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[dropcap letter="P"]eople usually complain about “political correctness” and think it stifles our freedom of speech. What these people don’t realize is that “freedom of speech” extends only to the government being prevented from curtailing our freedom of speech, and not people who are affected by our choice of words in everyday situations.
Besides, would it really be such a bad thing if we can make someone’s day better just because we avoid saying…
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The politically correct way to refer to a child with special needs would be for the special need to come after the child, i.e.,
- a Child with Down Syndrome
- a Child with Cerebral Palsy
- a Child with Autism
This is called People First Language and it views the child first and separates him/her from the disability.
Say Instead: "Does your child have special needs?"
If you must really ask, this is the most tactful way of doing it.
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The words mongoloid and retarded are not words that people use anymore to refer to our children. They are outdated terms that have been discarded in polite society because they connote a negative impression and are hurtful. You can compare these words to other derogatory words used to hurt people of color or people of a certain sexual orientation.
Say Instead: "Does your child have Down Syndrome?"
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No one “suffers” from Down syndrome. Down syndrome itself is not a disease and no one suffers from this genetic condition. Nonetheless, many people with Down Syndrome are predisposed to heart conditions, impaired vision and hearing, blood disorders, and gastrointestinal abnormalities.
Say Instead: “Does your child have Down Syndrome?” Yes. The exact same thing as above.
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This is what you would call a stereotype, not to mention patronizing. Just like saying all Pinoys are great singers, it lumps people into one specific trait that isn’t true all the time.
Say Instead: "Your daughter always brings a smile to my face. Her energy makes me happy."
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This question squarely and unfairly puts the blame of the child’s condition on the mother. And if you ask this, what will you say when the mom answers yes? When they answer no? Can you handle the truth? You can’t handle the truth!
To be clear, Down Syndrome is not caused by bumping your belly when pregnant, or by drugs. It's caused by the presence of an extra chromosome and is present at conception.
Say Instead: “How’s the weather?” This is probably a less pointless question to ask than one that is clearly ignorant of the facts.
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Who are you trying to assuage with the vestigial apology? Yourself, or the parent? You attempt to empathize with an apology, then back it up with the "she's so pretty or he's so guwapo pa naman" comment, as if being pretty or guwapo is something to be apologetic for.
Why are you sorry? Did you have something to do with my child having special needs? It also puts the parent in a spot. Do we say “thank you,” after a statement like that?
Say Instead: “She’s so pretty,” and leave it at that. There is nothing to be sorry for in appreciating a pretty baby—unless, again, you were being patronizing and didn’t actually mean what you said.
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Parents who have children with special needs were not given super powers and do not possess extra gifts to rear their kids. We’re just like any other parent who love their kids fiercely and would give them everything so that they could have the best in life. We make mistakes, we get tired, we need alcohol once in a while. This is the even more offensive version of our favorite sports quote: “God wanted us to win this game!”
Say Instead: "Looks like you need a break. Let's hang out and have cake and coffee!" You know, like anyone would say to any average person we would like to spend time with.
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Actually, Trisomy 21 is something that is present in every single cell of the body of a child with Down Syndrome. To say one can just “grow out of it” is dismissive and it trivializes the hard work that children with Down Syndrome (or those with developmental disabilities) have to do in order to achieve the milestones that typical children reach without much effort.
Say Instead: Absolutely nothing. Remember what mommy said about not having anything good to say?
Share your experiences in the Comments Section.
Michelle Aventajado blogs at Mommanmanila.com. She is a member of Mommy Mundo SoMoms.