There are many ways to talk about neurodivergent people, and for the most part, these terms have been used interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between them that you should know about.
This inclusive language guide will help you understand the relationship between inclusive language and neurodiversity, what each term means, how they differ, and which ones you can use when talking with a neurodivergent person.
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You may notice that, at time of writing, we don’t always adhere to our own guidelines around language. It’s a conscious decision we had to make, for one reason.
That’s because, as a one-man operation, we have to rely on using archaic and sometimes ableist language (even using outdated terms like Asperger’s) to rank for search terms that allow us to educate those visiting our website. This is also known as Search Engine Optimization.
Once we are in a position to promote the site far and wide on social media, our articles will all be edited to conform with the preferred language of inclusivity and diversity. But until then, it’s a necessary compromise we have to make to ensure our articles reach those who can benefit from reading them!
Thanks for understanding. Let’s get into learning more about inclusive language!
Inclusive language is a term used to describe the use of inclusive terms and phrases when referring to people with disabilities, mental health conditions, or other differences in ways that are respectful, accurate, and supportive. It’s important for those who work with mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities to be aware of what language they use so that everyone can feel included and respected.
Inclusive language involves communicating effectively with others by being clear, honest, and open-minded. If you’re trying to communicate with someone who has a disability, it’s important to ask questions like “How do I make sure I am understanding you correctly?” and “Can you tell me more about yourself?”. You may find that asking questions helps you learn more about the person you’re speaking with.
Inclusive communication includes both verbal and non-verbal forms. Verbal forms include things like listening, paying attention, and asking questions. Non-verbal forms include body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Do note that for many, such as Autistic individuals, these cues aren’t always understood. So it’s important to be clear and concise when taking this approach.
People with neurodivergent identities (as opposed to neurotypical) experience a wide range of emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and sensory experiences that are different from what most people experience. These differences can make it difficult for neurotypicals to understand or relate to their experiences.
As a result, many people who are a part of the neurodiversity movement have difficulty feeling accepted, supported, understood, and included by others. This can lead to feelings of rejection, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and even self-harm.
When we use inclusive language, we show respect and understanding for all individuals regardless of their intellectual disabilities, sexual orientation, gender, race, or neurodiversity. We acknowledge that everyone has unique strengths and challenges.
We also recognize that our own lives are not the only ones worth living. By using inclusive language, we help build an environment where people who are neurodivergent can thrive.
By using inclusive language, colleagues and teachers can create environments where everyone feels safe, valued, and included. They can also offer opportunities for students to learn about themselves and each other through shared experiences. When everyone feels welcome, supported, and included, everyone benefits.
Inclusive language brings people together from all walks of life in the workplace
Inclusive language is essential in the case of gender identity and sexual orientation, in particular pronoun usage. For example, instead of saying “you,” say “your name” or “the person you mentioned.” Instead of saying “he/she,” say “person X.” You may want to consider using gender-neutral pronouns as well such as “they” – Even “you” is a gender-neutral pronoun!
Here are some examples of acceptable pronoun usage:
Neurodivergent people deserve to be treated respectfully and accurately no matter their identity or background. If you’re unsure if something is right, ask yourself first whether what you are about to say or write would offend someone with a neurodivergent identity.
Neurodiversity can thrive with the introduction of inclusive language
Some people believe that person-first language is helpful because it acknowledges the complexity of human experience. In addition, many people with disabilities say that person-first language helps reduce stigma and discrimination against those with disabilities. However, others disagree. They argue that person-first language can reinforce stereotypes and lead to negative attitudes toward people with disabilities.
For example, using person-first language means starting sentences with “a person with…” or “an individual with…” and ending statements with “with…”. In the phrase “a person with Autism”, the sentence separates the person. Instead, the phrase “an Autistic person” is preferred by Autistic people since it describes a part of their identity that they value and pride.
For some people, however, they do not feel that their neurodiversity is what identifies them, and they would much rather be a person “with” something. It ultimately comes down to the perceptions of yourself and those around you whether a specific condition is to be embraced, or is seen as a disadvantage.
And in some cases, terminology such as ADHD can prove grammatically problematic, since you cannot “be ADHD”. Alongside outdated naming practices, this is one of the reasons avid campaigners are advocating for a renaming of the condition.
Identity-first language is preferred amongst the majority of neurodivergent individuals
Ableist language refers to umbrella terms in language, often (but not always) used by a neurotypical person that undermines a person’s disability, or what is perceived a disability in context of the conversation. It’s a key term that’s mentioned throughout the language of neurodiversity and disability, but not many are aware they are doing it.
For example, telling someone with ADHD to “Just focus and get on with it” is seen as ableism. Even if it comes from a kind place and comes down to a lack of understanding that people with ADHD struggle to regulate focus, it’s important to understand why that person can’t focus.
After all, you wouldn’t ask someone in a wheelchair to “Just get up and walk” or ask a deaf person to “Listen”, would you?
What’s more, other disabled people can also be ableists. This is known as “lateral ableism”, such as in the case of “Well I have ADHD and I can do that!”. Failure to acknowledge everyone’s conditions show themselves differently is a classic sign of lateral ableism.
There are several simple things you can do right now to start practising more inclusive language:
1. Be Aware. Think before you speak. Before you say something, ask yourself if it’s proper and consider whether it will add value to the conversation. If you aren’t sure, don’t say anything at all!
2. Ask Questions. When someone shares information about themselves, ask questions like “What does that mean?” or “Is there another way to say that?”
3. Show Respect. Make sure you’re paying attention to tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Take note of how you’re responding. Are you showing interest? Do you seem distracted? Are you interrupting?
4. Listen. Try to listen carefully without judgement and without trying to fix or change the person speaking. No matter the reason, their interpretation of the world is different to yours, and that includes the language used, as well as the intent behind their message.
5. Speak Clearly. Keep your speech concise, clear, and focused on the topic being discussed. Avoid jargon, slang, acronyms, and technical terminology. But at the same time, avoid over-generalised umbrella terms where clarity is required.
We believe that inclusive language is essential to creating a safe space for people with neurodivergent identities. When we talk about neurodiversity, we mean that there are many types of brains and minds out there. And just because one person has a brain that works differently than another doesn’t mean that they are any less worthy of love, support, and inclusion.
Inclusive language helps us understand others better by acknowledging them as they really are. It shows respect for all people. It builds community and allows us to connect with one another.
Using an inclusive language guide helps us become more aware of our own biases and prejudices. It’s these biases that suppress those around us from achieving greatness. And finally, when we use inclusive language, we help ourselves feel less alone.
Keep reading and see what else you can learn about being neurodivergent today!
Last Updated on November 24, 2022 by Neurodadversity
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