The use of Language.

Nearly anyone could tell you how important language is; not just for practical communication. The words we use have the power to change and sway people`s perceptions of the world around them.  For example, it is a well-known fact that every politician who has ever existed has lied to the public at some point.  The ones who get away with it are either (a) so good at it that you don’t even realise you are being lied to, or (b) the ones who can phrase it in such a way that you don’t even mind that they are lying to you.  With the right choice and use of language you can manipulate people to feel virtually anything.  And that is why the words we use to describe other people are so important.  I have talked in the past about being annoyed when people find words like `disabled` offensive.  But I have also said that some words are created simply to de-humanise others, or to separate people from the rest of society.  The issue of words such as `disorder` or `condition` are very controversial, and I am not talking about these words.  What I am talking about is the choice of words lots of professionals and media people tend to use in reference to autism.  Most of this seems to come out of the U.S. but you do come across people from all counties using phrases like these.

The kind of words and phrases I am talking about are things like `epidemic` `sufferer` `disease`.  Now, none of these words are offensive on their own, or when used in their proper context; if you suffer from something, or have a disease, that`s fine, you wouldn’t get offended if somebody pointed it out to you.  But if you are autistic that simply means your brain lines-up differently to other people`s.  So to imply that I am diseased simply because I have a different way of thinking and feeling than you do, manages to make you sound both deeply, deeply stupid, and also very intolerant.  Also, the use of the word `epidemic` implies something that is spreading – autism isn`t `spreading` – more people are being diagnosed because we have a greater understanding of autism now; the same as every condition that has ever been discovered appears to become more prevalent once we have a better way of testing for it.  People will use phrases like `battling autism` and the `fight against autism` – all terms like this can do is breed anger and resentment – you are battling and fighting, but against what? Against the way your child`s brain works?  Where can all this anger and fighting actually get you to?   It seems as if the anger just goes round and round in one big spiral, achieving nothing.  It is not a war, you are not battling anything; autism is just the way people`s brains work.

A lot of the language around autism does seem to be extremely confrontational and aggressive; as if it is some disease spreading around between our children that must be fought off at all cost.  Of course there are negative aspects to autism – you`d be a fool to say that there aren’t.  And maybe in certain situations you might struggle to find the positives, but the majority of people can see both positive and negative things in their autism.  Autism is far from a disease; in reality it is a way of thinking, and a way of feeling, and a way of seeing the world.  It comes with its own set of challenges, and some of the positives might not always be so easy to see.  And even though autism doesn’t always define autistic people, it is a massive part of who we are.  A lot of people seem to believe that the child, and the` autistic part` of the child, are completely different, and they go on about wanting a cure, without seeming to realise that their child wouldn’t be the same person if they changed from being autistic to non-autistic.  And it is the same thing when you use language like `diseased` or `epidemic` or talk about `waging a war`.  You are not using these terms about some separate, invasive element – you are talking directly about a group of people.  And even though I believe in listening to everybody`s opinion, I think you need to have at least a basic grounding in a subject before you talk on it.  So I think if you use words like that – words that prove your ignorance – the best thing you can do is stop talking, go and read a few books, and come back when you are qualified to join in the conversation.

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6 thoughts on “The use of Language.

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