language politics

respectful autism language for people who aren't autistic

Anonymous said to :

Regarding your post about language politics and history, Do you recommend NT people use autistic or person first language as a default?

Of course I would change what I’m using based on the preferences of the autistic person I’m talking to, but if I don’t know preferences or if I’m talking to NT people?

I realize you can’t speak for everybody, I’m just looking for some guidance.

realsocialskills said:

I think the principle to keep in mind is that your language choices should always reflect respect for the people you’re talking about. The best way to do that is somewhat context-dependent.

I think usually the best thing to do is to alternate between “autistic” and “person with autism”, and explain why you’re doing that. Here’s an example of an article written by a speech language pathologist that does that well.

In certain contexts, it might be better to use one or the other. If you’re speaking at a developmental disabilities conference, it’s probably better to use person first language because that’s what most people present are likely to feel respected by.

If you’re speaking to a group of people who identify as autistic self advocates, you should say autistic. If you’re writing stuff on Tumblr or in social justice circles, you’re more likely to encounter a lot of autistic people who are offended by person first language, so “autistic” is probably a good default.

If you’re speaking at an autism conference dominated by parents and providers, it gets more complicated because they are likely to get very offended if you don’t use person first language, and spend a lot of time arguing with you about it. Sometimes it’s a fight worth having for the sake of expressing solidarity with autistic people who tend to be silenced in those spaces; sometimes the best thing is to say “autistic,” explain why, and let them be offended.

Sometimes it’s better to let it go and use the language they prefer so that they will listen to the other things you’re saying and not get hung up on words. That’s a complicated choice and there aren’t always right or wrong answers. (If there are autistic speakers at the conference as well, it’s worth checking in with them about what they would prefer that you do. If you want to express solidarity, it’s best to have people who are directly affected take the lead on issues like this.)

Also, most people are not offended by “on the spectrum” or “people on the autism spectrum”. It’s not associated with silencing autistic people in the way that professional use of “people with autism” is. When you’re in a group of people who have very strong views in opposite directions about “people with autism”, “on the spectrum” is often a good option.

tl;dr “Autistic” and “person with autism” are both personal berserk buttons for a lot of people those phrases describe. If you’re writing/speaking for an audience of people who have an emphatic preference for how they describe themselves, use that word. If you’re writing for a general audience, alternate between the two and explain why you’re doing so.

I say "autistic" on purpose

Anonymous said to :

Hello friend, I’d like to reblog you post about communication with people with autism, but it really bothers me that the whole thing says “autistic people” is there any chance you could edit it to be person first language? (Person with autism) ((because they are a person first and the disorder second.))

realsocialskills said:

I’m autistic, and that’s the language I prefer, so I’m not going to change it. A lot of autistic adults actually find person first language very offensive.

I wrote a post about autism language politics and history a while back that explains more about why. The short version is that many of us see autism as part of who we are and not separable from our personhood. (You don’t say “person with femaleness”, “person with Christianity”, “person with Britishness” or anything like that - it’s only use for stigmatized categories. We don’t want autism to carry that kind of stigma.)

I also want to address something else. Your ask said “they” about autistic people, which to me suggests that you’re probably not autistic and that you assumed I’m not either. It might be worth asking yourself why you made that assumption.

To me, autistic people are “we”, not “they.“

Autistic people are everywhere, and we have opinions. If you’re talking about autism, it’s a good idea to assume that there are autistic people in the room.

tl;dr It’s not wrong to say “autistic”. It’s a legitimate preference shared by a lot of autistic adults for important reasons. When a conversation about autism is happening, it’s good to err on the side of assuming that autistic people are part of the conversation. (And if they’re not, that’s a problem that needs to be solved.)

Respectful language as a nondisabled person

tiraspark replied to your post “person first language?”
I also think it’s very different for a disabled person to use these terms interchangeably than it would be for an abled person. You get to make that decision for yourself because you’re a part of the group so to speak?

realsocialskills said:

I don’t think so, actually. Nondisabled people have to use some form of language to refer to us. 

There’s not really much neutral terminology, and there isn’t a broad cross-disability consensus about which language is better. Even within disability groups, this issue is often contentious.

Nondisabled people have to call us something when referring to us, and I think that they could do worse than using both terms interchangeably. 

This article by an SLP, “Would you accept this behavior toward a non-autistic child?” is a piece that I think uses both terms in a clearly respectful way.

Person first language?

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Why do you use person first language? I usually only see bigoted ableist people use pfl. What convinced you that pfl was the best choice for you (and other disabled people, since you use pfl to refer to disabled people generally)?

realsocialskills said:

I actually use both more or less interchangeably, except when I’m talking about or to a group that has a clearly expressed preference. (Eg: I don’t ever say “people with deafness” when I’m talking about Deaf people, I don’t ever say “intellectually disabled people” when I’m talking about people with intellectual disabilities, and when I’m talking about the autistic community associated with ANI/ASAN/AACC/autistics.org I don’t say “people with autism”). Mostly, though, I use whatever is more grammatically comfortable in the sentence I’m saying. 

When I am talking about things that apply to more than one group, I usually find it easier to say “people with disabilities”, because it’s the most straightforward way to express that I’m talking about more than one thing. I think it also is clearer as a way for me to acknowledge that a lot of people have more than one disability.

Also, person-first language is not only preferred by ableist bigots; it’s also preferred by important groups of people who are actively fighting ableism. It’s pretty strongly preferred by many people who are trying to emphasize their humanity in the face of people who only see them as a disability case study. I wrote a post about this a while back about the autism-specific politics of person first language.

I respect all of the disability-affirmitive reasons that some people prefer to be called disabled and all the disability-affirimitve reasons that some people prefer to be called people with disabilities. I don’t have a particular position on who is right. My own preferences for myself shift a lot, and depend a lot on context. I mostly just use whatever language people around me are using, unless I feel like they’re using language specifically to express contempt.

Why I don't use person first language about autism

poorcalypso:

Social skills: noticing when repetition is communication

littlelionheartedavatar:

darziel:

realsocialskills:

So there’s this dynamic:

Autistic person: The door is open!

Other person: I *know* that. It’s hot in here.

Autistic person: The door is open!

Other person: I already explained to you that it’s hot in here!

Autistic…

poorcalypso

the only thing i would add to this post is the importance of people-first language “person with autism” rather than “autistic person”

realsocialskills said:

That was actually a deliberate choice and not a mistake. I’m autistic myself, and I’m part of an autistic culture that actively dislikes person-first language. In my community, person-first language is associated with parents who want to speak for us rather than listening to us about our needs and perspectives. It’s also associated with the belief that our autism is somehow contrary to our personhood, or that it’s separable from who we are. Most of us find that idea very offensive.

I wrote a post on the politics of person first language and autism a while back.

Autism language politics and history

youneedacat:

realsocialskills:

Some people emphatically prefer to be called people with autism. Others get very offended. Some people emphatically prefer to be called autistic people. Others get very offended. There are reasons for all of that.

They have to do with the history of the intellectual and developmental disability community, the autism parent community, and the specific autistic self advocacy community.

For intellectual and developmental disability:

  • Most self advocates have a very strong preference for person-first language
  • Person-first language in this concept means “I am a PERSON, and I am not going to allow you to treat me as a disability case study, nor am I going to tolerate your diagnostic overshadowing.”

Autism is a developmental disability. There is a highly visible and destructive community of parents who consider themselves to be afflicted with their child’s autism. There is an autistic self advocacy community that developed in part specifically due to the need to counteract the harm being done by autism parents. The language someone prefers will often depend on which of these facts seems most important at a given time.

Regarding developmental disability.

  • Folks who are primarily involved in the IDD self advocacy community usually prefer to be called people with autism
  • This is for the same reasons people with any sort of developmental disability usually prefer person first language
  • In that context, “person with autism” means “I am a PERSON, and you are not going to treat me like an autistic specimen.”

Regarding the destructive autism parent community:

  • This parent community pushes the agenda of parents who believe that their child’s autism is a horrible tragedy that befell their parents and family
  • They call themselves the autism community, but they consistently refuse to include or listen to autistic self advocates (especially adult self advocates). They only care about neurotypical parent perspectives (and only from parents who think autism is horrifying)
  • They promote things like intense behavioral therapy for young children, institutionalization, group homes, sheltered workshops and genetic research aimed at developing prenatal testing. They do not listen to autistic self advocates who object to these things.
  • They don’t care about the priorities of autistic self advocates. They do not do any work on issues such as self-directed adult services, enforcing the Olmstead mandate to provide services in the community rather than institutions, or research into skills for listening to people whose communication is atypical
  • These parents have an emphatic preference for person first language. They say “people with autism.”
  • What they mean by this is “Autism is NOT a part of who my child is, it’s an evil brain slug attached to their head, and I want to remove it at all costs.”

There is also an autistic self advocacy community. It developed in significant part to counteract the harm done by the autism parent community:

  • A lot of the agenda of the autistic self advocacy community is the same as the IDD community and pursued in cooperation with the IDD community
  • But there is also a lot of work that’s specifically about countering the harm that has been done by the autism parent community
  • Much of the worst harm done by the parent community comes from the cultural consensus that autism is like an evil brain slug, and that any amount of brutality is a good thing if it might mean that the slug shrinks or dies
  • For this reason, participants in the autistic self advocacy community generally have a very strong objection to person first language
  • They call themselves autistic or Autistic.
  • In this context, “autistic person” means “Autism is part of who I am. I’m ok. Stop trying to get me to hate myself. You do not need to remove autism to make me into a full person. We are already people. Stop physically and emotionally mutilating people in the name of treatment.”

Neither set of self advocates are wrong. Both positions are legitimate and important to be aware of. In order to know what someone means by their language choices, you have to consider the context. 

youneedacat said:

And there’s also an autistic self-advocacy community that is separate from the DD community and also separate from what most people call “the autistic self-advocacy community”.  That self-advocacy community is heavily affiliated with a parent community that also prefers person-first language.  In many cases, people in that community prefer “person with autism” both because of the history of their community, but also because for them being called “autistic” has always meant “you are nothing but your autism and you are nothing but a walking collection of symptoms”.  Which is a much more common experience for people in that community, because they tend to be people who were considered low-functioning for their entire lives.  AutCom — as originally constituted, not as recently-blended — is a good example of such a community, so are any communities that are largely made up of FC users.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that too. Thank you for pointing that out, it’s really important and I should have included it.

Autism language politics and history

Some people emphatically prefer to be called people with autism. Others get very offended. Some people emphatically prefer to be called autistic people. Others get very offended. There are reasons for all of that.

They have to do with the history of the intellectual and developmental disability community, the autism parent community, and the specific autistic self advocacy community.

For intellectual and developmental disability:

  • Most self advocates have a very strong preference for person-first language
  • Person-first language in this concept means “I am a PERSON, and I am not going to allow you to treat me as a disability case study, nor am I going to tolerate your diagnostic overshadowing.”

Autism is a developmental disability. There is a highly visible and destructive community of parents who consider themselves to be afflicted with their child’s autism. There is an autistic self advocacy community that developed in part specifically due to the need to counteract the harm being done by autism parents. The language someone prefers will often depend on which of these facts seems most important at a given time.

Regarding developmental disability.

  • Folks who are primarily involved in the IDD self advocacy community usually prefer to be called people with autism
  • This is for the same reasons people with any sort of developmental disability usually prefer person first language
  • In that context, “person with autism” means “I am a PERSON, and you are not going to treat me like an autistic specimen.”

Regarding the destructive autism parent community:

  • This parent community pushes the agenda of parents who believe that their child’s autism is a horrible tragedy that befell their parents and family
  • They call themselves the autism community, but they consistently refuse to include or listen to autistic self advocates (especially adult self advocates). They only care about neurotypical parent perspectives (and only from parents who think autism is horrifying)
  • They promote things like intense behavioral therapy for young children, institutionalization, group homes, sheltered workshops and genetic research aimed at developing prenatal testing. They do not listen to autistic self advocates who object to these things.
  • They don’t care about the priorities of autistic self advocates. They do not do any work on issues such as self-directed adult services, enforcing the Olmstead mandate to provide services in the community rather than institutions, or research into skills for listening to people whose communication is atypical
  • These parents have an emphatic preference for person first language. They say “people with autism.”
  • What they mean by this is “Autism is NOT a part of who my child is, it’s an evil brain slug attached to their head, and I want to remove it at all costs.”

There is also an autistic self advocacy community. It developed in significant part to counteract the harm done by the autism parent community:

  • A lot of the agenda of the autistic self advocacy community is the same as the IDD community and pursued in cooperation with the IDD community
  • But there is also a lot of work that’s specifically about countering the harm that has been done by the autism parent community
  • Much of the worst harm done by the parent community comes from the cultural consensus that autism is like an evil brain slug, and that any amount of brutality is a good thing if it might mean that the slug shrinks or dies
  • For this reason, participants in the autistic self advocacy community generally have a very strong objection to person first language
  • They call themselves autistic or Autistic.
  • In this context, “autistic person” means “Autism is part of who I am. I’m ok. Stop trying to get me to hate myself. You do not need to remove autism to make me into a full person. We are already people. Stop physically and emotionally mutilating people in the name of treatment.”

Neither set of self advocates are wrong. Both positions are legitimate and important to be aware of. In order to know what someone means by their language choices, you have to consider the context.