Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why I'm a person with autism, not an autistic person

Tonight, as I was browsing through my tweets as I often do, I ran across an interesting post from Zoe at Illusion of Competence.  In her post, she explained why she uses the term autistic person to refer to herself rather than saying that she is a person with autism, and likened the latter phrase to implying that a person could simply lose their autism much like someone could lose their suitcase.

For me, using person-first language and saying that I am a person with autism is a way of presenting myself to the outside world.  For me, I'm saying to people "Hi, I'm a human being just like you, and I happen to have a neurological difference".  To me, that's positive.  To put my autism out first is to say "Hi, I'm different than you and you're welcome to treat me that way".  For me, it's not about separating myself from autism so that I might lose it but presenting my humanity first to foster acceptance.

Fact is, people are cruel, and many neurotypicals are cruel to those who are different than them.  By presenting my autism first, it would be not allowing them the chance to get to know me before judging me.

Most people who are LGBT don't walk up to a crowd and say "Hi, I'm a gay person".  While being gay is an integral part of their identity, it doesn't define who they are, and it's not the first thing they put out there in the world.  They know that there are people who will hate them simply based on that fact if its' put straight out there in front, but that a lot more people will be accepting and loving toward them if they simply let the world get to know them as a whole person, sexual identity and all.

Autism is a major part of who I am.  It's involved in how I think, how I interact with people, how I react to the world around me.  I would never want to lose my autism, and I don't believe that it's even possible to do so.  However, I want people to get to know the whole me, with my autism and everything else involved, and I find that people are much more accepting of my differences when they're simply introduced to me as "Annika", not as "Autistic Annika".

My use of person-first language is aimed at fostering acceptance of Aspies and Autsies among neurotypicals, rather than making myself stand apart from everyone else.  I want to be included in the world and be a part of it rather than making myself into an "other", someone who can't be involved.

I'm not going to tell anyone else to use a particular type of language - even I slip up and refer to myself as an autistic person on occasion, but I'd really like to know how you feel.  Are you an autistic person or a person with autism?  Why?

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