When I was at school waiting for my kids to be let out yesterday afternoon, another mom was chatting with me and she began admiring Finn. She teaches special ed PE at a different school. Yesterday she said to me, “I just love my Downs kids! They are soooo precious. They’re all just so lovable.”
I just felt myself go kind of numb. This type of thing really deserves a response, but it’s hard to know what to say when ignorance is personified in a fellow mom standing just inches away from you, and it’s cloaked in sugary kindness. So I just gave her a tight smile and didn’t say anything. And of course kicked myself for the rest of the day thinking of all the things I could have/should have said.
What bothered me about her comments (aside from the fact that it’s not the first time she’s said such things to me – this is a pretty regular thing from her)? I know she means well, I know her heart is in the right place, and I know it’s important to judge someone’s behavior in the context of their intent. At least she wasn’t saying ugly, nasty things, right? It’s still painful, though. Here’s why:
First of all, she is a special ed PE teacher! Which means she deals with kids with various diagnoses and disabilities all the time. And she still doesn’t get it. She still doesn’t get why People-First Language is important, and why stereotypes are derogatory and hurtful. I find this so discouraging!
So what is it about People-First Language? Isn’t it just another way for us parents of kids with special needs to be giant pains in the ass, to insist on Political Correctness because we secretly resent having a child with special needs so much that this is one of the only ways we feel like we can get a handle on the depressing situation we find ourselves in?
No. Okay? Just no.
When you look at my son, I want you to see a PERSON. A little boy. A human effing being. When you say “Downs kids,” you are making it very clear that you don’t see the person, you only see the condition or diagnosis. It’s dehumanizing. I’m not asking anyone to pretend he doesn’t have Down syndrome, I’m just asking that you try to see past it, and to the little boy that he is. Down syndrome is a part of him, but it doesn’t define him. It’s about respect and dignity and compassion.
Stereotypes. Hate ’em! And I was going to sit down and write a whole thing about stereotypes and realized I wrote something about a year ago that still holds completely true for me. Please take a look and give it some thought: Stereotypes.