“Language is the rubicon the divides man from beast” Max Muller
If this quote is something we would assert to be true, then it’s a serious thing, language, really is something we need to be thinking about a lot. Being careful about how we use it, where we use it, the ways we use it. Careful of how it can divide or join. How it can give respect or condescension.
The power it has must be taken into consideration when we think about the words we use, the titles we give, the names we assert for ourselves and those around us. Words have power, language, has power to build up or tear down. In the Biblical parlance it speaks of the tongue being the smallest part of the body yet having incredible power, power to build up or tear down and admonishes that it be used wisely and carefully.
Many of us know what it’s like to try to communicate with someone who speaks a different language that we do. It is an exercise in two and fro, missteps and false starts. But, you can get there with perseverance, compromise, mutual respect and trial and error. When you do you, well, I do anyway, feel a sense of satisfaction in managing to achieve communication despite the difficulties.
When it comes to language and autism and autistic people there is, it seems, a never-ending conversation about what is the right form of language to use when referring to a an autistic person. Indeed I have made a distinct choice about language use in the last sentence, per my preference. The conversation runs along the lines of whether to use person first, or identity first language. It does also include other aspects as well, such as the use of the term on the spectrum, or on the autism spectrum.
It is and always will be my assertion that Identity First Language is the absolute preferred way of referring to autistic people. That said there are other viewpoints.
I don’t plan to outline in detail this views here but suffice it to say On the Spectrum seems to be taken as a safe middle ground position and Person first refers to a person in some variance of with/has/lives with autism.
My key point here is always that autism is a pervasive way of being that is ingrained into my neurology and so is impacting in some respects on all things I do. It is in effect a significant aspect of my identity. I was born that way, I have always lived that way, I will finish my life that way too. It is not something I have as an added extra part of myself. It is very much integral to my very being.
In broad terms it is a preference of the autistic communities, those that are the actual people who are autistic, to prefer identity first language. The disability services sector, the parental community and the health professional communities, however seem to prefer the person first option. Generally this is people who are not actually autistic asserting their preference upon those that are autistic.
I’ll just say that again. Generally the proponents of person first language for people with an autism diagnosis, are not autistic people themselves, but wish to assert their choice as the preferred language preference used to refer to those people who are autistic.
I encourage you to just stop and digest that for a moment.
Doesn’t the disability sector and society in general approve of and assert that self-determination is the best option for all people?
Yet, the self-determined view of the autistic community to be referred to as autistic rather than as a person with autism, is questioned, objected to and resisted by those that claim self-determination is the best option?
I’m a little confused here. It seems self-determination is all good as long as it tracks with what the so-called caring and helping professions say it should?
And that there is the nub of the issue isn’t it. I choose to identify as autistic and that should be respected and adhered to when others refer to me. Just as I respect the opposite choice of someone else ‘on the spectrum’ to choose to use person first language. I may not agree with that choice but I support and assert that person’s right to have and use that choice.
There is a body of parents out there that choose to identify as autism parents, that too is their right to do so, it is to me a little odd, but I respect that right. I just ask that instead of getting defensive about the identity first use of autistic and reply with platitudes like my child is more than their autism, to stop, listen and truly consider what it is those who are actually autistic are saying about the issue.
In the end if we truly assert that autism is neurological difference, if we truly believe that autism is not less than so-called normality, if we truly hold to autism as not a disease then the statement my child is more than their autism is truly redundant.
Yes. I am autistic. Yes I am autistic and I am different not less. Please listen to and respect my views and choices about my self-determination.