It seems to be a common problem that as autism awareness is growing that more people don’t really know how to correctly refer to a person with a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. Should it be ‘my son has autism,’ or ‘my son is autistic’? Society says that the person should come before the disability, which is correct but how far should you take it?
Some consider that saying someone is ‘autistic’ is demeaning but why? Is saying that someone is deaf or blind demeaning? No, it is a way of describing someone’s disability and as much as we would like the subject of disability to not keep coming up in day to day life it does, and we as parents need to be able to describe our children’s disability in order to get support for them.
With a condition such as Autism, the condition dictates a lot of the persons personality, but is this something that should be hidden away and not spoken of? No! My boys are fantastic individuals, they are both autistic, but have their own personalities and their own strengths and weaknesses, they would both be very different people if they didn’t have autism. Don’t get me wrong; we have our challenges but I adore them as they are… who doesn’t love having lengthy conversations about Minecraft while you are trying to watch Eastenders?
There is no definitive right or wrong and comes down to personal preference. I would be so happy to have more people aware of my boys’ condition and understand how it makes them act the way they do, that I wouldn’t care which phrase they used to describe it. As parents of autistic kids we have enough battles on our hands to quibble over how our children are referred to. Once they are able, they may well express a preference (and I fully expect my boys to have different preferences), and once they do express a preference it would be wrong to ignore their wishes.
Until that happens though, by all means use the terminology that you prefer and by doing so your family and friends will also start using the same terminology. Save your energies for fighting for what your child needs, services, support, and an education. Stand with and support other ‘autistic parents’ as we would all like our kids to look back and know that we had their corner and did our best for them, regardless of how we chose to refer to their disability.
For the autistic perspective on this topic, see our counter-post first person or identity first language: what’s the difference?