I wrote yesterday about an evolving fantasy of my ideal introduction to autism and what that might look like. Later I was asked privately about ‘person first’ language. An example of ‘person first’ language is: “My child has autism” or “She is a person with autism” as opposed to: “My daughter is Autistic.” This topic comes up repeatedly so I thought I’d tackle it with a post of its own. The current language used to describe autism and Autistic people, starting with the insistence among many parents, educational institutions and the medical establishment to use person-first language (read Jim Sinclair’s Why I Dislike ‘Person First’ Language), is all about deficits, comparing Autistic neurology (inferior) to non Autistic neurology (superior) which is self-serving, biased and continues to further the general public’s misperceptions about autism and Autistic people.
Shame based language, the things we say because we don’t know better, because we’ve heard or been told it’s how, whatever the topic is, should be spoken of, is still shame based language. For a long time I didn’t understand why person-first language was objectionable. It seemed “respectful” to speak of the person first before adding their neurology. Except that autism brings with it discrimination, prejudice, misunderstanding, assumptions about intelligence or a lack of, and so suddenly all those people who are being so careful to describe this person, whose neurology is “Autistic”, are actually implying that they think autism is something to be avoided, it’s something we pity, it’s something we’d like to be sure the person knows, we “understand” and are being careful to give them “respect” except we are doing exactly the opposite. When we have no particular issue with some aspect of a person, we do not make sure they understand we are aware they are part of the human race.
I will always respect anyone’s personal preference, but in general, I will continue to use “Autistic” because I am not ashamed of my daughter’s neurology and I refuse to convey that underlying message of ‘less than’ inherent in ‘person first’ language.
Autistic perspective on ‘person first’ language:
ASAN – Identity First Language
Shaping Clay – Person-First Language Doesn’t Put People First, It Makes Them Invisibly
Autistic Hoya – A Second Argument Against Person-First Language
Radical Neurodivergence Speaking: I don’t have autism. I am autistic.
Amy Sequenzia – I am Autistic