Individual-First Language Is Nice Till It is Not. This is Why Many Folks on the Spectrum Do not Use It
The person-first language (e.g. “person with autism” instead of “autistic person”) has always had good intentions and was a kind of revolution in its heyday. It was a way to recognize that our linguistic choices play a role in our thinking and our view of the world, and it was theorized that we could change the way people see others if we put the person in front of their disability or theirs State put you.
However, the person-first language revolution has since taken a turn for the worse. Why? Well, according to autistic advocate Lydia XZ Brown, the idea has been adopted by people who are not disabled, not autistic, and do not need that particular linguistic change in any way. These so-called “allistic” people now insist on the use of person-first language and disregard the feelings of the people who use the language to describe it.
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Brown recently referred to herself as an “autistic person” when speaking at an event and someone interrupted her to correct her speech and tell her to “get rid of the condition.”
Not only was the timing rude, Brown felt the mood was not in keeping with the spirit of the original person-first movement. The comment certainly didn’t seem to reflect concern for her as a person.
“The person-first language actually had revolutionary origins. Unfortunately, that has gotten lost in most modern discourses, “says Brown,” because the people who speak out loudest about using the person’s first language are not disabled at all. “
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Person-first language is a fantastic idea and any person with a disability or illness should be able to decide whether to use person-first language or whether they are okay with identity-first language. However, no one, regardless of ability or condition, should be forced into a person-first language world just because it is the new norm.
“We recognize that disability and personality are not mutually exclusive. They’re not contradicting themselves, ”says Brown. “We will often say that when you have to put the word ‘person’ first to remind yourself that we are human, you really have a problem, not us. Because if you have to do linguistic gymnastics in order to remember that we are human, one does not believe that we are human. “
Brown says social workers, teachers, and therapists are instructed to use only the person’s language, which further complicates the problem.
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For many people on the autism spectrum, asking for the person’s first language can actually make their lives difficult. There are times when the person’s first language just sounds awkward or strange in certain contexts, resulting in the person’s attention being drawn more than necessary to the person’s diagnosis.
The person’s first language requirement can also make others uncomfortable because they don’t know how to talk about someone with autism or a disability. Some people hesitate to approach the subject, or even have a conversation with such a person, for fear of offending them. This can be far more alienating than traditional identity-oriented language could have been.
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Brown says that many disabled communities, including the deaf, autistic, and blind, are now choosing the identity first language rather than the person’s first language. There are other disability groups who prefer the person’s first language, but Brown says it is important to recognize that this is not generally true. The person’s first language should not be imposed on a person solely because of their disability or condition.
People with autism and disabilities deserve the same respect, dignity and autonomy as people without such a condition. But the person-first language has taken a turn that could actually force autistic and disabled people into a box, albeit a politically correct box.
As it turns out, language is only part of what it means to treat others with dignity and respect. Let us all do our part to treat other people as human beings, regardless of what language they prefer or what else they have about themselves. We don’t all have to agree on identity versus person first language to agree that every person should be treated as a person.