To be PC or not to be PC?

Last year I did a level 2 course about autism. I found it interesting, not least because of the discussions it sparked between me and my tutor. One of these was about “correct” terminology. In several of my answers, I referred to autistic people and was pulled up on this and told I should always refer to “people with autism” and never “autistic people”.

When I mentioned this to my husband, who is autistic himself, he was somewhat less than impressed! When he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and after he’d had time to get his head round it, we had a conversation about the language he wanted to use. He’s always been very clear that he is autistic, he doesn’t have autism. He says being autistic is the same as being intelligent and being friendly – it’s all part of his personality, whereas he feels having autism is like having a cold or having measles and makes it sound like an illness and also like something that’s just temporary.

His views on “autistic person” vs “person with autism” are similar. His opinion is that “with autism” makes it sound like something that’s completely separate from him rather than something that contributes to making him who he is. He says people would always talk about a generous person and a friendly person, but never “a person with generosity” or “a person with friendliness”, so by the same token he says he is an autistic person and not a person with autism.

My tutor took these comments on board and passed them on to the people who had written the course, but the response was a very disappointing, “we have no plans to change” – even though the National Autistic Society uses “autistic people” because this is what the majority of the people they represent prefer. The course advocates a person-centred approach throughout but it seems that this does not stretch to asking the autistic community how they prefer to refer to themselves!

As a nation, we are a paradox. On the one hand we are obsessed with not offending people and our language is becoming ever more restricted so as not to offend people. On the other hand, we don’t seem to care enough to ask the people concerned how they feel about it!

Another example of this is the use of “hearing impaired” and “visually impaired”.

Hearing impaired is often seen as the correct, PC, non-offensive way to refer to the Deaf community – despite the fact that most of them find the term hearing impaired offensive. To them, the term “impaired” suggests faulty or substandard – and how can that not that not be offensive?

I asked a friend of mine who is blind what she thought of the term “visually impaired”. She said she didn’t find it offensive, but felt that if people were going to use it, it ought to be applied to everyone who doesn’t have perfect vision – including all those of us who wear glasses or contact lenses, or who screw our eyes up when trying to focus on something close up!

I think above all the most important thing to remember is that everyone is different. There is no one size fits all way to refer to people that everyone will be happy with. We should stop trying to be so politically correct if that means making decisions on behalf of another person about what may or may not offend them without finding out what they really think. If you only take one message away from reading this post I’d like it to be this: just ask! Ask people what they want. Ask people how they prefer to refer to themselves. Ask each individual what he, or she, or they find offensive and make sure that you use a term that the particular individual you are talking to finds acceptable.

“Tell Someone You Care” Day

February 7th is Time to Talk Day and it’s all about talking about mental health and removing the stigma of mental illnesses.

Most people will suffer from a mental health problem at some time in their life – that means when you look around at your friends, many of them have, have had or will have, a mental illness. Some of them are probably already quite open about it; others may not be, and these are the ones I want to talk about.

I have friends who are quite vocal about suffering from depression and will often post statuses on Facebook like “What’s the point?” or “Having a bad day!” They get instant support. Their timeline gets filled with virtual hugs, and a couple of days later they post pictures of the flowers and gifts they’ve received, along with messages of thanks for visits. All this is brilliant and it’s good to see people rallying to support someone who needs it.

But what about the people who don’t post statuses like that? What about the ones who just quietly slip out of circulation? Maybe they are genuinely busy and will be back online in a couple of days or a couple of weeks – but maybe they are struggling and don’t know how to express it. Maybe they could do with a helping hand but they’re struggling so much that they don’t even have the energy to post, “Having a bad time!” on Facebook. Maybe they are not coping but don’t want to feel like a burden, so instead they hide away. Don’t let these friends be a case of out-of-sight out-of-mind and don’t assume that just because they haven’t asked for help it means they don’t need it.

Coincidentally, February 7th is also Send a Card to a Friend Day. Perhaps on this day you could take a few minutes to think about each of your friends and then send a card (or a text or an instant message or even make a phone call) to someone you haven’t heard from for a while. Tell them how much their friendship means to you and check they are ok. If they are suffering from depression or some other mental health issue it will help them to realise they are not alone. Even if they’re feeling fit and well and just decided to take a social media break it will brighten their day to hear from you and that can never be a bad thing.

Please don’t stop supporting the friends who ask for help. They obviously need it. But please also remember that it’s often the people who don’t ask for help who need it the most.

Teaching Column Addition and Column Subtraction

This is my lovely place value teaching tool. It was custom-made for me by my brother at Sen Clock and my dad. Prior to this I’d been using a paper sheet and laminated tokens, but I was fed up with them sticking together and getting lost. This magnetic version is much more practical.

I find this really useful because we if stick the tokens to the board, children have visual proof that once there are 9 tokens in a column there is no room for any more, so if they wanted to add another One in, it’s time to exchange 10 Ones, which won’t fit, for 1 Ten, which will. Physically clearing out the column, exchanging 10 One tokens for 1 Ten token really helps them to understand what happens when I want to add 1 to 109.

It’s great for subtraction too. When presented with – calculation lots of children will try to do 3-1. With this place value board, they can see that we only have one counter so we can’t take away 3. Then we can physically exchange 1 Ten for 10 Ones. I’ve made the column wide enough to accommodate them and the children can then see that they have enough in the column now to subtract 3, and that the tens column has one less token than it had before. I find this works really well side by side with a written column subtraction to iron out any misconceptions and to understand how the written method works.