Thursday, May 19, 2011

Disability Causes Grammar Leave Your Brain?

Today, I am proud to feature a guest blog from a fellow participant in the Blogathon, Sawyer.  Her normal home is at
I am a guest blogger on her blog today, and I welcome you to check out my post there.

This post gives all of us a lot of food for thought.

Today's Guest Post

I have a wonderful boy who turned 13 this year. He is funny and warm, deeply caring and sensitive, with a quirky sense of humor, an innate love for order, and a natural curiosity about people. He is a fantastic dancer who loves to entertain a crowd with his dance routine that even incorporates a form of break dancing. He readily comforts classmates or siblings who are crying, he walks up to lonely strangers and greets them, making them feel special again.

Did I mention he also has Down Syndrome?

In all the years of mothering this child what disturbs me about his disability is the attitude that others have toward it. I am not talking about friends necessarily, although I have had my gripes with them too. I mean, is it too much to ask to show some warmth toward a kid who maybe isn't very verbal but who smiles and is friendly and just wants to be acknowledged? But I digress. Worse are strangers and the way in which they either stare or pointedly do not stare. But I still digress.

I really mean to talk about speech, not the speech my son obviously struggles with, but a certain particularity of speech that surfaces amongst perfectly fine people, well educated and otherwise rational folks who suddenly fall into demented language, consistently and unfailingly misusing the word is. Is, as in "He is Down Syndrome."

Excuse me? The first time I ever heard this I thought it was just that one person's weird proclivity. But I have heard this turn of phrase countless times by all kinds of people concerning their own child, or a patient, or one of their students. I hear parents say "She is ADD," teachers: "He is spina bifida." It baffles the mind.
I mean, if you are diabetic, are you diabetes? Is your husband arthritis? Is your friend, God forbid, cancer? Does it take any linguistic trouble as far as pronunciation, or is this some kind of short cut - is it any easier to say is instead of has?

Of course not, and therefore it indicates to me that in the mind of the speaker, at least on a subconscious level, this turn of phrase has to mean something, and what else can it mean but an over-identification of the person with the disability. They would, of course, never admit this, and it is not for me to judge. I only know that this makes me incredibly angry, and I wish with all my heart people would stop saying it already.

All I know is this: while a disabled person may be limited in certain ways by his disability, at the same time he is not defined by it. That belief may be a fine line to walk for some people, but to me it is crucial to think that way. It is a matter of principle, just like using the correct verb in all the right places.


  1. I've never heard this turn of phrasing before, but I empathize with your frustration and anger. I also wanted to say that when my son was 13, he was very much like your son, with similar interests and characteristics, only he didn't have Down Syndrome. As you know, we're just not that different from each other.

  2. Alana was right--this one's a must-read! Every kid with Down Syndrome I've ever met has been loving, happy, and compassionate, and left me with a bigger smile than I had before. Not a bad resumé, that. Thank you for the post.


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