Autism Advocacy Network

Autism Person First Language

Person-first language has been a controversial topic within the autism community for many years. The general consensus is that person-first language is used to emphasize the personhood of someone with a disability, rather than their disability. For example, instead of saying “the autistic child,” person-first language would say “the child with autism.”

However, many autistic people prefer identity-first language. They feel that person-first language is actually disrespectful and that it implies that their autism is a bad thing that should be separated from their true selves. For them, using identity-first language is a way of asserting that their autism is an important part of who they are, and should not be ignored or minimized.

At least some others on the autism spectrum don’t care either way, while others prefer person with autism. The debate over person-first language is likely to continue for many years to come. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide whether they prefer person-first or identity-first language.

When talking about disability, it’s been often the case institutional entities incite the use person-first language. This means putting the person before the disability. For example, say “a person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person.”

Outside of the autistic community at least some people prefer to use identity-first language, which puts the disability before the person. For example, they might say “a deaf person” or “a blind person.” It’s important to ask them how they prefer to be described.

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and should be treated as such. People with disabilities are not “broken” or “less than.” They are simply people with different needs and abilities.

When talking about disability, it’s important to use respectful language. Avoid terms like “crippled,” “handicapped,” “suffers from,” and “victim of.” These terms are outdated and can be seen as offensive. Just image what it would be like if someone was talking to you and using those kinds of words.

It’s also important to avoid ableist language. This is language that perpetuates the idea that there is something wrong with having a disability. For example, don’t say things like “I can’t believe you’re still walking” or “You’re so brave for leaving the house.”

If you’re not sure what to say, it’s okay to ask questions. For example, you could say “Can you tell me how you like to be described?” or “What do you prefer I call your wheelchair?”

Disability is a part of our society and should be treated with respect.


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