Disclaimer before you read this. At no point do I wish to police an autistic persons choice of how to define them self, this is about me and my reasoning behind my choice, but I understood things around this by discovering information about it and coming to an understanding that I am autistic not a person with autism. However if you aren’t autistic and you police autistic people’s right to say they’re autistic and then question and argue with us about how person first is best then I have no respect for you. It is like policing a trans persons pronouns because you think you know best. Ask us autistic people, don’t tell us for us.
I’ve just read an article about someone praising an autistic worker at a supermarket and I read some comments (always a bad idea, but I have an obsession to) The amount of comments saying things like ‘don’t call people with autism autistic because you’re defining them by their autism, they’re a person first’ These comments openly by allistic people (non autistic people)
When I was first reading about autism a few years ago I’d see autistic person and person with autism both used and I didn’t know there was a difference. However, now after so much more reading I have an understanding of the difference and I am most definitely not person first.
Comments which say that you have to say person with autism because otherwise you aren’t seeing a person anger me. Here is why. Firstly if you have to use the phase person with autism to remind yourself that autistic people are people then it says a lot about how you view people and especially how you view autistic people.
People continue to say things such as ‘but if we say autistic then that defines them as autistic and they need to be a person who knows their life isn’t defined by being autistic’ Well guess what my life is defined by being autistic given the fact that my brain is wired differently to allistic people and I see and navigate the world with an autistic brain. If I wasn’t autistic then I’d be a very different person. Also autism is a lifelong condition, I’ll always be autistic so it’s not as if it changes day by day as to whether I am autistic. Being autistic is an inherent part of my identity. You wouldn’t say ‘person who is gay’ no you would say gay person. That doesn’t mean that by saying gay person that you’re saying the only thing about that person is their sexuality and that you can’t see them as a person because you haven’t used the word person first. Same as saying autistic people.
Saying person with autism suggests that I can be separated from my autism. Well I can’t, considering to do that you’d have to take my brain out! It also suggests that when you say person with autism it affirms the worth and value of the person, but separates autism from that and suggests therefore that being autistic has no worth or value. Whilst I fully admit that parts of being autistic are difficult, disabling and challenging to live with, being autistic does have value and worth and I don’t wish to be separated from it.
Oh and some people are ridiculous saying things like ‘people don’t want to be called autistic they want to be called their name’ yes I do want to be called my name and not called ‘the autistic student’ because that’s like saying ‘the Jewish student’ I have a name. However this sort of comment is no argument what so ever for person first language. As I’m pretty certain you would want us to be referred to our name and not ‘the student with autism’ etc so that argument makes no sense.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking its a petty thing to get stressed over. To be honest when I first realised the debate over it I thought that too, but then I slowly started to get it more and it made perfect sense why it is an important matter, because language matters, because what you say can affect how the person or community it is directed towards feels. So yes it is important. Please don’t police autistic people.