That Autistic Kid: The Importance of People First Language

Occasionally I watch TV of questionable value. It happens when too much PBS or Ken Burn’s documentaries have me fearing I’ve prematurely aged by thirty years. While watching The Voice the other night, I heard a contestant make the statement, “I work with autistic kids.”

Hmmm, do you?

Then you really should know better than to refer to your students as “autistic kids.”  Respecting the different abilities of others requires the recognition that, first and foremost, they are human beings. Special needs or diagnosis are secondary to that fact. People first language is a big step towards creating a culture where everyone is accepted.

Critics claim over-sensitivity or the dangers of rigid political correctness that can cause everyone to be tentative but consider all of the personality traits or mental faculties that you have but wouldn’t want to be your defining quality.

List 10 characteristics about yourself that have a negative connotation. I’ll start:

  • Irrational
  • Indecisive
  • Argumentative
  • Critical

Well, you get the idea…

By making a list of “negative characteristics”, I’m not implying that special needs are a bad thing. I don’t think that and would like to believe that the rest of the world does not either, but the reality is much different.  The goal of this post is to work to change those pervasive ideas.

Go back to your list. Even if you weren’t able to come up with 10 things, if you listed more than one, it is a clear example of the layers that we carry. We are many things, so characterizing a person by a single element, like a special need, is narrow-minded, However, while putting these labels on people is negligent, each person should be defined. By their preferences, morals, opinions, views – defined not judged. We are who we are because of these things and should accept that reality.

A sad, secondary commentary on people first language is when it’s disregarded, because someone sees the need as a means of special treatment. A trendy diagnosis – like autism – can be used to create relevancy. Differences should be celebrated, but these people are doing themselves and their children a disservice in promoting the need. They are discriminating against their child as a multi-faceted person. By doing so, they are giving permission to other people to do the same. Very quickly “my amazing, special autistic child” becomes “the arm-flapping kid” or “that girls who counts all the time.” Children, especially, should be given the opportunity to define their own self beyond their special need.

For more information about the use of people-first language, check out the National Inclusion Project.


The Best of World Book Night 2013

If you read my last post, you are familiar with my failure to again apply to be a book giver during this years World Book Night 2013. And the subsequent pain of discovering one of my life changing titles on the list to give away.

It turns out there were so many amazing people who were not only WAY more attentive to details than I, but also genuinely excited about sharing books with members of their communities. Here are a few moments I found on Twitter that make me thankful and motivated. (I’ve signed up for the newsletter, I’m on it for 2014, guys!)

@wawharton: My GED class in Brooklyn celebrates world book night! @wbnamerica

@aikonar: Looking down the bar for #wbn2013
A book about a bar, given to people at a bar, by their bartender.

@jennIRL: stealth-giving for #WBN2013! @corpuslibris is the sneakiest

@GoddardRiv: It’s @wbnamerica at Goddard and the giving has already started! #WBN2013

@VernonLibrary: The fine folks at the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods FPD with their new copies of POPULATION:485 by @sneezingcow #WBN2013

@saltpublishing: There be pirates on #Cromer pier! Argh me ‘earties— they be celebrating @WorldBookNight #worldbooknight

@MsMelissaBrooks: @wbnamerica just gave away my first book

@nulibrs: #WorldBookNight is finally here & we’re giving away copies of ‘Red Dust Road’ tonight at 5pm! Where? you ask… well,

@LibWithAttitude: Have just made a train carriage of people happy by giving them a graphic novel #worldbooknight

How I Managed to Fail in 5 Days (Sorry, Michael Perry)

The book that made me a Wisconsinite.

The book that made me a Wisconsinite. I’ll be giving away one copy – check the end of the post for details!

Last year in the days after April 23rd, I started hearing about free copies of Kindred being passed from stranger to stranger. I was jealous at not having gotten one. Then, when driven by bitterness curiosity as to why I hadn’t been included, I read about World Book Night and was jealous that I hadn’t been able to be a book giver. Certainly the trauma would forever scar me and come World Book Night 2013, I wouldn’t be left behind.

World Book Morning. Yawn. Coffee. Twitter.



I apprehensively found the 2013 book list. And there, judging me with a scornful look of disappointment, was Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time.

The single book I took on my first international trip.

The book that made me realize how much I love home, but why I have to travel.

Ironically, upon my return from Africa, it made me leave Wisconsin and move back to my hometown in Washington state. But while, I’ve read many people’s thoughts that Population could describe Anytown, USA, it didn’t describe that not-so-small-not-at-all-quaint town on the left coast, so I came back. Back to a very literal translation of New Auburn. A small Wisconsin town. A half block from the volunteer-manned fire station. Perry is my Kerouac.

I’d love to say that’s the first time this week I’ve failed Michael Perry.

On Saturday, day four of the Fox Cities Book Festival, Perry and the Long Beds performed a benefit concert. There was a little of this. And, undoubtedly, a lot of this.

And I saw none of it. Not that my Saturday wasn’t well spent and there is always that question on whether or not the old Subie would make a long haul like the Fox Cities, but damn it, it would have been nice to be there.

So, in a span of 5 days, I failed. Failed to take the opportunity to see a favorite writer, but more importantly, missed an opportunity to introduce him to neighbors.

Here’s the best part about me and grief. It makes me want to shop. So I bought one copy (I work in education, even that was a stretch for the budget) of Population: 485 – Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and am going to give it away.

Since this is my 2nd Annual Pity Party over forgetting World Book Night, I’d like to continue their mission in a small way.

Tell me to who you’d give the book. A light or non-reader you think would benefit the most from the gift.

I’ll take submissions in the comments until May 1st and then make a decision and notify the winner via e-mail by May 4.

Literary Review Tattoos: “…a compelling tour de force…”

I have a friend who stores her books in teetering stacks on the floor. They’re usually ripped, dog-eared, and deeply scarred. The way she likes them. When we lived in the same time zone, I would relish the time I spent digging through the pile. Pulling the most worn titles as they seemed like the most coveted.

It was in these stacks that I discovered Octavia Butler’s Kindred. And that I passed over Hitchhiker’s more than once before asking her to page through the book replacing any reference to individual spacecraft with the word ‘car’ or, if larger means of spacial transportation was being used: ‘bus’ She refused and I read it anyway. I loved it.

Her impending birthday left me with the excruciating task of finding more books for her to play literary Jenga. After a recommendation from a tan-jacketed actor, I feel like I’ve discovered the perfect books.

And now the fun begins.

Not simply satisfied with birthday wrap and a bow, I feel that the act of gift giving should go beyond the physical interaction of passing the present and tearing the paper, so I sent her this picture of a review from the back of one of the books.


It was only after I sent it, partially hidden to remove incriminating statements as to the identity, that I realized how much the portioned description encompassed our friendship.

Consider the idea of reviews on book jackets. The negative are relegated to star-rated columns, but the best of what is being said is boldly printed for immediate judgment.

I propose that we start doing the same for people. The nicest thing that anyone has ever said about them is tattooed down the nape of their neck, possible the breadth of their shoulders if the review is pretentiously wordy. This way we enter our interactions the way we begin reading a book. We’ve scanned the visible for an immediate impression and now garnered the best parts from one persons’ subjective critique.

The best part about this new movement, beyond the sociological connotations  is that it’s easily marketable. Literary-themed tattoos. Encouraged judgment. Egocentricity. As soon as this takes off in Portland, we’ll spread to Seattle, Austin, San Francisco.

With this new proposal in mind, I started pulling books from my shelves. My discoveries were astounding. First, I own an incredible amount of books that I have yet to read, but refuse to stop purchasing more. And secondly, people have already written book reviews about people I know.

review 5 review 4 Review 2 review 3review 6

So, go to your bookshelves, find your friends in reviews, and then start to send tattoo suggestions ransom note style. The ability to convince one of applying permanence to these reviews may hinge on an inherent need to share views non-verbally, so start with friends comfortable with revealing opinions on t-shirts or the ass of their yoga pants.

Who’d you find on your shelves? Share your reviews. So we can all judge with you.

A LIST! Because I’m Told Everyone Loves A LIST!

Minie ball divot in brick wall of outbuilding at The Carter House - Battle of Franklin

Minie ball divot in brick wall of outbuilding at The Carter House – Battle of Franklin

I found this list of favorite things on another blog and immediately decided to get my own Von Trapp on, minus the rain, the upholstery lederhosen and Nazi boyfriend. So, these are a few of my favorite things…

“Further On Up The Road” cover (technically) by Johnny Cash

subtlety in home decor


a picture of my nephew playing his homemade didgeridoo

the idea of the Baker Street Irregulars, but maybe not the Baker Street Irregulars themselves…I’ll let you know


horizontal lines (except in fashion)

powerful orators

Jayne Cobb

that Swype is a Browncoat poser (it knew Jayne Cobb, but went with brickbat on Browncoat)

old time radio dramas except The Whistler


these foam birds from Cargo

old Minié ball holes in brick walls and barn sides

Dürer’s Rhinoceros

hearing the seventh month of the year pronounced Joo-lye