“Medical gaslighting” describes situations in which a practitioner minimizes or dismisses a patient’s experience of their own symptoms or disorder. Medical gaslighting is frequently viewed as a symptom of implicit bias, a moment when a physician’s entrenched, unexamined prejudices undermine their ability to appropriately diagnose and provide care. Research has shown that women and people of color are far more likely to be misdiagnosed or have their symptoms dismissed, sometimes with fatal effects. Careful coverage may take into account an “official” diagnosis but will also consider the details of someone’s lived experience and systemic factors and entrenched biases that may affect diagnosis and quality of treatment.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a person is born with an extra copy of a certain chromosome, characterized by developmental delays of varying degrees and certain physical features like short stature and flatter faces. People with Down syndrome and their caregivers may experience social stigma and discrimination, and coverage should be careful to avoid implying “blame” for the condition or only speaking to caregivers of those with Down syndrome rather than the individuals themselves. It’s also important in media coverage to feature a wide range of perspectives, and to take care that coverage does not lean too heavily on “inspirational” narratives about “overcoming” or stigmatize those with disabilities. Prenatal testing exists for Down syndrome and certain other genetic conditions, though critics including some medical experts argue this represents a contemporary form of eugenics. Given the deeply personal and nuanced nature of the decisions around prenatal testing and abortion, careful coverage will ensure motivations are not assumed and that individuals are not shamed or stigmatized for personal medical choices.
Dwarfism or short stature describes a condition in which an adult human’s height is below a certain threshold (typically 4-foot-10). There are several forms of dwarfism, both proportional and disproportional, and short stature can be caused by many factors, including genetic or environmental conditions. The terms “little person,” “person of short stature,” or “dwarf” are the ones now most commonly accepted to describe such conditions, though someone may identify with one, more, or none of these terms. While dwarfism is recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, someone diagnosed with dwarfism may not identify as having a disability or being part of a disability community. If necessary and relevant to coverage to include such an identifier, taking into account a person’s preference whenever possible ensures coverage aligns with their lived experience.
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People of color have long faced different types of discrimination within the medical system, which contributes to disparities in health outcomes, treatment, and life expectancy. Mistrust is based not only on historic instances and generational and community information but also on ongoing implicit bias in the health care system that impacts the care received by a person of color. Consideration of the forces that continue to shape the experiences people of color have within the health care system is important when writing about someone’s experience with an illness or disability.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. People with ADHD can qualify for accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act. That said, some individuals in the neurodivergence community relate to ADHD as a disability and others do not, so it’s important to understand the terms the people you are writing about use to refer to themselves. Using ADHD as a noun (“X has ADHD”) rather than an adjective (“X is ADHD”) accurately portrays ADHD as a condition and not the sum total of a person or their experiences.
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer an official diagnosis. That said, some people may self-identify as having Asperger’s. Limiting use of the term to instances of self-identification, quotes, or historical context is a way to acknowledge how people represent themselves while still aligning with current understandings of neurodivergence.
Prescription medications include a wide variety of medicines. How someone takes a medication can be described in terms of “takes” or “is prescribed,” instead of “uses,” as referring to prescription medications in terms of “drugs” and “uses” can carry strong connotations of substance use disorder or intentional misuse, particularly around medications that are perceived as being commonly misused.
Neurodiversity refers to the presence of many different types of minds throughout the human race, all of which have valuable characteristics. The term aims to categorize autism, ADHD, and other developmental conditions as naturally occurring traits in the human population rather than pathologies to be “cured.” A group or population can be neurodiverse, but a single person cannot, and the term generally isn’t used in a person-first way (e.g., “a person with neurodiversity”). An individual could be referred to as a neurominority or neurologically marginalized, or described with their diagnosis; some also call themselves “neurodivergent.”
Applied behavior analysis is a method of modifying behaviors in autistic children through behaviorist techniques (i.e., rewards and punishments). ABA remains one of the most common behavioral interventions of autism; alternatives include occupational therapy and structured teaching. The effectiveness of ABA is under debate, and some consider the practice abusive. Exploring these debates helps ensure thoughtful coverage of differing practices and viewpoints within the autism community.
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