Tuesday, August 25, 2015

EDUCATION: Language changing to describe students with special needs

By Stephen Wall/Staff Writer from The Press Enterprise
Published: Aug. 21, 2015 Updated: Aug. 23, 2015

Districts hope "people first" philosophy will create more respect for and acceptance of students with special needs.

Schools are adopting new terms to refer to students with disabilities. Here are some examples of proper and improper language:

Say: People with disabilities
Don't say: Handicapped or disabled

Say: Cognitive disability
Don't say: Mental retardation

Say: Bob has a mental health condition.
Don't say: Bob is mentally ill.

Say: Brain injury
Don't say: Brain damaged

Source: Kathie Snow,

When Pam Bender began her education career 28 years ago, terms such as mentally retarded were common in school settings.

Some teachers weren’t sure how to deal with students who had severe disabilities, she said.

“There were times teachers didn’t want these kids in their classrooms,” Bender said. “They didn’t know what to do with them.”

Over the years, the term fell out of favor, as advocates pressured government agencies to remove phrasing they considered hurtful and offensive.

The effort reached the highest office in the land in 2010 when President Barack Obama signed a bill requiring the federal government to replace the term with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government.

In local education circles, the movement to alter perceptions is growing.

Inland school districts have adopted policies and practices urging the use of so-called “People First Language” to describe students with special needs.

For example, instead of referring to a student as an “epileptic child,” they are encouraged to say “child with epilepsy.”

The Moreno Valley Unified School District board of trustees passed a resolution in June calling for people-first terminology.

Putting the student first and the disability second can have a profound effect on how kids view themselves and are seen by others, said Pam Bender, the district’s director of special education services.

“When you start to change language, you start to change attitudes,” she said. “We’re trying to get away from the negative connotations of terms.”

Nicole Bowles is a parent of two children with challenges. Michael, 14, and Jacob, 13, have autism and are enrolled in special education programs. Jacob, who attends Mountain View Middle School, also has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, his mom said.

At 5 feet 7 inches, Jacob is taller than other kids his age and she said he struggles to fit in. She said he’s been bullied by classmates, including one instance last year when a classmate closed a locker door on her son’s head after an incident in a flag football game.

Michael, a freshman at Canyon Springs High School, hasn’t had the same kind of negative experiences as his brother. But she said he has hard time making friends because of his disability.

She hopes that changing the language will lead to more acceptance of her sons and others with special needs.

Article HERE.
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