Trigger warning: Hostility, ableism, and all that fun stuff.
Lydia,I respect and will eventually support your cause via Change.org. However I cannot in good consciousness sign such a disrespectful petition.In the past "People First Language" has been the greatest of movements and arches into our modern day understanding of ALL people.In your petition you continuously mention that Chris is "...an Autistic Student". This implies that Chris is Autistic, rather than Chris has Autism. By perpetuating this exclusive language, you and others are singling out Chris. He is a person first. No more and no less than you or I.The correct usage would be to say: In Mercer County, Kentucky, nine year old Chris Baker has autism [or a diagnosis of ...], was told.."complete extensive education regarding respectful treatment of Autistic students"I applaud your consideration and concern for the teacher. The need to educate that person and in fact the entire school aboutstudents who have Autism or that may be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorders is admirable.Kind Regards,[Name redacted]Advocate for People and Families Living with Brain Injury
Dear [name redacted],Thank you for writing. While I appreciate your concerns and the reasons behind them, I respectfully disagree with your conclusions, especially as written in such a disrespectful email, and I am speaking to you as an Autistic person. I am Autistic, and that is how I identify myself. I, like the majority of Autistic adults and youth, intentionally do not use person first language to refer to ourselves or others who are also Autistic. The Blind and Deaf communities, like the Autistic community, have come to the same conclusion, with the majority of their and our constituencies choosing to use the proper adjective or noun in place of person first language.We are aware that the majority of other disability groups or communities, including the traumatic brain injury community, prefer to use person first language, and the default for most of us is to defer to the majority consensus of the people with that disability or disabled in that particular way. For example, in reference to intellectual disability, the prevailing majority consensus among that community is to say "person with an intellectual disability," and so in reference to a person with intellectual disability, we will typically defer to that language; however, in reference to autism, the majority of adults and youth on the autism spectrum prefer to say "Autistic person," and so in reference to a person on the autism spectrum, we will typically say "Autistic person." The exception is for the minority of adults and youth who explicitly prefer to be identified as "persons with autism," and in reference to those specific individuals, that language will be used.In this respect, the language that I have chosen -- which I have done so very intentionally and thoughtfully -- is the most respectful language that I can use, because it defers to the majority consensus of the population so described. When very well-meaning and well-intentioned advocates and members of the community writ large such as yourself insist that we use certain language to describe ourselves against our own stated and explicitly argued wishes, you are essentially telling us what offends us. I, and many others in the community of Autistic adults and youth, do defer to the majority consensus of any disability group when referring to people from those respective disability groups, because that is following the wishes of the constituency so described. I ask respectfully that you do the same in reference to us.Jim Sinclair, one of the first Autistic people to extend the principles of the disability rights movement to the Autistic community, wrote a seminal essay in 1999 entitled "Why I dislike 'person first' language," which you can read at this link (or here: http://www.cafemom.com/
journals/read/436505/). Since then, a number of Autistic people of all levels of visible or invisible disability, have written similar essays, including myself. I have personally written two essays that articulate all of the reasons why I do not ascribe to person-first language, one republished at the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism among other locations, and the other located at my own blog, on the topic. The first is called "Person-First Language: Why It Matters (The Significance of Semantics)" (or http://thinkingautismguide. blogspot.com/2011/11/person-) and the second is called "Identity and Hypocrisy: A Second Argument Against Person-First Language" (or http://autistichoya. first-language-why-it-matters. html blogspot.com/2011/11/identity-). and-hypocrisy-second-argument. htmlLea Ramsdell, writing about identify politics, asserts that "[l]anguage is identity and identity is political." The majority of us who are Autistic and who prefer to be identified as Autistic people do so because being Autistic is as much a part of our individual identities as being American, Christian, or Asian are for me. I do not refer to myself as a person with Americanness, Christianess, or Asianness, and thus I am not a person with Autism either. It is not an inherently good or bad thing to be American, Christian, or Asian, nor is it an inherently good or bad thing to be Autistic. It is simply a part of my identity. Autism is not something from which I can or ought to be separated.You yourself write "He [Chris] is a person first. No more and no less than you or I." which to me is only a further representation of why person-first language cannot and should not be applied to person first language [sic: should say "autism"]. Use of person first language implies that there is some additional need to verbally recognize the humanity of the person so described, as if by him or herself, he or she does not quite qualify for personhood. Why can I say that I am American or that I am Christian or that I am Asian and do so without fear of being called insensitive or disrespectful to other people who could be described that way? Because we have in our society come to terms with accepting those labels as identity labels, and that people who can be described with those labels are inherently people. We have not yet done that with autism, although recognizing that a person is Autistic ought simply to be recognition of that person's humanity -- as an Autistic person.Elesia Ashkenazy, also an Autistic and Deaf person, wrote a petition on Change.org explaining very briefly some of the reasons why we do not ascribe to the use of person-first language (http://www.change.org/ petitions/understand-autism-), that you may also find to be of interest to yourself. I think a quote from my own essay (the first one linked) summarizes it well. first-languageYet, when we say "Autistic person," we recognize, affirm, and validate an individual's identity as an Autistic person. We recognize the value and worth of that individual as an Autistic person -- that being Autistic is not a condition absolutely irreconcilable with regarding people as inherently valuable and worth something. We affirm the individual's potential to grow and mature, to overcome challenges and disability, and to live a meaningful life as an Autistic. Ultimately, we are accepting that the individual is different from non-Autistic people -- and that that's not a tragedy, and we are showing that we are not afraid or ashamed to recognize that difference.Stating that I am Christian or American or Asian recognizes that I am different from Muslims or Atheists, Egyptians or Koreans, or Africans or Europeans. It does not mean I am lesser because I am not the latter category. It does not mean I am less human -- or more human. These are descriptor labels of identity. We understand the word Autistic or phrase "Autistic person" in the same way. It is an identity label, and one that may be more or less important to specific individuals whom it describes (as labels like Christian or American or Asian may be more or less important to specific individuals whom they describe), but it is an accurate and honest means of describing my identity. I am Autistic.Thus, while I thank you for your time in sharing your thoughts with me, I must share why I have come to the opposite conclusion firmly and resolutely, having read and understood the reasoning behind use of person-first language in reference to autism, and being myself an Autistic person or a person who is Autistic. If you can, please take the time to explore the links that I have shared with you, as those articles provide additional information about why the majority of Autistic adults and youth prefer to identify as Autistic rather than "persons with autism." If you sincerely wish to engage in respectful dialogue with and about Autistic people -- and I believe that you do -- then please take into consideration that those of us who are Autistic have the right to determine what we consider to be respectful language.
Blessings and peace,
Lydia Brown[contact information redacted]Do you know an Autistic student preparing for or attending college or university? The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has announced the publication of Navigating College: A Handbook on Self Advocacy Written for Autistic Students from Autistic Adults. For more information, visit the Navigating College website, or to order a print copy, visit the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability bookstore."Evil is not the absence of righteousness but of empathy."
— Mohsin Hamid
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
— Albert Einstein
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