To the Editor:
The opinion piece “Autistic Isn’t a Bad Word: The Case for Rethinking Your Language”(April 7, 2023) helped me realize the need to unpack and reevaluate my approach to labeling students with specific disability classifications.
I remember the professor of my disability-studies class stressing how damaging labels like “autistic” and “paraplegic” are for the disabled community. My foray into education up to this point led to me intentionally avoiding such labels so as not to offend disabled individuals and further perpetuate stigmas regarding notions about their learning abilities.
The stigmas surrounding disabilities are often influenced by two factors: (1) how educators are taught to view students with disabilities and (2) our own implicit bias, which is something we all have that has been unintentionally formed by life experiences, interactions with others, etc. Whether it is intentional or not, our labeling can have an adverse impact on students’ academic and social-emotional well-being and on educators’ professional growth. Acknowledging the existence of neurodiversity in education can enable students to adopt a growth mindset toward their vision of success. Educators, too, can develop a growth mindset that increases their understanding of the diverse capabilities of students with individualized education programs.
As someone transitioning from educator to administrator, my goal is to encourage students to verbalize their learning needs in the classroom and IEP meetings. I also want to attend more workshops to enhance my understanding of how to support students with disabilities.
A version of this article appeared in the August 16, 2023 edition of Education Week as Reevaluating My Language Around Disability