My daughter has Down syndrome. She has an extra chromosome in every single cell in her body. From the hair on her head, to her fingernails, to her heart. This “person first” movement that requires its subscribers to take offense when someone calls their kid a “Down’s child” has gone too far. Listen, I get us wanting the word “retard” pulled from the common vernacular. There’s a stigma that goes along with that word. The only stigma to using “Down’s” instead of person first is the one that we have ascribed to it. Historically, saying “Down’s” has not been used as a derogatory term the way “retarded” has.
And I honestly don’t get it. Feel free to correct me on this. I’ve heard it said that the reason why we use person-first language is that we want the person with the syndrome to be seen as a person and not their diagnosis. That’s all well and good, but I’m pretty sure changing the word order in a sentence is not going to make people see Abby before they see her as having Down syndrome.
And I don’t think that’s wrong. I don’t mind people seeing Abby as a “Down’s Child” because she is. Down syndrome is GREAT. So what if that’s the first thing they notice? What I’ve seen is that they notice that, then they see HER. And Abby is just fantastic. We go around saying, “Down syndrome is nothing to be sad about! Down syndrome is great! Don’t you dare say my daughter IS Down’s!” Um, why? Isn’t our message that Down syndrome is great?
To me, it’s a lot like when you meet ANYONE for the first time. I have a friend from China. The first thing I noticed about her was that she was Chinese. But I don’t say she’s “a friend WITH Chinese.” She IS Chinese.
I’ve watched how the use of person-first language has evolved in the autism community. An interesting thing is happening. Adults with autism are describing themselves as “Auties,” “Autists” and “Aspies.” The whole use of person-first gets thrown out the window because these people are PROUD of their autism. This is what I want for Abby. I want her to be proud of the person she is. Proud of her Down syndrome and the unique gifts it gives her. Just as I want Casey to be proud of the autism and the wonderful things it enables Casey to do.
Casey is autistic. Abby is Down’s.
I couldn’t care less how people call them. I just want them to treat them well. That’s all that matters.
EDITED TO ADD: Other critisms of the person-first language are (stolen entirely from Wickipedia):
In the case of people-first language, preconceptions judged to be negative allegedly arise from placing the name of the condition before the term “person” or “people”. Proponents of people-first language argue that this places an undue focus on the condition which distracts from the humanity of the members of the community of people with the condition.
Critics have objected that people-first language is awkward, repetitive and makes for tiresome writing and reading. C. Edwin Vaughan, a sociologist and longtime activist for the blind, argues that since “in common usage positive pronouns usually precede nouns”, “the awkwardness of the preferred language focuses on the disability in a new and potentially negative way”. Thus, according to Vaughan, it only serves to “focus on disability in an ungainly new way” and “calls attention to a person as having some type of ‘marred identity‘” in terms of Erving Goffman‘s theory of identity.
The US National Federation of the Blind in 1993 adopted a resolution condemning politically correct language. The resolution dismissed the notion that “the word ‘person’ must invariably precede the word ‘blind’ to emphasize the fact that a blind person is first and foremost a person” as “totally unacceptable and pernicious” and resulting in the exact opposite of its purported aim, since “it is overly defensive, implies shame instead of true equality, and portrays the blind as touchy and belligerent”.
In deaf culture, person first language has long been rejected. Instead, Deaf culture uses Deaf-first language since being culturally deaf is a source of positive identity and pride . Correct terms to use for this group would be “deaf person” or “hard of hearing person”.The phrase “hearing impaired” is not acceptable to most deaf or hard of hearing people.