Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Vocabulary

I am still thinking about words. Anonymous wrote a comment that I deeply appreciated about the proper usage of Ds vocabulary. I realized that I always thought “Ds” meant “Downs” not “Down syndrome.” My eyes saw one thing and that’s what I thought it was. The comment further discussed how the usage of defining a person with Ds should be just that, a person with Down syndrome, rather than a Down syndrome person.

In the Costello community the opposite has been offered. That defining a person as having Costello syndrome, rather than a “Costello person” makes them sound as if they have a sickness when the syndrome is just the person, a defining identity trait. That saying, “Costello person” makes the syndrome and the person the same, while Anonymous pointed out that they preferred “person with Ds,” to put the person first.

Why does this all matter so much? Why so much discussion about whether to put the syndrome before or after the word person?

I find myself of two minds. Perhaps even more. It matters because words are balled fists. They land punches. But also, in the energy given over to the defining, the categorizing, the making acceptable what is ultimately not are we losing focus? Is vision blurred so you see, for example, Costello Person and not Willa?

I guess the problem is I see both. I think we probably all do. You see your child, their individuality, their themness. But you always see that other too. The features shaped and guided by their syndrome, the traits they are predisposed to.

And aren’t they both? This and that. One and the other.

It matters and it doesn’t matter. I suppose most importantly because we live in a greater world of eyes; of people who do not see the same things as us. They see the syndrome. We see our kid. They call names. We say their names. Are we trying to construct a house of words that will protect them when they are out in the world? Because when they are in our arms do we really care what the hell difference it makes whether it’s Costello Person or person with Costello Syndrome?

I think we are trying to pave something for them. With this focus on terms and usage we are trying to tell other people how to think of them. We are desperately trying to pull back the veil so they can see, all in that one moment when they encounter our family. But it will always fail. Because by the very nature of having to do any of this we are only drawing the difference more boldly. We are darkening the line. We are, in the end, not fooling anyone.

And here my other mind has its say. It still matters. We still try. We must. We are parents to these children and we cannot help ourselves. We want, like all parents do, to make our children’s lives better, easier, happier. It’s harder for our kids and for us and so we battle with these words. We write and rewrite our rules. We push language around so much with our tongue we can always taste the flavor of it. Sometimes bitter, often sweet, always there.


Little Terry said...

On facebook there is a way to simply say, "Like" when someone posts something you enjoyed, or are touched by. I don't often comment on your blog (it makes me feel like I'm stalking you), but I wanted to comment that your writing is beautiful and insightful. You make me think harder when I look at the children around me. You make me appreciate the difficult choices I face as a parent, how much harder they might be, or might become.

Thank you.

invisiblecities said...

Thank you LT. Really. xx

Chrystal said...

I find it interesting that the two communities take different approaches to what I know to be called "People First Language."

Thanks for sharing and for showing me a different perspective. It means a lot coming from another parent who shares in this journey.

ds.mama said...

Here, here. Amen. "Like" Yup, I do believe we are trying to construct a schema for those without to learn what we know to be true. If we can change the language, we can change the view, and since language is the mode used to construct thought, it is possible to do... over a very long time.

It is important to speak in terms of the person first and then the identifier. But as you can tell from my name, I don't mind the ds first because it is also true that when you go to great lengths to define something in a way that is too composed (mama of a baby with ds), you do draw more attention to the part you are trying to make secondary.