite frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
One of the things that brings out these pedants in me is semantics, defined as the meaning of a word, phrase or text.
In the world of our children and their challenges, there are a myriad words and phrases so loaded that the actual meaning of the words is lost beneath a mountain of inference and vernacular – and if I sound like I have swallowed the Oxford English Dictionary then good – think of this as your claim to intellectual reading for the week!
Ok, so what am I actually getting at? Well I have 5 words or phrases that really get on my t##s (normal service resumed). They irritate me much more than they should and cause Hyacinth and Victor to surface dramatically.
Let me share them with you…
Two of my children have Dyslexia – a ‘learning difficulty’. Yes, it has caused challenges and made life a lot harder than it could have been but is it a ‘difficulty’? I don’t believe it is. I see it as a learning difference – they still have the capacity to learn, but in a different way. Their brains do things mine doesn’t such as big picture thinking, great spacial awareness and an aptitude for logical thinking. They are also awesome with Lego! Their brain wiring is different not faulty and the word ‘difficulty ‘ is so negative, so indicative of a barrier. It is ok to be different – we celebrate difference and quite rightly too, so you won’t catch me describing any ‘learning difficulties’.
2…Special Educational Needs
Now let me make it clear that I totally accept our young people need Educational Support to access the curriculum and manage in educational settings but this phrase is one I detest. It gets me up on my soapbox! Why? Well since you ask, think back to your childhood…
Who doesn’t remember their peers referring to other children as ‘speshes’? It wasn’t done affectionately but as a derogatory term for someone who had some sort of challenge be it physically, academically or emotionally. As a teacher, parents on the playground would often complain about other children and justify their behaviour because they ‘had needs’. It used to make me think of some sort of Dickensian affectation. It was always said with an air of pity and slight superiority that they had managed to spawn neurotypical offspring.
I shall be describing my child as ‘needing educational support’.
3…Autistic Child, Looked After Child, Deaf Child
Basically, any description that puts the challenge before the child because it becomes defining. My son is a child with autism. It is part of him but does not define him. The placing of words can make a huge difference to the way children develop a sense of self- contrast, for example the phrase ‘you are a naughty child’ with ‘you are a child who has been naughty’. The first infers the behaviour is inherent and part of them, the second separates child and behaviour, therefore allowing the behaviour to be changed.
None of my children are neurotypical. Between them they have diagnoses of ADHD, ASC, dyspraxia, dyslexia, Horner’s syndrome, hyper mobility and Crohns but none of them ‘suffer’ from these things. When the Crohns kicks off, then, ok, my son suffers. He has physical pain and discomfort, his mental health is affected and he can’t socialise. His quality of life is negatively affected. What concerns me though about the description of ‘suffering from dyspraxia’ for example, is that it is a massively negative term. Dyspraxia is a challenge, a nuisance and can impact socially but my son doesn’t ‘suffer’ as a result. It is a term that for me invokes the worst kind of pain and challenge and I don’t want to sell my family’s challenges to them in this way. I would rather dwell on the strengths of each diagnosis than the weaknesses.
This could be contentious. When out and about we sometimes take advantage of free carer tickets. We are always grateful as this is a great help to us but I loathe the term carer. Often on these occasions I am asked ‘are you his carer?’ To which my youngest always yells ‘ No, she’s my mum!’. Having been in foster care I think the term just triggers him but I get it. I would prefer to be his ‘Supporter’ or ‘Champion’ or ‘Facilitator’ all much more positive and empowering words that infer ability rather than ‘dis’ ability.
So there we have it. Rant over. When I stop and reflect on my dislike of these words, I realise that my issue is really with the use of words that infer negativity around challenge. I believe that if we use positive language we will think and behave positively and our attitudes will be positive. People are not defined by their diagnoses or by what they cannot do. So I ask you to think about the message your language portrays and make it positive.
If we think we can, then we will!