It Is NEVER Ok To Use Disability As An Insult

words matter disability semantics

Our words matter. 

Remember the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."? Not true. Not true at all. 

Words can hurt. A lot. And there is real potential for lasting harm. It's not just semantics.

So when I learned that an official in the Obama administration referred to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu as "Aspergery", I was relieved to see this statement from Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation:

“While it is perfectly acceptable for people to be critical of each other, it is unacceptable to use a term of disability in a derogatory manner,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “The term “Aspergery” was used in a manner that is insulting to the millions of people around the world with Asperger Syndrome. It is never OK to insult someone by referring to them by using disability in a negative manner.”

The full statement from the Ruderman Family Foundation can be found here and on Businesswire. The original article by Jeffrey Goldberg can be found here.

Making Sense of Behavior: Girls, Boys, Attention Deficits and Stereotypes

My friends at The Inclusive Class recently posted the following visual on Facebook:

ADD ADHD Girls Stereotypes Behavior

It resonated, but I found myself thinking more about stereotypes than disabilities.

You’ve done it, haven’t you? Referred to girls as “chatty”, categorized their behavior as “drama” or blamed the way she is acting on “hormones”? I certainly have. And there may well be truth to each of those descriptions. But we do our children a disservice when we simply use stereotypes to explain away their behavior. 

That’s why this list really gave me pause. In looking at it closely, many are the sort of behaviors one might explain away as “girl stuff”. And while there are genuine differences in the way that boys and girls may demonstrate attention deficits, far more concerning to me is the way that adults tolerate (or don’t!) these behaviors. According to this article from, “Teachers tend to have a different tolerance level for the behavior girls with ADHD exhibit than they do for the behavior of boys with ADHD.”

Is this leading us to misdiagnosing and/or over-diagnosing children based on our own set of expectations or a lack of ability to manage behavior?

A famous quote: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” 

Shouldn’t the same be true of the way we manage behavior? Why do we continue to force children into neat packages that can sit still and attend for hours at a time?

I have written about attention issues before. In Are We Giving Our Children ADD? I reflected on an article that asserts that we actually have and must train our “attention muscle”. My jury is still out on this concept. While I do think that there is merit to the idea that we can teach, and thereby improve, the skill of paying attention, I also think that we are simply expecting too much of our children when we force them to sit at desks and pay attention throughout an entire school day.

So let’s not assume that all of our girls have ADHD just because they like to chat with friends, and we must not discount the real effect that changing hormones can have on both girls and boys. Rather, let's become increasingly mindful about our expectations of behavior and the way in which we both categorize and tolerate those behaviors we consider problematic. Maybe it's just our expectations that are the problem.

Reflecting on Inclusion - A High Holy Day Writing Round-Up

Saying that the high holy day season is a busy time of year for Jewish professionals is a little like suggesting that a school teacher has a “few things to do” in the week leading up to the opening of school; it’s truly a profound understatement. The holy days require many hours of thoughtful preparation in writing, teaching, cooking, cleaning and so much more. We work to prepare our children & families, our teachers & students, our many congregants; not to mention that we must somehow find the time to prepare ourselves.

Participating in #BlogElul was my personal preparation. And yet, as I look back on a month of daily writing, I must admit that some of it feels like a blur. At times, I found myself struggling to meet self-imposed deadlines, let alone also managing to keep up with some of the wonderful things written by my colleagues.

So today, as we head into Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year which brings opportunities for deep introspection, I share a short round-up of the pieces that I feel are most worth reading (or re-reading) as you finish your preparations:

The Inclusion Confession by Rabbi Rebecca Schorr

And one more thought from my wise friend and colleague, Rabbi Ken Carr:
"Fasting on Yom Kippur is a call to a higher level of ethical behavior. It is a signal to recognize the responsibility we bear to other people. It is a shofar blast awakening us to our ability to improve the lives of those who need our help. This true fast is not easy, certainly not as easy as simply not eating and drinking. If our fasting is easy, then the fast will not have served its real purpose. So let us not wish each other a tzom kal, an easy fast; instead, let us wish each other a tzom tov, a good fast, a productive fast, a meaningful fast that leads us to action on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves."

I wish each of you a tzom tov, a good fast. May this be a meaningful holiday for those who observe.