One of the tools that I have learned and adopted over years of working with children, adolescents, and adults from all walks of life with diverse stories is PFL or “People First Language”. Simply put… this means that when we are speaking to or about others, we are respectfully putting the person before the disability.
“The term people-first language first appears in 1988 as recommended by advocacy groups in the United States. The usage has been widely adopted by speech-language pathologists and researchers, with ‘person who stutters’ (PWS) replacing ‘stutterer’” (Folkins, John) *
I was kind of a small, scrawny kid growing up. I remember multiple times that kids would call me names or make fun of me to feel better about themselves; it was almost as if these bullies didn’t know my real name. They would hurl vulgar insults or cruel nicknames at me and identify me by what I was lacking or what was “wrong” with me physically. I was short, skinny, had pretty bad acne, and was always the new kid because I moved around so much.
I have learned from personal and professional experience that when a child is labeled by their weaknesses, deficits, challenges, disabilities, or abnormalities… they tend to adopt a false, broken identity. For me, I took on this distorted narrative: “I’m not good enough.” This kind of negative self talk leads to unhealthy and destructive behaviors. When we focus only on the “negative” aspects of people… their strengths, positive characteristics, and abilities can be disregarded or ignored.
My challenge for all of us is to begin to increase our awareness of and change the way we talk about people and the things that present challenges, obstacles, barriers, and limitations in their lives (and ours). Here are some examples:
“Steven has some developmental delays” verses “That disabled kid”
“Susan is a woman struggling with an addiction” verses “That addict”. enough
“Debbie is a girl with cognitive deficits” verses “Retard”. (Please, please, please stop saying this word and correct others who use it intentionally or flippantly. It is so damaging.)enough
“Timmy is a boy with Autism” verses “That Autistic boy”. enough
I worked with children and young adults with Autism for about five years and grew in an understanding of and appreciation for PFL. Everywhere I go, I like to spread awareness by seeking to help people understand the importance of this way of communicating about others. Many of us have friends and family members with mental health disorders and specific disabilities or medical conditions, and the way we talk about them matters! By choosing to put the person ‘first,’ we are setting them up for success and re-writing negative scripts and silencing the lies of the enemy in their lives. Choosing to put people first is one way to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.
By Kegan Mosier, MA, LPCC
Husband to Mikelle
Dad of one daughter, Reese Noel
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Mental Health Counselor at Cornerstone Christian Counseling
Worship/Creative Ministries Pastor at Passionate Life Church