Gender-Neutral Pronouns in Speech Therapy
Updated: Jan 10
Let's talk pronouns! I'm still learning a lot myself, but here is what I have learned so far:
We know languages change over time due to shifts in societal attitudes or interactions. This includes shifts in the use of pronouns.
Gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. singular they/them) and neopronouns (e.g. zie/hir/hirs) are being used more often.
WHY SHOULD WE TEACH GENEDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS?
1️⃣ Respecting the language that youth use to self-identify their gender is not only polite, it can save lives.
Transgender and nonbinary youth who have their pronouns respected by most people in their lives (e.g. at home, at school, at work, and with friends) are 50% less likely to attempt suicide. - The Trevor Project
2️⃣ The goal of therapy is to improve an individual’s functional communication. Use of gender-neutral pronouns IS functional if the child themself uses them, a character in a book uses them, or the child interacts with a friend/peer/teacher that uses gender-neutral pronouns.
3️⃣ Professional competence required by SLP’s includes cultural competence. Gender identity and expression are integral components of cultural competence.
4️⃣ Based on the current standards, it is ethical and within the scope of practice for speech-language pathologists to target gender-neutral pronouns in language treatment. - Shotwell & Sheng, 2021
HOW CAN WE TEACH GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS?
While there aren’t studies published on the best way to teach singular they/them and other gender-neutral pronouns, it doesn’t mean we should ignore them.
Shotwell and Sheng (2021) suggests using a pretest-teach-posttest procedure.
SLP: This is Sasha. Sasha uses they/them pronouns. Let's look at these pictures. What is Sasha doing? They are eating pancakes. They are washing the car. What else are they doing?
Child: They are walking the dog!
Amount of scaffolding, prompting, visuals, etc. should be individualized to each student. You can also incorporate evidence-based language stimulation techniques like recast!
If you'd like to learn more, you can download the The Trevor Project's FREE Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth here!