As I shared in my last blog, I am currently writing a book about my family. The book deals with my son Jimmy, and the impact he has had on Pat and I and our family since conception. Jimmy is an autistic, middle-aged man. Or is he a middle-aged man who has autism?
Language is a powerful tool. It can shape the way we think about ourselves and others. Take identity-first and people-first language. In my book, I have used people-first language. For example, when I talk about Jimmy, I mention he has autism. I refer to children with autism, or people on the autistic spectrum. Why do I do this? It is partly out of habit, and partly because I have been taught to accentuate the person rather than the disability. In other words, Jimmy’s disability does not define him. He is unique, and part of his uniqueness stems from his autism.
As I become more familiar with the literature on autism, I have grown increasingly aware of the growing use of identity-first language. When applied to autism, we might, for example, refer to autistic people or my autistic son. In many countries outside of the U.S., identity-first language is the norm. Moreover, many in the autistic community prefer identity-first language. Their reasoning is pretty straightforward. Autism is not an appendage, rather it is an integral part who they are. Autism “colors” their emotions, their interests and preferences, their communication, and their socialization. One autistic person compared identity-first language to a person’s race, stating that we refer to Black and White people, not people who happen to share a common color or race. Race is not something a person has, nor is it possible to separate a person from his or her race.
How important is this to you? Does it matter? Whichever one I pick, should I be consistent throughout the book? Or should I use identity-first and people-first language interchangeably? Your thoughts and insight would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks, and please leave your comments.