It is my turn to talk about identity. I want to write about it because I know who I am and I am the one who decides how I identify myself.
And I am Autistic.
Many other Autistics wrote about why they prefer identity-first language. Autism is all-pervasive, it cannot be separated from me; I did not “get” autism and I cannot “lose” it; I am Autistic in the same way I am a white female. I was born with these identities and I was born Autistic. My neurology shapes my interaction with the world.
As it was explained several times, no one can make a neurology go away. It is part of how my way of processing experiences shaped me. It is why I write this. It is why I have the friends I do. It is why I communicate the way I do. It is why I live my life the way I do.
Nobody says I am a person with femaleness. Nobody calls me I person with whiteness.
I do not say I am a person with autism and I expect to be respected. I don’t “have” autism.
I AM Autistic.
I respect other Autistics who prefer person-first language if it is THEIR choice (not a parent’s choice or an organization’s choice.)
People-first language proponents, the ones who demand the use of this language, say we should always see the person before the “condition”.
There are many flaws with this reasoning.
Autism is not a “condition.” It is who we are.
It is disrespectful if it is imposed on a group of people who identify as Autistic.
I don’t need to be reminded that I am a person. This is pretty obvious.
If the language is supposed to point out the personhood, does that mean the Deaf and the Blind are not “people enough?” The truth is that the Deaf and the Blind communities demanded to be referred to by their identities – with capital “D” and capital “B”. Why can’t Autistics – with capital “A” – be granted the same respect?
Let us call ourselves what we want.
But the biggest flaw is that person-first language assumes that autism is inherently bad and that Autistics “suffer” so it must be pointed out that we are “people too” like, not “people like the neurotypicals, but still part of the human race.”
I heard a story once about a racist person who was trying to sound not racist by saying that black people are “people too” as in “not as good as us, white people, but still part of the human race.” It did not work. It is still racism.
When a non-autistic person insists that Autistics use person-first language or that everyone must use person-first language when talking about autism, this is what I hear:
You, or any Autistic, are not really whole, like we, the neurotypicals, but you are “still a person”.
How much a person am I, “despite” my autism? 3/5?
No, I am not saying we are like slaves, but it feels very oppressive to be told I cannot identify as I see myself.
And I am not saying that the supporters of person-first language are racists. I am saying that requiring that everyone uses this language is oppressive and it feels like an attempt to silencing us, ignoring our preferences.
If proponents of person-first language do so as a way to end the stigma faced by Autistics, as one of them told me once, they are failing. By using this language, the message that “autism is bad” is loud. It sounds like we need to apologize for being Autistics, reminding the rest of the world that we are “people too.” The message is that, if we say that we ”have autism” we might look “a little better” not so “broken.” I am not broken and I look good being my Autistic self.
Autism is not all good or all bad. Autistics are not better or worse than non-autistics. We are different, we have qualities, we have flaws, we have pain, we have joy.
I am whole, I am a person, I am human, the good and the bad.
And I am Autistic.
About the Author, Amy Sequenzia.