I feel that my first blog post has to cover this topic – the topic of ‘the word’. You know? Autistic. That word.
The reason that it has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed early on is that I have seen so many, many people read articles and blogs which are either about autistic people or written by autistic people, and the very first thing that they do is rush to the comments section to say “You should say person with autism.” So, here is why my answer to that will always be no.
Firstly, it’s important to know that I am definitely not the first person to write about this – not by a long shot. Autistic people have been asking, demanding and begging people to use identity-first language for a while now. So, here are a few links which discuss this:
Is five enough to convince the people who insist on using person-first language that we prefer identity-first language to describe ourselves? Probably not. But, hopefully, someone who has less ingrained convictions might be able to hear this and use the language that we prefer to describe ourselves.
Of course, I am aware that there are autistic people who prefer person-first language, and if that is you, then I respect that decision just as I assume that you would respect mine. To the people who aren’t autistic, please check with the autistic person that you know what their preference is. Usually, if this is done respectfully, we’re happy to tell you and/or explain our reasoning. A final note on this before I move on to my reasoning on the language debate: identity-first language must not be applied to all disabled people. People with different disabilities have different preferences, and it is each person’s right to choose their preferred language. Again, if you’re unsure, just ask respectfully.
So, now, let me tell you my reasoning behind why I prefer identity-first language. There will be some cross-over between what I’m about to say and what has been said by others. That’s because our reasons boil down to the same thing: it is an important part of our identity. And, I hear the people who insist on person-first language cry “But – it’s not everything that you are!” Well, for some autistic people, it is everything that they are. It is literally the thing about us that shapes our entire lived experience. But, don’t worry, person-first insisting people, I have a handy exercise for you to show you that, actually, while most of us believe that it is the most important part, we also realise that there are other bits of our identity that make us multi-faceted individuals – just like you!
If you have studied social sciences, chances are you will have encountered the Twenty Statement Test (TST) – probably more than once. What is the purpose of this particular test? It is to illustrate the multi-faceted nature of the self. So, take 5 minutes to complete that exercise and start each sentence with “I am…” See, all those things about yourself? Did you write them using person-first language? I am a person with fe/maleness? I am a person with heterosexuality/homosexuality? Probably not. You most likely said: I am fe/male. I am straight/gay/bi/asexual (or whichever sexual orientation is applicable). That’s identity-first language.
I am autistic, first and foremost. I also have many other facets to my identity, but being autistic shapes my experiences in a way that those other facets on their own simply wouldn’t.
So, that’s my take on it. If you don’t agree, that’s fine – just please don’t try to change my mind or somehow conclude that I haven’t thought about it enough. I have. I am autistic. I think a lot about things.
Updated 17/08/2016: Just over a year later, and I had some more thoughts about identity-first language so I wrote a follow up post.