Article Written by Nicole Provost

  1. They likely AREN’T your buddy!

The first and simplest reason is that they likely are not your buddy. ‘Buddy’ is an informal synonym for ‘friend’ or ‘close companion’. Unless the person is in fact a close personal friend or relative, that term isn’t even accurate to begin with. If you are a social worker, therapist, or program coordinator for example – ergo, if you are working with the adult in a professional setting – there are much more accurate and respectful ways that you can connect with the individual rather than by calling them ‘buddy’ or ‘bud’.

Photo by Анастасия Беккер from Pexels. Article written by Nicole Provost

2. You are inadvertently establishing a social hierarchy in which the adult with the intellectual disability is classified as childlike and subordinate.

This leads us into our second point. Parents often address their own children as ‘buddy’ or ‘bud’ as a term of endearment. Oftentimes other people in the child’s life will lightheartedly refer to the child as ‘buddy’ or ‘sweetie’ to show friendliness and to form a closer connection with him or her. As the child grows up, the use of the nickname by people other than mom or dad typically fades out until it is more or less eliminated. The use of ‘buddy’ by any older adult, other than close family friends, usually ones who watched the individual grow up, would be inappropriate and borderline condescending when used, for example, by a doctor performing a checkup on a 23-year-old college student. By routinely calling adults with intellectual disabilities (ID’s for short) ‘buddy’ or ‘bud’, you are inadvertently establishing a social hierarchy in which the adult with the intellectual disability is classified as childlike and subordinate. Although this may not be noticed by either the user of the term ‘buddy’ in this scenario or the addressee, it is damaging to both the individual and to society as a whole. 

3. When they are accustomed to being addressed like a child, their self-view may not evolve in the same way typically developing adults’ would, even if they are intellectually capable of doing so.

It is damaging to the individual because when they are accustomed to being addressed like a child, their self-view may not evolve in the same way typically developing adults’ would, even if they are intellectually capable of doing so. In other words, if they are spoken to in a childlike fashion for their whole lives, they miss out on opportunities to rise to new standards and improve themselves. Calling an adult with an ID ‘buddy’, instead of ‘sir’ for instance, may seem subtle and inconsequential. However, damage to one’s self view typically occurs as a result of many small everyday instances over time, and the repeated subliminal messaging that the prefix ‘buddy’ has on adults can be detrimental to the way that the adult sees him or her self. Most people can remember the first time they got called ‘sir’ or ‘miss’ and it can be a moment of pride and / or shock at how the person addressing you sees you as adultlike. Similarly to when strangers stopped referring to you as ‘that girl’ and started calling you ‘that lady’. Or ‘that boy’ to ‘that man’. Most 20 or 30 year olds would refer to themselves as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ or a ‘gender x’ etc, as opposed to a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy’ etc (the difference to note is not the gender, but the switch from child nouns to adult ones). Why? Because that is the way that society sees us and we have adopted that internal view of ourselves because we know we are seen as such. There is no defined age where a ‘boy’ starts to be seen as a ‘man’ and thus sees himself as such. This is a change that happens over years that is brought on by the way society sees us and is reflected in the way that we view ourselves in turn. So by denying an adult the opportunity to be addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘miss’ in favor of ‘bud’ or ‘buddy’ (or even ‘sweetie’), you are making yourself part of a system that is denying that adult the opportunity to have their self image and self worth change over time.

4.The use of the term buddy may be offensive to the individual, even if they do not show it or are not capable of communicating this. 

The use of the term buddy may be offensive to the individual, even if they do not show it or are not capable of communicating this. If the individual is not offended, then they should be, and it should be up to the loved ones of the individual to teach them that they should not allow themselves to be spoken to in a way that degrades their intelligence. Although feeling degraded and offended by people talking down to you is painful and infuriating and frustrating beyond expression, it is important that every individual with an ID is taught to identify and communicate this feeling. Because once they can recognize it, they can start to make changes in their own lives and demand better. They can form opinions of themselves as superior to what people might expect of them, and evolution and empowerment of themselves can truly begin.

5. By calling them ‘buddy’ when working with them in a professional setting, you are violating the friend vs professional boundaries that should be being emphasized in order to maintain healthy relationships all around.

Another way that the use of the nickname ‘buddy’ towards adults with ID’s is that it can be confusing to the addressee – so much of the therapy and education for intellectually disabled adults centers around interpersonal skills and appropriate relationships etc. By calling them ‘buddy’ when working with them in a professional setting, you are violating the friend vs professional boundaries that should be being emphasized in order to maintain healthy relationships all around. This is especially important as we are discussing a population who already may experience difficulties in understanding boundaries and different forms of healthy relationships. It is counter productive to teach an intellectually disabled adult about the ‘circles’ of different levels of friendship for example, and then have their doctor or therapist refer to them as ‘buddy’, which ultimately means ‘friend’. It can be dangerous for the adult as well as other people in the adult’s life if healthy boundaries and social terms are not established and practiced, for a variety of reasons. The adult could find themselves the victim of abuse if ‘friend’ and synonyms for ‘friend’ such as ‘buddy’ are used too loosely. The adult should be able to experience genuine friendship among peers – and have the people whom they select become their friends or their buddies – not adults who impose the term on them inappropriately, or else the meaning can become skewed for the individual. On the flip side, if the individual goes around calling strangers ‘buddy’ in turn, or if healthy terminology around friendships are not established and maintained, they could inadvertently refer to someone as a ‘friend’ when it would not be appropriate to do so, such as towards a child or a dangerous stranger etc.

6. People will form opinions of the addressee based on the way you speak to them, even if they aren’t justified or accurate.

Another reason not to call adults with ID’s ‘bud’ is that you people will see you modelling this practice and they will form opinions of the person based on the way you speak to them, even if they aren’t justified or accurate. Humans are social learners, and we learn a lot from observing other people, even if we aren’t always aware of it. For example, if everyone around you starts to lower their voice, chances are you will start to speak more softly too without even knowing why everyone is doing it. If someone hears childish terms like ‘buddy’ or ‘sweety’ used towards an intellectually disabled adult, chances are, if they interact with that adult in the future, their view of the person would be skewed and they would assume that the person needs to be spoken to in a childlike manner – even if the person does not need to or want to be spoken to like a child.

7. It may enhance existing stereotypes that members of society may have towards adults with ID’s.

A more indirect impact of people modelling the practice of calling adults with ID’s childish nicknames is experienced by members of society who may not know any adults with ID’s. By repeatedly seeing intellectually disabled adults being called nicknames that are typically reserved for children, it only enhances any existing stereotypes that members of society may have towards adults with ID’s. If people went around referring to intellectually disabled adults as ‘sir’ and ‘miss’, it would add that element of respect and social dignity that members of society at large often overlook when it comes to interacting with people with ID’s. Again, it may seem like a subtle and non-consequential occurrence, but people’s opinions and prejudices are developed over repeated everyday instances. Seeing a grown man being called ‘buddy’ by a support worker, even in passing, can contribute to a larger, more deeply ingrained prejudice that society has as a whole.

8. By contributing to the image that society has of intellectually disabled adults being inferior because they lack some skills that most of the general population possess in varying amounts, you are depriving them of employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and other valuable life experiences.

By contributing to the image that society has of intellectually disabled adults being inferior because they lack some skills that most of the general population possess in varying amounts, you are depriving them of employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and other valuable life experiences. There is an expansive, massive gap in the employment market, especially surrounding adults with intellectual disabilities. Only ten percent of adults with intellectual disabilities are employed, even if they are cognitively capable of carrying out the necessary tasks for a potential job. Why? It comes back to stereotypes and resources. Employers often have little to no exposure towards intellectually disabled adults, and if the only exposure they get is grown men and women being called ‘sweetie’ and ‘buddy’, they are unlikely to consider entrusting that person with tasks in the workplace. Even if they are open-minded, they often believe that they lack the financial resources to train and maintain the individual in the workplace. If we as a society make the effort to move away from derogatory nicknames and towards respectful and dignity-giving prefixes, people’s mindsets will be easier to shift when it comes to people with disabilities.

9. You are demonstrating that you are not aware of the socially accepted way to speak to adults respectfully in 2021 – and it only makes you look bad. 

By calling an adult with an ID ‘buddy’ or ‘sweetie’ in favor of the more age-appropriate and respectful ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ you are demonstrating that you are not aware of the socially accepted way to speak to adults respectfully in 2021 – and it only makes you look bad. The way our society sees individuals with disabilities is evolving, and as such, our language must evolve with it. If you are not practicing respectful ways of speaking to intellectually disabled adults, you are only aging yourself and showing that you are not keeping up with the changing times. Even if you are doing it out of kindness and love – which most people are, and I applaud and admire you for the love you put into your work – you are inadvertently doing more harm than good, and I urge you to do your part by making an effort to change your terminology now.

10. Every human being deserves to be treated with equal dignity and respect.

Lastly, and to sum it all up, every human being deserves to be treated with equal dignity and respect. Part of that respect is being spoken to in an age appropriate way using age-appropriate pronouns. By choosing to call an intellectually disabled adult sir instead of buddy, you are marking him as an equal and showing both him and the people around you that you respect him. This may seem like a subtle and inconsequential request: to stop using the nickname buddy towards adults with ID. But by becoming more aware of the terminology you use in everyday conversations, you are becoming part of a growing revolution of respect and equality of treatment and opportunity for every person.

Article written by Nicole Provost, August 16th 2021. Press here to listen to the article in podcast form.


0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *