The use of identity-first language to describe our Autistic selves, or be described by non-autistic people, is not up for debate with non-autistic people. But time and again it is demanded that we Autistic people – not “people with autism spectrum disorder” – provide “evidence” for the use of identity-first over person-first language.
Even more frustratingly – angering even – is that professionals do not expect the same level of “evidence” for the use of person-first language when interacting with Autistic people.
And so, find some resources here to demonstrate both preference for identity-first language, but more importantly the psychologically protective properties of being an Autistic person, not a “person with autism [spectrum disorder]”.
Some people around young Autistic people will say they asked their young person about their preference – to be referred to as an Autistic person, or a “person with autism [spectrum disorder]”, stating that they went with their young person’s preference for person-first language – or even that the young person didn’t care about it.
The above scenario is not an acceptable reason to ignore the politics of a young persons’ life. Absolutely language should not be forced on the minority in question – but that does not preclude you from learning about the importance – the psychological and political importance – of identity-first versus person-first language regarding yourself, your young person, the people in your care, in your class, in your employment.
And there is growing evidence that humanising us via identity-first language and the surrounding, far greater Autistic community and cultural narrative, actually improves psychological wellbeing of Autistic people – a population where the greatest cause of death is suicide. And so, any help our community can get to reduce early deaths and a life of prejudice and discrimination should be deeply and critically considered.
That you were taught that person-first language is what you should use is no longer an acceptable response when told otherwise. As Dr Nick Walker says: “Sentences that start “person-first language is what I was taught to use” should end with “but now I know better & will never use it again”.
Be the change you want to see, importantly, be the change we desperately need. Thank you.
UPDATE: Oct 2023 – An extensive guide to humanising language has been produced by the Community Against Prejudice Towards Autistic People, and Aucademy welcomes its use, feel free to share.
These psychologically protective properties are somewhat demonstrated in Chris Bonnello of Autistic not Weird‘s latest survey with 11,212 respondents (7,491 of whom were Autistic, including non-speaking Autistic people), which demonstrated that those who identified as Autistic were more likely to like being Autistic, compared to those who considered themselves to be “people with autism”:
- Chris Bonello: 2018 survey: 11,521 participant survey showing Autistic people prefer Autistic person AND 2022 survey: 11,212 participant survey showing Autistic people prefer Autistic person
- Monqiue Botha et al.: Does Language Matter? Identity-First Versus Person-First Language Use in Autism Research: A Response to Vivanti
- Lydia Brown: “The Significance of Semantics: Person-First Language: Why It Matters.”
- Chloe Farahar: A rose by any other name would smell…of stigma (or, the psychologically important difference between being a “person with autism” or an Autistic person)
- Chloe Farahar: Why we should be fighting *prejudice* toward Autistic people, not “autism stigma”
- Morton Ann Gernsbacher: Editorial Perspective: The use of person-first language in scholarly writing may accentuate stigma
- Emily Landau: “Why Person-First Language doesn’t always put the person first”
- Amy Sequenzia: “The Failings of Person First Language”
- Nick Walker: Person-first language is the language of autistiphobic bigots