Person-first Language and Sarcastic Teachers and Behaviorists

I hear administrators, and behavioral professionals mandate person first language but freely mock students in front of peers and teachers.

I am sick of it. Words matter.

This is how a lot of teachers in both general education and special education classrooms “communicate” with their students. Snide remarks abound. Direct answers are not provided to direct questions. Sarcasm from teachers is rampant, but the same behavior is not tolerated from students.

Sarcasm is never okay. When we are sarcastic with students it fits both the CDC definitions for relational and verbal bullying.

We are harming the child in front of their peers and we are intentionally denigrating them.

What is sad is that even the when teachers said no to using sarcasm, they managed to miss the point entirely. They avoid it because they may get in trouble or because famous education researchers like Robert Marzano are emphatic in his appeal to why sarcasm is never appropriate. It strikes me as puzzling that so many people defend using sarcasm in their day to day life as a form of humor, but then immediately turn and say it is never appropriate for a students to be sarcastic back to the teacher. It is a behavior that is a non-negotiable from students.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Person-first language is problematic:

“People-first” language is meant to divide, it is meant to demean, it is meant to dehumanize, it is meant to pathologize, and yet, it is meant, as I said before, to make its users feel good. In that way it is ultimately destructive because it covers up the crimes.

Only when people get to choose their own labels will we get anywhere toward building an equitable culture.

If we convert horrid prejudices into pleasant sounding phrases, we diffuse those prejudices as an issue.

Source: Using “Correct Language” And “People First” by Ira David Socol – Bowllan’s Blog

I’m autistic, not a person with autism. Autistic is my identity.

I’m a disabled person, not a person with disabilities. Disabled is my identity.

Identity first language is common among social model self-advocates. When hanging out in social model, neurodiversity, and self-advocacy communities, identity first is a better default than person first. Every autistic and disabled person I know uses identity first language. The words autistic and disabled connect us with an identity and a community. They help us advocate for ourselves.

Disability’s no longer just a diagnosis; it’s a community.

There’s a language gap between self-advocates and the institutions that claim to represent us. There’s a gap between parents and their #ActuallyAutistic and disabledkids. There’s a generational gap in the disability movement. This is confusing for those trying to be allies. The articles below offer perspective and advice on identity first and person first language from self-advocates. At the end, I collect tweets from autistic and disabled self-advocates in a Twitter moment. Witness and respect these perspectives.

Source: Identity First – Ryan Boren

This is autistic life in the person-first cultures of education:

We navigate systems stacked against us to get access to what amounts to dog training-that dog trainers know better than to use-and a segregated “special” track through our systems that pathologically pathologizes difference and fails to connect with the communities it helps marginalize.

The specialists that serve this “special” track aren’t so much specialized in the lives and needs of neurodivergent and disabled people (managing sensory overwhelm, avoiding meltdown and burnout, dealing with ableism, connecting with online communities, developing agency and voice through self-advocacy) as they are specialized in deficit and medical models that pathologize difference and identity.

So heartbreakingly many can’t even bring themselves to use our language or educate parents about our existence. After autistic students age out of our care, we erase them again as adults.

Source: Neurodiversity in the Classroom – Ryan Boren

We hear the “abuse them now to prepare them for later abuse” line regularly at school. It is used to justify bad practices not at all in touch with the “real world”.

More than a few teachers have notified me that by being sarcastic – particularly with autistic students – they are preparing the students for sarcastic people in the “real world” and these teachers ardently refuse to “coddle” these autistic kids because they demonstrate difficulty with recognizing or learning social cues.

Source: Students Do Not Deserve Your Sarcasm – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

“Coddle” suggests a lot about the people saying it. It suggests they don’t have a structural understanding of our society. It suggests their framing is deficit ideology and meritocracy myths. It suggests they’re out of touch with the workplace and the future of work.

They’re not interested in designing for real life. They’re not allies.

Compassion is not coddling, and sarcasm from teachers and therapists isn’t comedy.

There’s been a lot of talk, of late, about laughter. Laughter as power. Laughter as luxury. Laughter as empathy. Laughter as beauty. Laughter as philosophy. Laughter as complicity. Laughter as division. The current political moment has been in one way a lesson in how easily jokes can be weaponized: Jokes can win elections. Jokes can insist that, despite so much evidence to the contrary, lol nothing matters. Jokes can contribute to the post-truth logic of things. They can lighten and enlighten and complicate and delight; they can also mock and hate and lie and make the world objectively worse for the people living in it-and then, when questioned, respond with the only thing a joke knows how to say, in the end: “I was only kidding.”

Source: Trump Mocks Christine Blasey Ford; The Rally Loves It – The Atlantic

“We can hear the spectacle of cruel laughter throughout the Trump era.”

Source: The Cruelty Is the Point – The Atlantic

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn’t find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn’t it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Source: The price of relevance is fluency

A Tale Told in Plain Text: Accessibility, Written Communication, and the Unix Philosophy

Around 1971, Ray Tomlinson developed the idea of networked electronic mail, which was hugely attractive to me because it replaced uncertain voice calls with the clarity of text. The development of the Internet was undertaken in the context of heavy use of email.

The rise of video conferencing has actually been a huge challenge for me as it reintroduces some of the uncertainty of voice calling and I look forward to real-time, automatic captioning to overcome the limitations that medium poses for me.

What message do you have for people creating technology today and how they should think about accessibility?

It must be thought through during the design phase of any product. Accessibility and ease of use go hand in hand. Many people experience temporary disability (broken arm, leg, finger, blocked ears…) and appreciate the value of accessibility features from that experience. There is no excuse for making products that are not accessible.

Source: Vint Cerf on accessibility, the cello and noisy hearing aids

Video conferencing has been a challenge for me too. I’ve been collaborating via text for decades. Written communication is the great social equalizer. I wouldn’t have been able to contribute without it.

This kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who’d rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it.

Backchannels especially support autistic people. “Online communication for autistics has been compared to sign language for the deaf. Online, we are able to participate as equals. Our disability is often invisible and we are treated like humans. It provides much needed human contact otherwise denied us.” “Online communication is a valid accommodation for the social disability that comes with being Autistic. We need online interaction.” “Thin slice studies showed that people prejudge us harshly in just micro-seconds of seeing or hearing us (though we fare better than neurotypical subjects when people only see our written words).

Source: Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.

Appreciation for plain text and written communication is part of the Unix philosophy on which the Internet was built. Unix is “the geek Gilgamesh epic; it’s a tale told in plain text.”

Authors and writers of all stripes can learn a lot about creating and managing words from computer programmers, beginning with an appreciation for the simple, durable efficiencies of plain text. Anybody running Unix, Linux, or BSD already knows all about text, because it’s the third prong of the Unix Tools Philosophy:

  1. Write programs that do one thing and do it well;
  2. Write programs that work together;
  3. Write programs to handle text streams, because that is a universal interface.

The geeks who made Unix nearly 40 years ago made plain text the universal interface because they believed in economy, simplicity, and reliability.

If Unix is the geek Gilgamesh epic, it’s a tale told in plain text.

Source: Plain Text For Authors & Writers – Richard Dooling

Opportunity but Not Pressure

I updated “Interaction Badges: Opportunity but Not Pressure” with a longer selection from “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity”.

In 1995, an organization for parents of “high-functioning” children asked Sinclair to organize a series of presentations at an upcoming conference. He opened up the process to the members of ANI-L, who explored ways of making the event as a whole more accessible and comfortable for people on the spectrum. They requested that a special quiet room be set aside for people who needed to chill out or totally shut down for a while. They also devised an ingeniously low-tech solution to a complex problem. Even highly verbal autistic adults occasionally struggle with processing and producing speech, particularly in the chaotic and generally overwhelming atmosphere of a conference. By providing attendees with name-tag holders and pieces of paper that were red on one side and yellow on the other, they enabled Autistics to communicate their needs and desires without having to articulate them in the pressure of the moment. The red side facing out signified, “Nobody should try to interact with me,” while the yellow side meant, “Only people I already know should interact with me, not strangers.” (Green badges were added later to signify, “I want to interact but am having trouble initiating, so please initiate an interaction with me.”) These color-coded “interaction signal badges” turned out to be so useful that they have since been widely adopted at autistic-run events all over the world, and name-tag labels similar to Autreat (” autistic retreat”) green badges have recently been employed at conferences for Perl programmers to indicate that the wearer is open to spontaneous social approaches.

The conference began with an orientation session in the main lodge led by Sinclair, who explained the guidelines that had been established to maintain and preserve the environment as autistic space. Photographs and videos could only be taken after asking for permission, and only outdoors, so that the flash didn’t trigger seizures. Cigarette smoking and perfumes were banned. Respect for each person’s solitude and personal space was essential, and the interaction badges allowed everyone to know at a glance who was open to talking. All of the conference events were optional, including the orientation itself; the overriding principle was “opportunity but not pressure.”

Source: Silberman, Steve. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 448, 449). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I updated the title of the post to include “Opportunity but Not Pressure”. I’ll elaborate on and emphasize this further in a future update, tying it into presentation culturepsychological safety, and habitable, inclusive world-building at school and work.

But in the past few years, students have started calling out in-class presentations as discriminatory to those with anxiety, demanding that teachers offer alternative options. This week, a tweet posted by a 15-year-old high-school student declaring “Stop forcing students to present in front of the class and give them a choice not to” garnered more than 130,000 retweets and nearly half a million likes. A similar sentiment tweeted in January also racked up thousands of likes and retweets. And teachers are listening.

Students who support abolishing in-class presentations argue that forcing students with anxiety to present in front of their peers is not only unfair because they are bound to underperform and receive a lower grade, but it can also cause long-term stress and harm.

Source: Some Students Want to Abolish In-Class Presentations – The Atlantic

Public speaking can indeed cause “long-term stress and harm”. See “Autistic Burnout: The Cost of Masking and Passing” and “Bring the backchannel forward. Written communication is the great social equalizer.”.

I also added a photo of and link to the communication necklaces we use in our unschool.

Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.
Two communication necklaces strung with silver chain lie on a cream colored beading mat. Each necklace has multiple cards with different faces. The necklace on the left shows a green colored card with a smiley face printed in black. The necklace on the right shows a red-colored low battery icon on a black background. The cards are held to the chains with two silver rings. Flip the cards around the rings to expose different cards.