One mother struggles to choose which phrase best serves individuals on the autism spectrum, including her son.
People frequently question whether to use “person with autism” or “autistic person” when referring to children or people on the spectrum.
This is a frequent question I receive. Readers have asked me to adjust the way I use the phrases in my writing. My friends, relatives, and the professionals who work with my son sometimes express confusion.
As with all things, how we discuss autism spectrum disease (ASD) reflects how we think about it, our priorities in connection to it, and our beliefs about its truth. Many advocates oppose using “person-first” terminology and reclaiming the word autistic for these reasons.
Person-first language, which many organizations and publications adopt when writing about ASD, seems reasonable at first glance. It prioritizes the individual over the condition. We do not say “my diabetic sibling” or “my cancer-stricken mother.” These phrases are undoubtedly cringe-worthy, and many contend that “my autistic son” belongs in the same category.
However, this issue is both easy and difficult. By using person-first language and referring to “my autistic son” in conversation, I am addressing his autism as a sickness comparable to cancer or diabetes. Inherent in this is the belief that disease requires a cure and that my child requires “fixing.”
My son requires assistance to overcome his communication and sensory issues, but he does not need to be fixed. Autism is his neurological condition. It is a fundamental aspect of how his brain is wired and how he perceives the environment. Neurology cannot be cured, and I find the implications of trying to be troubling.
For these reasons, many individuals on the autism spectrum identify as autistic. Some essential parts of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network’s attitude toward the language are worth mentioning here from their website, which provides a superb, comprehensive explanation.
“When we term “person with autism,” we mean that a person’s autism is unfortunate and accidental…
In truth, we are stating that autism diminishes a person’s value and worth, which is why we separate the condition with ‘with’ or ‘has’ Ultimately when we term “person with autism,” we mean that the individual would be better off if they were not autistic.”
“Yet, when we say “autistic person,” we identify, accept, and legitimize a person’s autistic identity…
We ultimately recognize that the individual is different from non-autistic people, that this is not tragic, and that we are not embarrassed or ashamed to acknowledge this difference.”
So, what should I do when confronted with this argument? I refer to my son as “Liam” when speaking to and about him. In my non-blogging life, I typically refer to him as “my autistic son” when describing him to others.
One day I’ll probably ask my kid what he likes best, and then I’ll go with that. I will continue to strive to communicate a message of optimism, acceptance, and inclusion whenever and however I speak about autism, regardless of the terminology I use.
Meaningful articles you might like: Autism Symptoms in Infants and Toddlers, Children with Autism Diagnosis are Likely to Have Suicidal Thoughts, How To Have Fun With Your Autistic Child During The Holidays