I’ve never really thought about what language I use when I identify myself. I use the phrase “I have Autism” but that’s mostly for simplicity’s sake because I find the phrase “a person with Autism” clumsy when I’m referring to myself. I can see both sides of the argument because Autism is a huge part of me however it’s not the only part.
I am a woman, daughter, sister, aunt, blogger and much more. I have looked up both arguments for identity first language or person first language and I agree with both sides. I personally think this argument misses the point. What point am I referring to? What’s more important to me is what comes before the terminology and after. Is the sentence respectful of the person or group you’re talking about? Would you be okay if the sentence was about you or a loved one?
The terms we use to describe people are mostly either positive or negative. I know of very few terms to describe people that are neutral. I would like to live in a world where called being Autistic or a person with Autism was not often used or associated with a subtle put down. There’s been many times that I’ve heard both terminologies used as an excuse for lowered expectations or bad behavior. I would love to live in a world where either term had the neutrality of say, hair color or eye color.
Thinking about and writing this blog has made me cringe when I reflect upon my own usage and attitude toward the diagnosis and connotations. How many times have I put myself down by using the word Autistic as a negative term or excuse for why I feel badly about myself? I really need to think about my thoughts, emotions and the language I use to describe myself and others.
My best advice is if you’re unsure, ask the person you’re talking to and see what they personally prefer. Asking and then trying to use the language that person wants is a good way to start any conversation. As a person on the Autism Spectrum, learning how to speak up and stand up for the language I want used about me is important. I will try to politely and gently explain that I prefer another term. I will try to be understanding if by habit or inattention they accidentally use less preferred terms. I’d like to see and hear more dialogue about this topic and continued sensitivity in how we express ourselves.
About How I See It
How I See It is a new series on PAAutism and ASDNext. In each installment, we ask people in the Pennsylvania autism community – individuals, family members, professionals and more – to share their thoughts on a particular topic.
This month’s topic is identity – specifically, identity-first vs. person-first language. Is someone autistic? Are they a person with autism? That’s what these writers will discuss.