ASN focus: please mind your language

30th April 2016 at 10:00
Your handy guide to talking and writing about ASN

If there’s one thing that stops people from talking (or writing) about ASN, it’s the not-quite-knowing-how-to-put-it thing. And when they do concentrate on ASN, too often people get it wrong. I seem to be on the receiving end of dodgy things that people say about ASN rather more than most.

Of course, it might be because my son (pictured above) has profound learning difficulties in the form of Down’s syndrome, and this seems to give some people a licence to say all sorts of things. (NO, he is not always loving, and YES, he does feel sadness.) And many teachers (sorry, teachers) assume that because they have taught a child with Down’s syndrome before, they are somehow an expert.

Or it could be because of my chosen teaching specialism – ASN.

Working with children with additional learning needs is certainly an eye-opener. You’d think that we would know more about it, seeing as we work with children with special needs almost every single day, but when you listen to the language used by many in schools, you realise that this is not the case.

So, without further ado, this is Nancy’s Handy Guide to Talking and Writing about Special Educational Needs and Disability:

Person first 

This is an important distinction to make in your mind. The child is always a child first, not one of “those children”, like they are somehow from an alien nation. The exception is when people define themselves with a label; like when someone says, “I am autistic.” The only thing that we really have to do is listen to how they refer to themselves. If you’re not sure, ask. And if you get it wrong, apologise.

Avoid the word 'suffer'

You suffer when you stub your toe. You suffer from a painful and incurable disease. Having ASN is not the same at all. The biggest thing you suffer from is other people’s prejudice. People with ASN can, and do, live happy, fulfilling lives.

It's not a mental illness

Someone with autism is not mentally ill. Someone with dyslexia is not mentally ill. Someone with ASN can stand a greater chance of becoming mentally ill through confusion and not being able to understand or relate to the world around them. Or they might feel worthless because school is hard and everyone else seems to get it while they don’t.

Nancy Gedge is a teacher at Widden Primary School in Gloucester. You can find more detailed advice on target setting and examples in her book Inclusion for Primary School Teachers, published by Bloomsbury


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