Over the past couple years I have grown deeply passionate about Special Needs Ministry. One thing I have learned while serving in Special Needs Ministry is how important it is to be mindful of the language you use. If you have never worked with a child or an adult with special needs, it can be tricky to know what and what not to say.
Here are some tips to use when communicating with children with special needs:
- Always use Person First Language when addressing those with special needs. Person First Language puts the person before the disability. Person First Language also helps to describe what a person has instead of who that person is. This helps eliminate hurtful and offensive language and demonstrates respect. For example, say boy with Autism instead of Autistic boy.
- When talking about places with accommodations avoid using terms such as “handicapped” or “disabled.” Use the term “accessible” instead. For example, refer to an accessible ramp versus a handicapped or disabled ramp.
- Avoid using the words “confined” and “confirmed” when referring to a child with a physical disability that requires them to use a wheelchair. A better way to phrase this would be to say that a child “uses” a wheelchair.
- Never use the term crippled when speaking about a child or adult with a disability.
- Avoid labeling children with special needs as disadvantaged or unfortunate. Their disability is not always life-limiting or negative.
- Show children with special needs the same respect you show to other kids. It is vital to not only make them feel that they are treated equally, but to genuinely treat them the same.
- When you communicate with these children and refer back to kids without disabilities avoid using words like “normal” or “healthy.” One way to phrase this in a less negative manner would be to say a “child without disabilities.”
- Sometimes you will need to communicate with a child’s aide or parent in certain situations. At times, it is easier to go straight to the caregiver. However, do not try to communicate through the aide or parent. Always do your best to communicate directly with the child.
- Terms such as retard, slow, and mentally handicapped can be hurtful when used. Special needs, child with a learning disability, and intellectually or cognitively disabled are more respectful correct terms to use.
- Always ask before you help a child or adult with a disability They often find value in doing things on their own, so helping before asking could be offensive.
The children and adults with special needs at my home church are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. In my experience in Special Needs ministry, loving these people with the language I use is just one of the many ways to serve them better!
For more information on Special Needs Ministry check out http://www.lifeway.com/n/Ministries/Special-Needs.