I have had person first language drilled into my head since Evie started Early Intervention at the age of 6 months or so. For those of you that don’t know, person first language means that you would say, “Evie has autism” and not, “Evie is Autistic.” The thought is that you need to separate the Autism from the person.
I didn’t even realize there was a debate about it within the Autism community. And honestly, I would cringe when I read or heard someone refer to a person as Autistic because I have been so heavily indoctrinated. But I’m learning.
You wouldn’t say that a person who has cancer is cancer. So you shouldn’t say a person who has Autism is Autistic.
But, Autism is not a disease. And there is a lot of fear mongering involved in linguistically comparing it to a disease–something to be diminished, cured, reduced, fixed. There is also, not so subtle, shaming in telling someone that Autism doesn’t–shouldn’t define him/her as a person. That the Autistic person should separate from the very nature of his/her being.
Who is deciding that Autistic people can not identify as Autistic? Many Autistic adults vehemently insist on being referred to as Autistic. The Author of Yes, That Too has devoted several blog posts to her insistence on being called Autistic. I don’t suggest referring to her as a person with Autism after she has asked to be referred to as Autistic as she is a force to be reckoned with. She writes thoughtfully and intelligently on a wide variety of topics, has a bachelor’s degree in math and is working on a master’s in math. And oh yeah, still working on her bachelor’s in Chinese. And Engineering. Yet some would have the gall to say she is not what? Smart enough…capable enough to identify herself as an Autistic person???
I say I am happy. I say I am human. I say that I am female. These are all words that I use to identify myself as a person and to identify with other people. None of these words singularly define me. Would you ask me to say that I am “a person with femaleness“? Nobody criticizes the use of these words because these words have positive associations associations in our culture.
Autism does not have positive associations with the population at large. When I was questioning the use of a social therapy that I was not familiar with at our IEP meeting last week, I was told that it was used to work on “the deficits of Autism.”
We look at Autistic people as people with deficits. That is truly offensive language and discriminatory thinking. As long as we think of Autistic people as deficient or lacking in…humanity, we make it painstaking for an Autistic person to identify with and embrace a large part of his/her nature. Stripping Evie of her ability to proudly identify as Autistic would be akin to stripping me of my ability to identify as a woman.
Does being female conjure up images of deficiencies as a person?
The only difficulties that I have as a woman are the ones that our society has dumped on me. And I say the same is true of Evie as an Autistic person.
Evie is in no way shape or form deficient. If you think that the facts that she does not have speech or make eye contact often mean she is deficient as a human, then YOU are deficient in acceptance, tolerance, and humanity.
I’ve mentioned that before Evie was born, Autism was pretty much my worst fear for her. I was taught to fear it in everything I read about this terrible affliction, this Autism, that snatches our kids away and silences them at an alarming and ever increasing rate.
Autism has not snatched my Evie. It has given me my Evie. The Evie that I love the heck out of every single ding dong day is wholly and fully and completely and lovably Autistic. Always Autistic in every single thing that she does as I am always female. And I have never wished any part of who she is away. And she is Autistic. Did I mention that Evie is Autistic?
You can’t take Evie’s Autism away with your language. And I am as thankful for that as I am outraged that any person would, knowingly, use language to shame, oppress, dismiss and marginalize Evie and her Autistic people.
***Editing to add that while I don’t want to use language in a way that I believe separates Evie from Autism…especially in a way that has a shaming effect, I respect every person’s right to choose how he/she self-identifies. I should have made this more clear in my original post***