After watching the Autism forum on Channel 9’s A Current Affair I have gone to social media to have a look at see the reaction. Generally speaking I think it has been very positive. However one of the things that has come up on Twitter is the debate about the use of person-first language when referring to people with Autism .. or should I be saying Autistic people … Not familiar with this debate… let me explain
What is Person-First Language?
People-first language is a form of linguistic prescriptivism in English, aiming to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities, as such forming an aspect of disability etiquette. The basic idea is to impose a sentence structure that names the person first and the condition second, i.e. “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”, in order to emphasize that “they are people first” … The speaker is thus expected to internalize the idea of a disability as a secondary attribute, not a characteristic of a person’s identity.(Person-First Language Wikipedia)
So generally speaking the idea is that person-first language (“person with autism”) is that it stresses that there is more to a person than just autism. This is generally preferred within the professional community and therefore it is often encourage in new parents who are learning from the health professionals.
So what is wrong with Person-First Language?
But not everyone thinks this way … and in fact many people with autism or autistics don’t like person-first language and perfer to identify themselves as autistic (Identity First Language)… Why? What is wrong with Person-First Laanguage?
Critics of this Person-First Language point out that separating the “person” from the “trait” implies that the trait is inherently bad or “less than”, and thus dehumanizes disabled people. (Person-First Language Wikipedia)
Many people who prefer the term “autistic” and in particular ‘autistic people’ prefer it because they see autism are being is very much a part of who they are and how they perceive the world. They accept it, they embrace it and they want to be known as such. They argue that to truly understand and accept Autism, and particular someone special in your life having autism, then there should be no problem with saying that they are autistic. That to truly accept someone with Autism it is necessary to accept more than just a diagnosis but to accept it as being part of them … who they are and will be.
It is argued that by using the term “person with autism” suggests Autism is so bad and truly terrible that it dehumanises people with Autism. For example people don’t have a problem with identify people as artist or athletic or a musician or left-handed … well anything that are considered positive or neutral. You don’t often hear people being referred to as ‘people with artistic ability’ or ‘people with athleticism’ or ‘people with musicality’. People may sometimes be referred to being a ‘blue-eyed person’ or a ‘person with blue eyes’ and nobody takes offence either way. It is only when the characteristic being described as being negative … if there is some prejudice in the community against such a characteristic that people have a problem with it. And it is not just members of the Autism community that don’t like Person-First Language. Members of deaf and blind communities also object to the notion of ‘Person-First’ language.
So what is right? ….
Personally I support the choice of each individual to identify in the way that suits them best. I understand and respect that many people feel passionately about both person first and identify first language.
What do you think? What do you prefer?