One Man’s Opinion on “Person first” Language

I am writing this for one reason: far too many people tell me what to say, so instead of explaining to everyone, I’ll just give you this link. Please read.

The idea

The idea behind “person first language” is that you put the person first, for example: person with autism. This emphasizes the person and not the disorder. Fine. Or so I thought.

But then I heard from several (and by several, I mean a LOT) of “people with autism” who specifically told me that they prefer the term “autistic” because autism 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. Fine. Or so I thought.

Not every “autistic” feels that way. Some actually do prefer “person with autism” because they hate how much autism has made their life suck (their words, not mine, really). Fine?

For some education systems, the teachers are actually told to use “person first language” because that’s what some parents insist on and it’s best that the education system not aggravate the parents. Fine.

So which did you tell me to do?

Here’s the thing. If I have dozens, even hundreds of “autistics” tell me to call them “autistics” because it’s what they want and then I have dozens, even hundreds of parents tell me to use “person with autism” because it’s what they want…. who do I side with?

Nobody.

I don’t take sides. First of all, it’s just ridiculous anyway. Seriously, is this what we spend our time on? Is this really a reason to get mad at each other? Can something this childish really begin to divide a community?

Well, no. The truth is, there’s a third group of people. They’re the “I don’t care” group. I love this group.

For most “autistics”, which are “people with autism”… they don’t care. Actually, they’d prefer you call them by their name. They’re more likely to respond. Further more, person, people, person of humanitarian decent…  you know, what ever. It really doesn’t much matter.

For most parents of “autistic” children, which are “children with autism”… they don’t care. Again, using their name is generally the best option. But those parents really don’t mind how you refer to their children so long as you do it politely, nicely and with respect. They are their children after all.

I fall into the “I don’t care” group myself but in a way, I do care. I mean, if someone tells me they prefer one or the other, I’ll do my best to use that one method with that one person. I respect their wishes. But if that person is in a group of people, all of whom have various wishes or don’t care…. well, be ready for a mixed bag of terminology.

Don’t tell me how to speak, I don’t tell you how to dress

Quite frankly, I find it rude to tell me how I am to refer to my own child. Who are you anyway?

When my son comes to that point, if he does, and he tells me he prefers one way or another… you can bet your life I’ll stick to that one term…. with him. I’ll still use another term with another person if it’s what that person prefers.

In the mean time, until he tells me, or others tell me which they prefer, I’ll use the term that best fits the sentence. Because “the journey of my autistic child” sounds far better than “the journey of my child of which has autism”. That can’t be right.

Anyway, if you’re reading this because you’ve told me what to say, please visit the closest Walmart, buy some overalls, cowboy boots, pink shirt with the ruffles and the biggest hat you can find and wear that. Because I feel it’s only fair that you do something for me too.

It’s not that I don’t value your wishes, it’s not that I don’t understand exactly where you’re coming from. I do. And if the entire world said in one unanimous voice that it should be one way… then I would abide by that.

But it’s not that simple. I don’t make one group of people mad for the sake of making another group happy. There’s far better things to focus on that can benefit all people than this.

Thanks for reading.

 

Stuart Duncan on FacebookStuart Duncan on TwitterStuart Duncan on Youtube
Stuart Duncan
I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.
Stuart Duncan

Stuart Duncan

I am the father of 2 great boys, Cameron (Autistic) and Tyler, his younger brother. Founder of Autcraft.

0 thoughts on “One Man’s Opinion on “Person first” Language

  • August 8, 2011 at 3:22 am
    Permalink

    The thought behind person-first language is nice, but the practice is legalistic and just silly. It loses its initial push and instead (now) just oppresses people for incorrect speech no worse of an offense than splitting infinitives. Simply blown out of proportion.

    Reply
  • August 8, 2011 at 2:39 am
    Permalink

    I’m new to xanga and the Autisable world, but I found your post interesting. Being a professional who works/worked with individuals with ASDs, I’ve always been taught to use person first language. But to each their own! :o)

    Reply
  • August 7, 2011 at 11:38 am
    Permalink

    I am a service provider for children and adults with developmental disabilities, particularly autism, and I have read another post about this as well.
    I was taught in my studies that it`s always person first, because their diagnosis does not make up who they are, and we should not resort to calling the person by their diagnosis. I have heard a lot of views on this from individuals with disabilities, their families, and even their friends. Everyone has a different opinion and I chose to respect all of them. I can`t say that I am right when I believe in the person first way, but it`s what works best for me and my way of thinking. So until I`m told differently by the person, their family or friends, then thats what I continue to do.
    Good for you for writing about this. 🙂

    Reply
  • August 6, 2011 at 11:52 pm
    Permalink

    Watch out!  One of these days coroners will have to say “person permanently lacking life signs” or maybe “person afflicted with a non-living disorder”.  They’ll have a tougher time than you b/c they won’t even be able to ask their persons which term they prefer.

    Reply
  • August 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm
    Permalink

    I am an autistic person with Asperger’s Syndrome. You can call me autistic, but I do prefer that – whatever you call me – you address me. I may sometimes have my wife respond for me, but let that be my choice.

    Reply
  • August 6, 2011 at 10:34 am
    Permalink

    I like that we use person-first language in a treatment world. Sometimes it is hard to work with someone who is extremely physically and mentally disabled, and still see that they are human. A lot of people I work with have very few human characteristics beyond their physical frame, and their basic behaviors. I think that it is easy for workers in the field to think in that way, as sad as it is, and forget that these are people we work with. Using a person-first language helps to bring workers back to reality in crisis situations, when they are about to react to the situation rather than respond in an appropriate manner.

    Reply
  • August 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm
    Permalink

    The “people first” language is in place for professionals, who are trained to lump everyone together in populations and therefor come out with some truly terrible statements, forgetting the individuals that make up the population… we see that even with “autistic” – that’s a very, very broad spectrum, and allows you to appreciate the impact of a label (Timmy can talk – how can he be autistic? I know Sally – she’s autistic, v. Sally can’t talk, and bites herself til she bleeds – how can she autistic? I know Timmy….)  That being said, you’ve got it right for us non-professional “mere mortals” – use the name and/or be guided by the individual’s preference (tempered by your own instinct, of course – rap music has a lot of people of the non-caucasion persuasion calling each other ni–er – which, I don’t care if I’m told it’s ok, I will NOT use… similarly, “crip” for those with mobility impairments, or retard…

    Reply
  • August 5, 2011 at 10:19 am
    Permalink

    I understand what you’re saying and there’s nothing wrong with it. 🙂 

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.