I started learning about person first language as a freshman in college. As a special education major we were immediately trained to look at the child as an individual, not as a label or disability. Instead of using the words “the autistic boy”, it is respectful to say, “the boy with autism.” Or, instead of saying the “emotionally disturbed girl”, one should say “the girl needs emotional support”. I embraced the concept immediately and used person first language throughout my career.
Yet, as a parent I realize I haven’t been giving my own children the same respect. If I look back at Facebook posts I see I have referred to my daughters as my Irish Dancer, my ballerina, my quiet girl, my artist, my little scientist, my musicians, etc. Are they positive? Yes. Are they hurtful? No. Is it necessary? No. Is it detrimental? Maybe. I have labeled my young children based on their gifts and interests. At times, it seems I forget that they are not the product of their activities and accomplishments, but they are my children. They are individual people first, who happen to enjoy dance, piano, ballet, art, science, and so much more. They also enjoy playing and occasionally bickering with each other. They are children first.
What if they begin to identify themselves as one of the labels I have used? What if they experience a setback or a failure? What if their interests change, or something happens and they are not feeling they are living the label? Maybe they will feel unsuccessful. Maybe they will feel that they have not lived up to expectations. Maybe they will struggle to know what their true qualities are if they do not fit the label I have used for them. I would like to think that they are strong and resilient enough that these concerns are irrelevant and the words would not negatively impact them. But, if person first language was deemed important enough to learn as an education major in college, I think it is important enough to at least consider as a parent. I will continue to cheer, support, encourage (and chauffeur) my daughters in their various interests, however, I must try to remember that they are children first!