The A Word

Why use the word Autistic?


The decision to use the word Autistic is a deliberate and political one – whilst it can be acknowledged that person first language has had an impact upon the way people who experience disability are viewed it has also performed the role (in people’s minds) of extracting that which can not be extracted from a person – their ‘condition’ or ‘impairment’. In the case of autism, there are structural differences in the brain which make a person Autistic – that person is not any more ‘with’ their autism than they are ‘with’ their gender or race. We do not say ‘a person with femaleness’ a person with blackness’ and indeed we do not say ‘ a person with homosexuality’ each of these would imply that somehow because you are ‘with’ then you could be ‘without’ i.e. simply have it taken away or choose not to live with it.

Autism the condition is located within the person therefore that person has every right to call themselves Autistic and refer to Autistic Community. Disability is located within society so it is reasonable to say a person lives ‘with’ disability because theoretically it is something that can be adjusted for or ‘taken away’. Autism does not equal disability, disability is what someone experiences when they interact with a society that can not reciprocate or accommodate them.


You can think of the use of the word Autistic as a reclamation of language, language that has been expertly skewed and diluted so much so that people forget that there are Autistic Adults who have a unique set of support needs equally as deserving but somewhat different from the rest of the population experiencing disability.


You will notice that as with the capital “D” in Deaf Community a capital A is used in Autistic.


Some of this debate lies with the wider debates around the sociology of disability but much of this act is firmly pitched against the damning rhetoric that has people with autism referred to a soulless, tragic, lost, kidnapped, empty shells, low functioning etc


To be Autistic is not to be bad, it is not to be good either – it is just inherently there and has to be noticed if there is going to be any movement in terms of real assistance for Autistic people.


See Jim Sinclair
See criticism of Person First Language

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