The power of language

By Alexandria De Souza, Youth and Family Counsellor at Wood’s Homes Temple Programs

How do you feel about the word difficult versus challenging? What about the label of autistic child versus a child with autism? Language has the ability to provoke different emotions, empower someone, or even belittle an individual.

Often times we are inundated with the medical model way of thinking, which means putting a diagnosis before the person or defining a person by their diagnoses. A simple change of wording, whether that means switching the order of words or taking a strength-based approach to language, can have a major impact not only on the individuals that Wood’s Homes works with, but also our co-workers, and even how we approach challenges in the workplace or with our clients.

As we all know, the youth we work with can have big ears and, although some days they can give us a run for our money, we are still expected to be their No. 1 fans. When we define them by their disability, their worst days, or their past, we are painting them in a light that can further damage their self-image and/or may prevent other professionals coming in with an open mind. How we talk about our clients can affect a young person’s development and sense of self. Not only can our language affect the child that is being talked about, it can also affect how his or her peers and community members think of them.

Think back to when someone’s words have affected your self-image and changed how you perceive yourself. I challenge you to be mindful in the language you use. Try switching things up from a difficult day to a challenging day, from non-compliant to poor adherence, or rude to testing authority*. I challenge you to be mindful of your language, not only for the young people we work with but also yourself.

*Elliott, A. (Sept. 21, 2017). Understanding adolescent brain development.

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If you are experiencing a crisis and need to speak to someone, please call our counsellors at our 24/7 Crisis Counselling Line: 403-299-9699 or toll-free line: 1-800-563-6106.


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