When our daughter was diagnosed with significant developmental delays, the words used to describe her were "cognitively impaired and developmentally impaired (motor, speech, language, social)." We later were told she has autism.
We have tried to not use disability labels to define our daughter. Labels can be crippling. We also never say that our daughter has "special needs." This term is outdated and invokes pity, but it is plastered all over the place in our school system and community. Children or adults with disabilities are no more "special" than anyone else. We all have needs, don't we? One person is no more special than another. ALL people are special.
Unfortunately, there will be some environments where people insist on using disability labels when they are routinely discussing your child. I had a service provider insist that using disability labels is necessary at school. Maybe on the IEP paperwork, but not when speaking about my daughter!!
A couple of years ago, I gave everyone on the IEP team a copy of Kathie Snow's People First Language. One member argued with me about how realistic using this language was in a school environment where the disability determines the level of service. It was like an old dog refusing to learn new tricks. The others on the team, thankfully, appreciated receiving the article. It's a new way of thinking...a respectful way of speaking!
We musn't set children up for failure by allowing disability labels to be the driving force in their life or expectations about what they can learn, do, or be. As parents, we must set high expectations for ALL children and make sure the school system does this as well.
Disability labels can also create dispair and a view about the person that they can't or won't amount to much. Focus on what people can do and build on that. Celebrate dreams, talents, and hopes.
A child can develop good self esteem if you speak about him/her in positive terms. Some better words might be...
"Zoe has so much creativity. Her artwork is amazing!"
"Michael can out puzzles together so quickly. He could be an engineer someday!"
"Michael is a good friend to Zoe."
"Ben is great at drawing and painting. His art makes me feel happy."
"Ben is kind and considerate. He cares about other children."
"Zoe is having so much fun at gymnastics class. She can jump really high."
"Christopher is doing such a great job with his handwriting."
"Christopher has an excellent sense of humor."
"Sally loves friends.
"Zoe wants to be a fire firefighter one day."
Aren't these better words to describe children? I'm sure we can come up with lots of positive words like these. Each child and adult has gifts to be applauded.