Language and Advocacy: Autistic Person or Person with Autism?
Updated: Nov 8
An Autistic client discussed with me their use of Identity-First Language (i.e. Autistic person versus person with Autism). In doing some more learning, I came across an informative and critically reflective article on the subject written by ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network) intern, Lydia Brown. In the field of mental health, I'm much more familiar with identifying language that is preferably Person-First, such as saying a "person with depression" rather than a "depressed person." Brown explains why Autism is different and should be understood differently - particularly given that the goal of Person-First Language is to recognize, honor and respect one's humanity. Brown argues that Identity-First Language is what actually honors and respects Autistic people's humanity and discusses why Person-First Language can actually do the opposite. She covers various arguments from different angles, discusses why words matter, and takes a deep dive and thoughtful analysis as to why many self-identifying Autistic people including herself prefer Identity-First Language. She also provides articles/resources at the end that fall into three categories for further exploration and thought: Person First Language and Autism, Identity First Language and Autism, and those who use both interchangeably.
Here's are two excerpts I found powerfully compelling:
"When we say 'person with autism,' we say that it is unfortunate and an accident that a person is Autistic. We affirm that the person has value and worth, and that autism is entirely separate from what gives him or her value and worth. In fact, we are saying that autism is detrimental to value and worth as a person, which is why we separate the condition with the word 'with' or 'has.'
Yet, when we say 'Autistic person,' we recognize, affirm, and validate an individual’s identity as an Autistic person. We recognize the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person — that being Autistic is not a condition absolutely irreconcilable with regarding people as inherently valuable and worth something."