Addressing the Person, Not the Disorder

disorder Disabilities and special needs are such a fascinating category. The range of mental and physical disorders is absolutely mind-blowing.  From ADD to cerebral palsy to tourette syndrome to down syndrome to bipolar to autism to birth defects – each with their own spectrum of problems.

When I was working at camp, they taught us to always address the child first, not the disorder.  For example, rather than saying, “the autistic child, Jimmy,” say instead, “Jimmy, who has autism.”  It may not seem like much, but just by doing this, an entire thought process is turned around.  Rather than the disorder having Jimmy, Jimmy is a boy, like “normal” (Ye Gods, I hate that word, but I don’t know of a better one) children who happens to have a disorder.

It’s something that I think a lot of people, myself included, take for granted in the way we think.  We a person with a disability or some kind of handicap and assume they need help – because we forget that there’s a person that is living with that handicap.  People are not their disabilities, they are people that happen to have disabilities.  Besides, since these people have been living with what we would consider a disability, some for all their lives, they have probably adapted in some way.   

This was cemented for me today, very, very well.

I was at work – I’m always at work – when a man came through my line.  He was mildly disfigured around the face, it looked like a birth defect of some sort.  I didn’t think anything of it, it really wasn’t that strange.   However, when he took out his credit card, what I almost didn’t notice was his hands.  He only had one actual finger on one hand, his other hand was all palm.  This wasn’t what amazed me.  What amazed me was the way he handled his credit card, the way he signed the machine, the way he was able to manipulate his hands with such deft that I almost didn’t notice he only had one finger.

I really wanted to say something, but I wasn’t sure how to do so without being awkward.  It wasn’t weird, to me, it was fascinating.  His hands were obviously not a disability to him, they were just his hands.  Are we disabled in relation to spiders, because they have 8 limbs and we only have 4?  It’s not even comparable.  If we grew up, all of us, with only one finger we’d learn to adapt as well.

Disability, disability, what’s in a disability?

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0 thoughts on “Addressing the Person, Not the Disorder

  • June 14, 2009 at 11:39 pm
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    A disAbility is the opportunity to approach living in this world in a way that is uniquely slanted towards the adaptive abilities fo the person,..who has the disAbility!!

  • June 14, 2009 at 3:10 pm
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    @Masonsmom – I completely agree. I was BORN a STROKE SURVIVOR; I’ve never had use of the right side of my body to know any differently. I’m certainly not any lower on the totem pole than anyone else just BECAUSE I have a disability! What others would call a disability is my normal!

    @lostarizonakid@xanga – I have CP too, and I feel the same way. I’m just as good as anyone else – I have an IQ that’s higher than 99% of the population and I got a full ride to college; I love to read and write and praise God…but to most of the world, these things don’t matter…they just see my hand and arm bent funny and see me limp, and that defines me…

  • June 14, 2009 at 4:06 am
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    i read bout him in REDER’s Digest not long ago,its awesome when he can b so strong.

    I watch one drama andone of the actor said
    “although im a disable person but im disable in my body,not my soul or heart to stop me from moving on”

  • June 13, 2009 at 8:27 pm
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    Good post. My mom has CP, and she gets furious when someone refers to her as the person with CP or the disabled woman. She hates the word disability too. She has trouble walking, but she can still do whatever she needs to do. Thanks for speaking up for people like her.  

  • June 13, 2009 at 6:32 pm
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    @RobinzRantz@xanga – You were right to call them on it.  Medical professionals are supposed to be trained now to place the person first rather than the disability.  True enough that medical professionals do need to maintain some sort of level of detachment from patients, but also true is that healthcare suffers greatly when the treating physicians see a “statistic” or “disability” rather than a person. 

    I lived 28 years completely healthy then I was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes and I absolutely hate being refered to as “the diabetic”, as if that is the only thing I have to show for my life, that I got a disease.

    Oddly enough though, it seems the majority of the people referred to by their disease/disability are the ones with a disease/disability that you can easily add “ic” to the end of the word; diabetIC, autistIC, asthmatIC.  I’ve yet to see a person with cancer referred to as a canceritIC, they are always referred to as a “person/patient WITH cancer”. 

  • June 13, 2009 at 3:23 pm
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    I just hope no one finds out about my disorder…

    What I hate is when people treat a person with a disability or disorder differently. You’d be amazed how many sites there are promoting anti-ASPD. Sure, most people with ASPD are criminals. But not all of us…

  • June 12, 2009 at 6:19 pm
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    @RobinzRantz@xanga – I work in healthcare… at a hospital that only serves adults, if that makes a difference – and I know what you mean.  It sounds impersonal.  Is IS.
    The sad fact is that I have 10 to 15 patients a day – and different ones each day.  I don’t usually KNOW all their names.  When addressing a patient, I always address them by their name – Mr. or Ms. unless they give me their first names.  Even if I have to check their name before entering a room.  By the end of the day, I have their names.  As for talking in the halls, you’re not SUPPOSED to say a
    patients name… some sort of privacy act.  Thats why we say room
    numbers if patients/visitors can hear.
    But that is just the sad fact of medicine today.
    Tis sad, seriously.  And I feel you.  I understand.  It would bother me too.
    But… I just thought I’d throw in my two cents.

  • June 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm
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    Something I always tell people when they are talking about people with a difference – visible or not…especially if it something that they are born with…a so called disability is only a disability when you have lost something that you had to begin with…but when you are born a certain way be autism, CP, Down’s…is it really a disability if you didn’t  lose something that defines whatever is different about you in the first place – society really needs to turn that around because it is about what other people percieve to be a disability.  My son doesn’t know that he has autism…he doesn’t even know what it is…and frankly it isn’t a focus in our lives or our family.  He is who he is and he didn’t lose anything and become disabled…he is only different in ways that makes it socially awkward to have the inability to speak and make sense, to socialize with kids his own age, live on white food and sleep 4 hours a night…but that is his normal…so now what?  I love posts like these – it sparks an interesting thought process and it only starts with one thought to invoke a change…cheers all.

  • June 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm
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    “Normal” people face this from medical professionals in hospitals frequently. When I visited a friend who was hospitalized I had to wait by the nurse’ station for him to return from a test, and I overheard them talking like that. Not a name, not a person, but “the heart defect in room 121,” or “the spina bifeta kid in room 130.”

    I realize that medical people have to maintain a certain professional detachment from their patients, especially if their patients are kids, to avoid getting their hearts broken every day on the job. I sympathize, really. But it’s not as though using the patient’s name – even in their absence – can prevent or minimize emotional attachment to him or her. What it can do is help maintain the good perspective. Patients are people, not maladies.

    The more I heard at the nurse’ station the angrier I got, and finally called one of them aside (the one who appeared to be in charge of the others) and discreetly mentioned my objection. “You’re absolutely right,” she said, offering the same “professional detachment” thoughts of the preceding paragraph, and said she would work to correct it. It isn’t meant to be unkind, but I can imagine that it is usually taken that way.

  • June 12, 2009 at 12:32 pm
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    Thanks for posting this.  I definitely try to address a person as a person and not as a disability, but it’s difficult for sure.  But I know that if I had any sort of disability or defect that I wouldn’t want people to treat me differently for it.  If I had only one arm, I wouldn’t want people always asking me for help and things like that.

  • June 12, 2009 at 10:37 am
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    I work at Disney World. One of the training classes we go through is addressing people with disabilities. I have to say that sometimes it makes for rather awkward grammar to address the “person first” but it works.

    Thinking about autism as a disability is interesting. I hate the term “differently abled” but in a lot of ways it is a lot more accurate. I know some people who are autistic who have some fantastic abilities outside the “normal” realm, yet have difficulty with some “normal” tasks. They are not savants, just different.

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