`A person cannot be defined by something they didn’t choose, such as the colour of their skin, or the fact that they have autism. We can only be defined by our actions, the choices we make, and the way we choose to treat other sentient beings …. `
Jane – ASK-PERGERS? 2014
Blogs I`ve written in the past have already touched on the merits of the phrases `autistic` and `person with autism`, but after hearing several people talk about this recently, I feel that I need to talk about it again. For me it seems absolutely bizarre that there even is a debate about these two phrases – if you can even call them that. I didn’t realise until a couple of months ago that anyone found either of these terms offensive, but some people are apparently offended as they feel being called autistic defines their whole being as autistic, whereas being called a person with autism makes it clear that they are a person first, and someone with autism second. If this is how you feel then I respect this, and I would be interested to hear why you feel like this, but below are some of the arguments I have thought of against it:
- The natural use of language is to say that if somebody is diagnosed with something they are a variation of whatever that thing is, for example diabetic or asthmatic. I am not drawing parallels between these conditions, simply between the language used. Each phrase seems to have its right place in properly structured, grammatically correct sentences. You could either say this person has diabetes/autism, or this person is diabetic/autistic.
- People say that it is labelling somebody to simply call them autistic – that they are more than just autistic – of course they are, but you don’t say that you can’t call somebody white because they are more than just a white person. Everybody is multiple things in life, and in reality if you have autism then you are autistic – so if you say you are a person with autism you are simply saying you are autistic in a longer, more roundabout way. Of course if that is what you want to say, say it – there is nothing wrong with that. But saying that the shorter version labels you as something you are not, and is somehow insulting, whereas the longer version is perfectly alright, seems very odd to me.
- This brings me on to my next point – why is it so terrible to imply that somebody is autistic? It seems as if a lot of parents don’t want to use the phrase autistic because by saying that autism is just a part of their child, they can diminish how much autism affects their child`s life. But autism affects every part of the autistic individual: how they feel, how they interact with others, how they see the world, and it always will for the rest of their life. This doesn’t mean it`s the sole element of who they are, but it does mean that it’s something they shouldn’t feel ashamed about identifying with.
- Most autistic people do not feel ashamed about using the word autistic – mostly it is professionals, or neuro-typical parents who argue it shouldn’t be used. With all due respect to them, they need to take a step back and let the people who actually matter in this issue speak – so autistic people can say what they want to be known as, but that should only be for personal preference. As long as the majority of people aren’t offended by a phrase, and they are only using it to describe themselves, or people like them – such as I have autism, or I am autistic – then it should be ok.
- This whole debate seems so trivial, but more than that, it divides a community that should be united. I have seen people with autism reduced to tears because they have been told off for calling themselves autistic. I have seen people who agree on ninety nine percent of things, falling out simply because of how they refer to their children. This is in a day, and age where whenever you go on-line you see new stories of autistic people being taken hundreds of miles away to substandard care units, the Government tearing away benefits from disabled people, and forcing them back in to work even if that`s an impossibility for them, and people being assaulted, abused, and even dying when in supposedly safe care facilities. This really is a time when people in the autism community should be coming together to fight these battles. It is not big, and it is not clever to tell someone with autism off for referring to themselves in a certain way. And I think that if most people actually looked at the world around them they would see that there are more important things to be getting angry about. You might as well stand there criticising a fire-fighter`s choice of hat as your house burns down.
- The term autistic doesn’t actually imply anything other than you are talking about a person with autism. This notion that lot of parents like to throw around nowadays – that it is only a phrase used by people who define somebody solely based on their condition – is unfair. and the fact that neuro-typical people have a go at autistic people for referring to themselves in a certain way is simply ridiculous. I can understand if somebody with autism is offended by this for some reason, although I would ask them to think about it in a logical way. I don’t use my condition to define myself, and yet I call myself autistic. Autism isn’t who I am, but I am an autistic person.
I just want people to think sensibly about this whole subject. The fact that people seem to have taken something so inconsequential, and pointless and turned it in to such a hot topic for the media, and such a controversial issue, is bizarre. So much time is being wasted, and so many arguments fought over something that means absolutely nothing. Yes your child is a person with autism, which by definition means they are autistic. The kind of person who would define somebody based solely on a condition, will do so whatever terminology you use. Trying to lessen the autism will do nothing other than stigmatise it even more. Autism is not something to be ashamed of – some people do use the condition to define themselves, and that’s their choice. Of course there is nothing wrong with saying I am a person with autism, just don’t have a go at somebody who says I am autistic. And please, could we just concentrate on things that actually matter from now on?
My name is Paddy-Joe Moran. I am a 19 year old autistic author of two books, and co-founder of autism advice service ASK-PERGERS?If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s, or simply want to talk about it check out my free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS? On Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl
Also to read more from me go to my blog https://askpergers.wordpress.com/
And have a look at my books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but I did co-write them trust me on that!) http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781843106227