I Hate People First Language

I hate people first language. I hate when I’m talking about some autistic issue such as the Judge Rotenberg Center shocking children or how just because a person is non-verbal doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent and someone interrupts to say, “Don’t say autistic person or autistic, say person or people with autism.”

Just don’t!

Don’t tell an autistic person what they can and can’t call themselves. It’s fine if you want to say you’re a person with autism but to me it sounds clunky. It does nothing to affirm the personhood of autistic people. Autism Speaks is fond of such language and I am NOT fond of them or their attitude about autism or autistic people.

Obviously person first language is not helping them to realize that autistic people are thinking, feeling human beings, so acting as if they break up families won’t crush their souls if they don’t have them, right?

Ugh.

I prefer autistic person because my autism is a part of me. So is my blackness. So is being a woman. Folks would not say I am a person with blackness or a person with womanness. It implies that somehow autism is a bad thing that must be separated from me even though how I view the world is through the lens of autism.

Though challenging the attitudes about autism and how people think about it is another huge challenge.

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5 thoughts on “I Hate People First Language

  1. Very interesting post! I work in human services and have been a big fan of people first language. I would never tell someone else how to define themself like, but I personally use “person with ___”. For me, it’s not because I think autism or any disability is a negative thing. It’s because that language reminds others as people, not just make assumptions because of the disability. I can give you some examples. I used to work in a community based day program, and one of my biggest pet peeves was how some people in the community treated my students. We would go up to order in Starbucks, and the cashier look at my student and ask me, “What does he want?” I would tell the cashier to ask my student what he wants, he is perfectly capable or ordering for himself. I will be happy to help if his speech is difficult for you to understand, if he needs help figuring out what to get, or if he needs help figuring out how much to pay, but treat him like a person and ask him what he wants. There were even issues with the staff, whose job it was to work with people with disabilities. We would be having a movie day and staff would be trying to get everyone organized so the movie could start. They’d bark “Seizures up front! Seizures, come on!” The intention was good, to put people who might have a seizure in a safe area so they could be monitored while they watch the movie, but it was so disrespectful. Anyways, I totally understand your point about autism being a part of you and not wanting to separate it. I think the people first language is most beneficial for those who do not inately know to treat everyone like feeling, thinking people, whatever their disability may be.

    • People first language makes it sound like autism is a separate part of us and not something that affects how we view and experience the world. Autistic people like identity first language better.

  2. There are people who will object and say “But you should look at the person as a person, first! You shouldn’t define them by a condition! That’s why this is important!”

    I call bullsh*t on that.

    You can’t separate the person from the autism. To the people who say this (who are mostly women, which is why I address this mainly to women): If I told you that from now on you had to accept that you would be called a “person with femaleness” instead of “woman,” would you accept that? Would you say “Oh, you should see the person before you see their gender?”

    This person-first stuff is inappropriate and unacceptable in exactly the same way. I would never tell a black student, “I just see people, I don’t see race,” because their race has informed their experiences of who they are in the world from the moment they were born. I would never tell a female student, “I just see people, I don’t see gender,” because being a girl and woman in our society has serious repercussions and causes experiences that men do not understand.

    Autism is not something you can just set aside and ignore. It is as pervasive as gender and race. It is not a detachable part.

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