Make The Change
Most of us are taught very early on in our education or professional careers that person-first language (PFL) is the safest and most politically correct language to use when discussing disability. Since this rule is currently so engrained in professional culture, neglecting to use PFL can even get you penalised in your job or study. This entrenchment also makes it much harder for disabled people who prefer identity-first language (IFL) to make our voices heard. Disabled supporters of IFL are often shouted down and silenced on the matter that primarily concerns us.
PFL is no longer the default ‘one size fits all’ rule we all must stick to. Language, like politics, evolves whenever new information comes to light. Autistic people are speaking out about the harm caused when our neurological identity is separated from us and we need you to listen.
We as autistic people know that there is no place where autism ends and we begin. To outside observers, our ‘autistic behaviours’ may appear to be separate from our personalities, but internally our thoughts, senses, and processing are autistic and they are how we experience the world. Our behaviours may not be ‘us’ but the way we think, feel, and experience life definitely is ‘us’.
Autism cannot be removed from a person, nor should we automatically want it to be. Accepting and embracing the autistic identity is the best way to ensure autistic people are respected in our entirety, for who we really are.
We urge you to stop insisting on the use of PFL, to acknowledge that refusing to allow IFL can be harmful to disabled people, and to teach your students that many people within the disabled community prefer IFL.
To media and journalists:
Adjective before noun is the way the English language works. If ‘Mary’s son Ben, who has autism…’ sounds awkward to you, know that it is acceptable to write ‘Mary’s autistic son Ben…’ Going out of your way to use PFL, even at the expense of a snappier headline, makes it obvious that you are avoiding saying ‘autistic’ - which implies that there is a reason for avoiding it.
You have the greatest responsibility. Parents of newly diagnosed autistic children look to you for all their information. The way you refer to their child is the way they will likely refer to their child, if your description of autism is wholly negative, implying a disorder attached on to an otherwise healthy child’s brain, this is the view that parents will take away with them, and this is the view they will pass on to their autistic child.
"When asked why I call myself autistic
I answered 'why not?"
"The change to IFL is here.
Be on the progressive side of history.''
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