Yesterday I was corrected when I used the term “Autistic person”. I was told I was insensitive and politically incorrect. I was lectured as if I had no idea that what I said was wrong, and expected to immediately change the way I address autistic people.
When I first entered the field of Applied Behavior Analysis I was taught to use “person-first’ language. Person-first language (PFL) puts the individual before the disability. For example, an ‘autistic person’ would be a ‘person with autism’. For a long time I knew that PFL made me feel uncomfortable but I was unable to pinpoint why until I developed a stronger sense of my identity.
There are a few ways I identify myself. I am a lesbian. I am a gamer. I am ADD. If I were to say that I am a person with homosexual tendencies, well, that would techincally be correct but it is offensive and implies that homosexuality is something that can be changed. ADD, like autism, is a neurological developmental disorder, not a disease that can be cured. I experience the world in a different way and there are challenges which come along with ADD that I struggle with constantly. But I am not damaged, nor do I need to be fixed. I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of all the autistic individuals that have allowed me to be part of their life.
My use of identity-first language (IFL) instead of PFL is a preference. I use IFL because I do not want to communicate that there is something wrong with being autistic, ADD, female, male, black, white, gay, straight, or any other way you identify.
There are many people who disagree with me and I’m not saying that they are wrong. I just want to encourage everyone to think about consequences that come from using PFL and IFL and allow that to guide your interactions in the future.