Life on the Spectrum

Person-first language

I am autistic.

I am not a person with autism. I have to say I am a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, because most non-Aspies do not know what the word “Aspie” means. Therefore, I can’t say “I’m an Aspie,” though it would be a heck of a lot quicker. It’s shorter than “Aspergian,” which is the writer John Elder Robison’s preferred term.

I prefer “autistic” to “person with autism.” I get annoyed when other people insist on saying “person with autism” repeatedly. I also get annoyed when people get annoyed with me for calling myself autistic. Calling myself “a person with autism” isn’t going to change the fact that I am autistic.

I call myself a woman, not a person with femaleness. I call myself Canadian, not a person with Canadian-ness. I call myself bisexual, not a person with bisexuality. So why do people have so many problems with my saying “I am autistic”? I am autistic. I do not have autism. To me, autism isn’t a thing I have; it’s a thing I am.

On the other hand, when it comes to diabetes, I am much more likely to say “I have diabetes” than “I am a diabetic.” I sometimes compromise and say “a diabetic person.” But most of the time I use person-with language to describe diabetes, because diabetes is something that I have, not something that I am.

Also, to me, autism isn’t a disease, and diabetes is. A lot of people use person-with language to classify autism as a disease; these are generally the same people who try to convince others that autism is like cancer, even though autism and cancer are not even remotely the same. I was told that if I would just use person-with language to describe autism, then I would understand the comparison. Sorry; I still don’t see the similarities between autism and cancer.

Autism is a set of neurological differences. To me, it’s sort of like a person being born with a body part that is missing. That is not a disease, and neither is autism. I still find it hard to classify diabetes as a disease, because for the type of diabetes that I have, it means that my pancreas doesn’t work. The malfunctioning pancreas has a lot of side effects, but I’m not entirely sure that it is a disease. But I digress.

Most of the time I will say “I am autistic” but I don’t say that I am an autistic. I seldom use “autistic” as a noun, though I will use “autie” the same way I use “Aspie.” When I’m on Twitter, I will quite often say “autie” or “Aspie” just to use as few characters as possible. When I’m writing a blog post, I am probably more likely to say “autistic people”. I still don’t say “persons with autism.”

The reason I say I am autistic, that I am not a person with autism, is that to me, autism is my life. It is who I am. It is part of everything I do and everything I am. It is the way my brain works. It is my personality. It affects pretty much everything. I cannot find a “me” separate from autism. And I’m okay with that.


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