One person has set out to make sure to refer to people first and disabilities/disorders second. Her name is Kathie Snow. One can read the paper she wrote which defined her People First language on her website Disability is Natural. She spoke at Central Michigan University (where my husband works) last September--before the creation of this blog.
In regards to People First Language Snow writes:
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, individuals with disabilities are not:• People who suffer from the tragedy of birth defects.• Paraplegic heroes who struggle to become normal again.• Victims who fight to overcome their challenges.
Nor are they the retarded, autistic, blind, deaf, learning disabled, etc.—ad nauseam!
They are people: moms and dads; sons and daughters; employees and employers; friends and neighbors; students and teachers; scientists, reporters, doctors, actors, presidents, and more. People with disabilities are people, first..."
Anyway People First Language is the reason why I always refer to "individuals with autism" on this blog rather than write "autistic individual." I have to credit Ms. Snow and a little bit of peer pressure for choosing the words that I do in terms of autism. We talked about People First Language in my parent group long before the afore-mentioned advocate visited our campus. The organizer of our group brings up this principle when a certain someone forgets and says autistic when referring to, yes, "an individual with autism."
People First Language is hard for me to adapt to because in my journalism classes I was trained to be concise. We had exercises where we would cross out words to make sentences shorter. Writing "my son with autism" is only one more word than the other way, so that is one reason that I make this concession.
However, did you notice how I referred to myself in the title? If I used Snow's method I'd have to write "a parent who has a child with autism" rather than "autism parent." That's a six word difference. My long title for this post would be book-length if I did it the other way. Besides, I don't mind being called an autism parent. I am sincere when I say I don't think that I'm degrading myself.
A part of me wonders if this People First business isn't just a bunch of politically correct gobbley gook. I suppose it does sound nicer to write "individual with mental retardation" rather than "mentally retarded individual" because the word "retard" and "retarded" has been used in a degrading way in the both past-- and at times in the present.
But what about the word autistic? Has that ever been used in a degrading way? I don't think of the word autistic as being one that degrades someone. Maybe it's just a personal quirk of mine, but I actually like the way the word autistic sounds. The sound "ism" in the "a" word isn't as appealing to me as "istic."
Also, have you noticed that some people with Asperger's Syndrome refer to themselves as Aspergians or Aspies? That's not using People First Language. That's taking on autism as an identity and doing so with a certain amount of pride. Is there anything wrong with that?
Of course using the term Aspergian or Aspie does kind of defy the "autism doesn't define me" statement which seems to be popular in some circles. However, to some individuals being autistic defines them in the same way as having green eyes or brown hair can define a person. Is it Ok to say I'm the proud mom of a blue-eyed boy and/or a hazel-eyed boy? Or do I have to write "one boy with blue eyes and one boy with hazel eyes?"
I wish I could just defy the People First language altogether and write the word autistic all the time, but I can't. Why? Because I have a dear friend who has adapted this principle with her whole heart and soul. If I start writing the word autistic, I'll start saying it too because I'm the absent-minded professor sort without the degree or profession. Do I need or want to create that kind of tension between this friend and I? No. So I'll just have to continue writing "person with autism."
Maybe someday I can convince her that using "People First Language" is a personal choice and that one shouldn't begrudge someone if they choose not to use it and vice versa. However, for reasons I cannot go into, now is not the time to bring that topic up. (Of course, there is a chance she'll read this and if that is the case I hope she doesn't get too upset at me).
In the meantime, I will go out on a limb a bit and use the term autism parent. It's just more practical. What do you think?