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Why We Use People-First Language

Yesterday, I saw an article in a local newspaper that used the words "Down Toddler" in the title. The article itself was good, but I am very disappointed with the title! Down Toddler? Seriously?

Years ago I learned that [in English] you should reduce unnecessary prepositional phrases in writing. Too many prepositional phrases can overcomplicate a sentence and obscure the main subject. I'm not sure why I remember this rule so vividly, but it has stuck with me all these years. (If you are a grammar nerd like me, there is more information on prepositional phrases at the end of the article).

I point it out because this particular grammatical rule may have played a role in the writer's word choice. Of course, this is all speculation but "Down toddler" may have seemed more to the point than "Toddler with Down Syndrome". It certainly kept the title short.

What the author failed to realize was that she labeled the child by placing the word "Down" in front of toddler. I've said it before, but I'll say it again -- words matter! First and foremost, the little girl in the article is a person. There are many more words that could be used to describe her. Down Syndrome is just one attribute, it's not her whole being.

I have a son with Down Syndrome. He also has a congenital heart defect and Hirschsprung's disease, but none of these define him. He is not my Hirschsprung's baby. He is not my Congenital Heart Disease baby. Do you hear how silly that sounds? He is also not my Down baby (or Down's baby) (or Down Syndrome baby). He is just my baby. Period. He has blue eyes, brown hair, chubby little legs, the cutest button nose, and Down Syndrome. I love that Down Syndrome is part of who he is. It's just not ALL of who he is.

The same goes for my daughter. My daughter is not my ADHD daughter. She is just my daughter. She also happens to have ADHD. Again, words matter. It's never okay to equate a person with a medical diagnosis.

People-first language puts the person before the diagnosis and it can change the way we see a person. The diagnosis is no longer primary. It can take a back seat. The person is first. It is empowering. And, it is important. Start using it today!

For more information on people-first language:


More on prepositional phrases:

In English, a preposition is a word that sits in front of a noun and shows the relationship between that noun and other words in the sentence. For example, it may describe the time when something happens: The class starts at 10:00 a.m. Or, the position of something: The cat went under the table. The most common prepositions are of, to, in, for, with, as, by, at and from. A prepositional phrase is a preposition and its object, such as "under the table".


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My almost 6 year old daughter took this picture of me, hence the unappealing camera angle.  But this is how she sees me, so even though it's not the most glamorous picture, it works.  This is me.

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