Saturday 15 April 2017

30 Days of Autism Acceptance: Day 15


Day 15:

Talk about identity.  How do you identify?  Autistic?  Asperger’s?  Person with Autism?  What’s your take on person/identity first language?

I'm going to do a more in-depth post on this in future, because I would like to do one that's thoroughly researched, includes references to various articles on the matter and is more comprehensive, with detailed explanations; this post is more a summary, hence the bullet points.

I identify as autistic and as an Aspie* (if people don't know what "Aspie" means, I explain that it's someone who has a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, which is part of the autistic spectrum - I was diagnosed in 2012, before Asperger's was removed as a separate diagnosis and absorbed into the umbrella term of "autistic spectrum condition"). Like the vast majority of my autistic brethren, I reject person-first language ("has autism"/"person with autism") and use identity-first language, aka IFL ("is autistic"). If an individual wants to use person-first language (PFL) to describe themselves then I respect that and will use PFL when referring to them, but as you may have noticed on this blog, IFL is the default. I did a lot of reading on the subject before reaching my conclusions, I've read the arguments on both sides, and that is why I am firmly in the IFL camp, rejecting PFL.

*Edit June 2018: I don't use "Aspie" any more, just "autistic". There will be a future post on this.

So why choose IFL and reject PFL?

  • Autism affects every aspect of my being, everything about how I experience the world; autism is intrinsic to who I am, how I think; YOU CANNOT SEPARATE ME AND AUTISM and PFL seeks to do precisely that. I don't say I am a "person with femaleness" or a "person with whiteness", like it's an optional add-on.
  • If I was not autistic, I would be a completely different person. I'd probably retain a degree of bluntness because I'm Northern (here in the UK, Northerners tend to be much more blunt and direct than Southerners, I might enjoy some of the things I do, but possibly not to the degree I do or with the intensity that I do. People talk about autistic "obsessions" and "special interests"; if it was a neurotypical person they'd simply be referred to as an "expert", so why can't we be referred to that way with regards to our "obsessions"/"special interests"? And for some autistics, that autistic desire to know ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING about something really does lead us to become top experts in our area of interest. My knowledge of autism has led me to come up with a number of ideas for books that I'm working on (fiction and non-fiction), and without that autistic desire to know absolutely everything I might not have those ideas and wouldn't be going in the direction I am.
  • I shouldn't have to remind people that I'm a person; that should be obvious. PFL feels patronising to me because it comes across as "Now don't forget, this is a human being just like me, you must remember that they are human, in case you'd forgotten". By using PFL it comes across as dehumanising, which is perpetuated by old ideas that we're monsters, not fully human, broken, defective; by using IFL, it's much more affirming, a much more positive, intrinsic aspect of ourselves.
  • I am aware that "autistic" has in the past been used as a derogatory slur, and that seems to be making a comeback at the moment, which makes me so angry; we are claiming it for ourselves and speaking out to show that we are not monsters, we are equal members of society, and we won't let those people win,
  • PFL makes autism sound like a disease (for example, I have fibromyalgia, I have friends with MS), which it isn't - it's a different neurology. 
  • Exclusive use of PFL is almost inescapable in the "cure autism" world, partly because of the mentality of autism being a disease (which is separate from the body and is an invader, an attacker, a destroyer) and partly because of their desire to separate (and ultimately remove) autism from the person. Even though you can't.
  • PFL and the curebies (people who want to cure autism) will forever be associated, due to history, with the antivax attitudes and agenda, because it ties in with the autism-as-disease ideas.
  • Continuing on from the above, because we tend to use PFL when talking about disease, we have been conditioned to see the use of PFL as inherently negative because the thing the person "has" or is "with" is generally a disease and thus out to cause harm to the person, so when using it regarding autism, it sends powerful signals that autism is Purely A Bad Thing.
  • A lot of autism organisations that speak about us without us use exclusively PFL; by using IFL we are distancing ourselves from those organisations and positioning ourselves with organisations that are autistic-led, that include autistics, that have our best interests at heart, that target acceptance.
  • For me, using IFL asserts myself and my actually-autistic voice, separating me from Autism Parents/Autism Warrior Parents and other ableist and/or curebie "allies", because they pretty much exclusively use PFL. They also force it on us, act as though they know best, don't listen to our voices when we disagree with them and explain why we disagree, shut us down, silence us, scream at us that we don't know what we're talking about and that we don't understand (I've often seen them add that this is because our brains are broken, defective, etc), they kick us off pages for daring to question how they present autism and using IFL (I have actually been kicked off an Autism $peaks page primarily for use of IFL - they told me what I "should" be using and when I informed them that the vast majority of us favour IFL, I first got screamed at and then got kicked off). By using IFL, I am positioning and connecting myself with my fellow autistics, asserting my Autistic identity and being part of the world that accepts autism and neurodiversity, and seeks to accommodate and include us rather than hate us and desire our eradication.
  • And finally, if those reasons weren't enough, PFL is just so clunky! It's a real mouthful, compared to IFL!
And this is why language use really matters; it's not just semantic pedantry.

When I write the comprehensive post on language use, there may be other reasons that I come across,but I think this is enough for now.

I am Autistic.

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