“Disabled” - What’s In A Name?

“Disabled” - What’s In A Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet…”

Names carry a lot of baggage. Humans are wired to make associations and the moment we hear a name or label, we have preconceived notions.

I remember when my wife and I were picking a name for our daughter. It was difficult; each time we proposed a name, we had to filter it through a slew of questions and criteria. Who else has that name? What is/was the person like who has that name? What would be the short form? How does it sound with their middle name?

Why is it that a child’s name has so much attached to it even before she’s born? How will she make a name for herself if her name has pigeonholed her in our minds?

Children who have been labeled “disabled” are often met with negative preconceptions. We think of them as “not or less able”. We see them through this lens of “disability”, our focus turning to their inabilities and deficits. We tend not to see them for who they are, what they are capable of and who they can become.

As parents, our primary role is to protect and provide for our children. It is also our duty to advocate for them. We must support their every opportunity to succeed and become the best person they can be.

We may or may not be able to move the public away from using the term “disability” to describe those who are different in some way. But we can work to educate our circles and change the meaning behind “disability”.

 It begins by shining a light on their abilities, their strengths, and their joys. Showing others just how capable and amazing these children (and adults) are. We can also choose to use different names/labels that elicit positive notions such as “exceptional”.

The most difficult shift is to move people away from identifying a person by their label. This way of referring to individuals with exceptionalities makes their “disability” their identity. For example, a child with Down syndrome is referred to as “the Down syndrome kid”. We need to help others see all children as simply that: children, first and foremost. By recognizing that every child is a child, like all children, we will shift the focus to the person they are first. By calling that child a “child with Down Syndrome”, the label becomes something that they have, not who or what they are.

I’ve shared just a few thoughts and suggestions about how we can begin to shift the world’s perspective. I’d love to hear about how you’ve advocated for your own kid(s) in the comments!

As I share with you in these posts, I have a few hopes and dreams. I hope to promote a community of advocates that can make a difference in how people (children and adults) with exceptionalities are viewed and perceived in the public eye. I would like to take the “dis” out of “disability” and have only the abilities resonate with everyone who thinks and speaks of individuals with special needs.

In The Clifton StrengthsFinder, Dr. Donald O. Clifton writes that our potential for improving on areas of weakness is limited. But the potential for improving on our strengths is exponential and the sky’s the limit! That’s why we need to focus on what our kids can do, instead of what they can’t.

In the upcoming series of posts I will be taking a look at a few broad exceptionalities (e.g. Autism, Down Syndrome, blind/low vision) and looking at them from a general perspective (knowing that every child is unique). We will consider some areas of strength and areas of need and how we can support different areas of development through play and toys.

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