People-First Language

This is my first entry using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. My apologies for any dictation errors that I don’t catch – if you catch any, please alert me in the comments.

Since I’ve started reading Autistic blogs, I’ve been surprised by how many posts people have written about people-first language (most recently Autistic Hoya‘s and Kassiane‘s posts). Autistic individuals prefer “Autistic people,” in contrast to most parents of Autistic individuals, who prefer “people with autism.”

It’s not that I’m surprised that self-advocates would take issue with the terminology that other people use to refer to them. This is pretty common among minority rights movements, including disability rights movements. What’s interesting is that the Autistic community has come out on the exact opposite side of the “people-first” debate than almost every other disability community.

I have been a disability rights self-advocate longer than I have been an Autistic self-advocate and have done a lot of cross-disability work, and have found that most people with mental health disabilities, mobility impairments, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and other neurological disabilities generally use people-first language, and many – especially people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities – find any other kind of language offensive. Prominent cross-disability organizations such as AAPD (which has a good history of having people with disabilities in decision-making positions), use people-first language. In fact, people-first language was initially spearheaded by self-advocates with intellectual disabilities, as is described here. Of course, no community speaks with a single voice on this or any other topic, but there does seem to be an overall consensus here. So far, the only disability communities that I have seen that actively reject people-first language are the Deaf community, Autistic community, and some parts of the Blind community (generally, the NFB hates people-first language, and the ACB apparently supports it but seems not to actually ever use it; both organizations are headed by Blind individuals, but they almost never agree on anything).

This is not to imply that the Autistic community is somehow wrong about the terminology that it wants to use. But it does mean that this isn’t just about a bunch of “allies” who think they know better than Autistic individuals what terms to use. They got the idea from other people with disabilities who strenuously and consistently object to the use of any terminology other than “people-first.” I’m not defending any particular person, but you can sort of understand how it would be confusing for people to hear different groups of disability self-advocates making diametrically opposing demands on what language to use.

This confusion can be pretty easily resolved by simply concluding (as I have) that the correct approach is to assume that, to the extent that there appears to be a mainstream consensus within a community of people with disabilities, that community is correct about the language that is most respectful. Thus, when speaking generally, we should say “Deaf people,” “people with mental illness,” “Blind people,” “people with intellectual disabilities,” “Autistic people,” “people with Tourette’s Syndrome,” etc. (Moreover, if one encounters an “outlier,” their choice should also be respected; if someone makes known that they want to be called a “person with ASD,” then call them that when talking to or about them.)

It would help, though, if we could come up with some sort of coherent explanation for why the Autistic, Blind, and Deaf communities come out differently from other disability communities. Assuming that each group is actually correct about which language makes them feel respected as human beings, why does “intellectually disabled person” offend people with intellectual disability and “person with autism” offend Autistic people? If Autistic people’s interpretation of “people-first” language is to be believed, you’d think that people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities really like thinking of their disability as an unfortunate, incidental affliction that should be ignored where possible; if people with intellectual disabilities’ interpretation of “disability-first” language is to be believed, you’d think that Autistic, Blind, and Deaf people don’t really think of themselves as people and really want to be seen as only Autistic/Blind/Deaf without any other relevant features. I doubt either is (entirely) true. What’s the actual difference at work here?

I am sure that I’m not the first person to ask this question, but in the limited time that I’ve been reading Autism blogs I haven’t seen any accounts of this phenomenon that, in my opinion, actually explain it.

One proposal, for example, is that other disabilities are acquired later in life, and the people with those disabilities have a sense of who they are “without” that disability and may even hope to be cured. But this doesn’t describe all of the disability groups that prefer people-first language: most people with intellectual disabilities have had their intellectual disability all their lives, and all of the self-advocacy organizations of people with intellectual disabilities that I’ve seen focus entirely on access, self-determination, and independent living, not on “curing” intellectual disability. In fact, very few disability rights organizations say anything about “cure,” especially if they’re controlled by actual people with disabilities (notable exceptions include disabilities that have the potential to be fatal, like diabetes and cancer, and disabilities that are extremely unpleasant to have, like depression). And many Blind and Deaf individuals acquired their disabilities later in life, yet those communities tend to reject people-first language. So overall, whether a disability is late-onset and whether people with that disability want to be “cured” seem not to be correlated with whether people with that disability like people-first language.

Another theory is that, unlike other disabilities, Autism is inseparable from one’s identity. It’s true that people with disabilities who are advocates of people-first language do tend to say things like “we are people first and our disabilities come second,” thus implying that they are somehow separable from their disabilities. Yet it’s not entirely intuitive which people will argue that they’re separable from their disabilities and which will argue that they aren’t. For example, intellectual disabilities intrinsically affect how people think and are present from birth; however, people with intellectual disabilities started the people-first movement and frequently see their disabilities as a secondary part of who they are. On the other hand, deafness is often acquired later in life and has no direct effect on the brain, but many Deaf people will say that Deafness is a core element of their identity, in large part because the Deaf community has its own language and culture. The National Federation of the Blind, for its part, doesn’t seem to have an opinion on whether blindness is a part of someone’s personality and mostly just thinks “people-first” language is gimmicky and pointless.

It may also help to look at terminology in its historical context. In my experience, the communities that focus most on people-first language are the intellectual and psychiatric disability communities, so it’s reasonable to conclude that there’s something about the experience of having those particular disabilities that makes people-first language particularly appealing. (There is also a rather strong cross-disability opposition to the use of mass nouns (such as “the disabled”) and adjectives-as-nouns (e.g., “quadriplegics,” as opposed to “wheelchair users” or “people with mobility impairments”) (here again, the Autistic community is pretty much an outlier in their general acceptance of the term “Autistics”).)

Many people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities – including myself – are particularly concerned about is the fact that, once you were labeled as “a schizophrenic,” “retarded,” or “mentally ill,” it was assumed that every opinion or desire you expressed was simply a product of your mental disability and therefore invalid. Linguistically separating the disability from the person through people-first language seems aimed at undermining this assumption. So it’s not that intellectual/psychiatric disabilities don’t influence how you feel and think – by definition they do – it’s that people feel the need to minimize this fact in order to be seen as having valid feelings and opinions.

Of course, the Autistic community experiences the exact same problem: people are constantly ignoring Autistic people’s opinions and feelings based on the fact that they’re Autistic. But for one reason or another, the Autistic community seems to be fine with saying “of course I only think that/want that/feel that way because I’m Autistic. So?” while people with psychiatric and intellectual disabilities have a harder time challenging the idea that their disability is about not understanding things, thinking things that aren’t true, and feeling things that aren’t appropriate (the notable exceptions, such as MindFreedom International, also tend not to use people-first language, preferring terms such as “Mad” or “psychiatric survivor”).

This is more or less borne out by my experience as someone on the autism spectrum who also has been diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities. My OCD diagnosis is based on many of the same things – love of repetition, distress on being interrupted, and need to move about in order to think -that underlie my identity as Autistic. Regardless of whether you consider them “OCD traits” or “Autistic traits,” they’re just as much a part of my personality.  And I still identify as having OCD and being part of the psychiatric disability community, based in part on those traits. But I hate being called “mentally ill” as opposed to “a person with a mental illness/psychiatric disability,” because I feel like it automatically devalues my feelings and opinions.

But still… why, given the fact that people devalue the opinions of Autistic people as well, does it feel awful to be called “mentally ill” and not “Autistic”? It may be relevant that while almost everyone – with or without a psychiatric/intellectual disability – has the experience of being called “retarded” or “crazy” by someone who didn’t want to listen to what they had to say, it’s much less common for the ideas of non-Autistic people to be casually labeled as “autistic” by people who don’t like what they think (one exception that I’ve seen is people’s use of the term “autistic economics” to refer to economics that doesn’t take into account economic actors’ feelings and experiences). But I’m not sure that’s the whole difference.

I really want to see what other people think about this, particularly people who prefer people-first language for some or all of their own disabilities. What makes people-first language preferable in some contexts but not in others?

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “People-First Language

  1. gallian

    I think the difference is that the Deaf community and the Autism community self-identify as just that — separate communities, no better or worse than but distinct from, the rest of the population. The communities that use people-first language generally see themselves as (or are fighting to be seen as) equal members of the general population, not members of a separate community.

    tl;dr It’s a community identifier.

  2. Twitchy Woman

    That makes sense, but then I wonder: 1) why other groups don’t feel like they’re part of a “community,” and 2) how people who feel “outside” the Autistic/Deaf communities, despite having the relevant disabilities, feel about terminology.

    I mean, it makes plenty of sense why Autistic and Deaf people would feel like they’re part of a community; it even makes sense why Blind people would feel part of a community, since there’s a writing system in common and you can get together to share information on independent living techniques and accessible technology.

    But in my experience, people with mental illness, in general, also seek out associations with others who’ve “been there” and form mutually supportive friendship groups. But somehow these communities never get talked about as “a Community,” with a capital C. I am not sure where the cutoff is.

  3. Adam Feldman

    It may be predictable that I look to sociology for an answer, but it seems like a reasonable place to look and I’m fairly confident in my account. Individuals (and objects) gain access to roles in social situations according to their membership in a particular set of classes, the arbitrary contents of which are part of a situation’s particular definition. In any given moment, the full inventory of properties which define a class is not accessible, so your brain assigns classes according to the best fit between the objects it identifies in its perception and the classes it has absorbed as part of its “vocabulary”. This means there is always some ambiguity built into the interpretation, and your brain is always ready to check its work in the event of behavior inconsistent with its analysis. This whole process is unconscious, and when the result of reanalysis puts the object in a different known class, the whole thing can go by without you even noticing. When you do notice, often it’s a double take moment, or a “weird” feeling that you can’t quite describe. When no acceptable alternative can be found, a semi-conscious process of examination is triggered, which has one of two outcomes: either the object is assigned to a new “daughter” class which is specified according to how its characters are different, or its participation in that class is scrapped and a new class is defined for it according to whatever characteristics seem relevant to your unconscious process. People with disabilities by definition are unable to perform some class of behaviors integral to many commonly occurring situations (which is to say it interferes with their daily lives), and so every time their disability becomes apparent to a new person, they run the risk of being filed out of some class, and losing access to the parts of their lives where that class is a requirement for acceptance into a role. Person-first language encourages people to take the “daughter” class route, because using a noun with a modifier makes it explicit that the individual with disabilities belongs to a derived class of person, and is therefore a valid candidate for any role that selects for people. Conversely, using an adjective as a noun seems to encourage the daughter class it refers to to become a root class. It’s not roses getting accommodated even having retained your personhood, nor is it strictly hopeless if you’re given a brand new label, but the details are complicated and technical and I doubt anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the dynamic.

    With people on the spectrum (or whatever’s hip now – I know I’m so nineties) being granted access to the situation is not the issue. Whether it’s a primary or secondary phenomenon, we don’t seem to be able to access the unconscious feedback process by which most(?) people coordinate their models of their situation. Consequently, unless we learn to deliberately figure out what kind of models the people around us are using to parse their environments (to anyone reading who isn’t autistic, if you think you have some idea of how much work this is, rest assured that it’s much, much more than that) we have no access to the nuanced, interrelated, and above all complex conceptual structure which is communicated through this medium, which constitutes the bulk of what tends to be called culture. High versus low functioning may be entirely a function of whether by luck we are able to extract structure from our early environment that allows us to interface somewhat with the social structures around us. Otherwise you miss things like talking to people when it’s easy to learn to talk.

    Given this, it’s actually counter to our interests to be dropped into the same roles as everyone else. We want to interact with people according to a bias that we explicitly understand, and being classified as a Brand New Thing is ideal for that purpose. When a group of percepts have been identified as an object, anything within the scope of the object that isn’t in conflict with the object’s defining characteristics as opposed to irrelevant is discarded. There are optical illusions that rely on this phenomenon, and it extends to every level of conceptual complexity. This means that all the behaviors we express which are important to understanding our state of mind and maybe even the kind of outcome we expect are simply lost, and replaced by an idealized image that we don’t have access to. Most, and more frequently all than many of us seem to tend to think, of our inappropriate behaviors are classified according to various institutionalized conceptions of inappropriateness, which either dodge or otherwise fail to represent the underlying pattern behind our behavior (you’re lazy, you’re rude, you’re oblivious). With a clean slate, while they will still use that same unconscious feedback process to develop a new set of criteria by which to ignore what’s in front of them (at least my criteria for ignorance are deliberately formulated) we can at least have a role in formulating them, provided we have some degree of ability to engage with their process artificially or access to a sympathetic neurotypical. Trying to engage them one-on-one without some confidence in what you’re doing is ill-advised; it’s a feedback process, and without circular input they’ll get… funny.

    To understand why Blind and Deaf people feel the same way, I think it’s helpful to consider that not looking and not hearing are common occurrences which through innate definition or convergent processing end up universal among neurotypicals. This means that there is always a fairly ready accommodation to integrate a blind or deaf person into a situation’s structure without ever having to really think for a moment about the ramifications of being unable (as opposed to simply not happening to) to see or hear *all the time* (as opposed to momentarily). Jumping ship on the concept of being a “normal person” allows them to emphasize that the “missing” sense is not a part of them in any way, and its absence is certainly not a temporary state.

    I hope this is helpful.

    • Twitchy Woman

      Interesting – this has given me a lot to think about.

      I think this somehow ties in to my general frustration with “coming out” as Autistic to people who aren’t familiar with the Autistic community, because they seem to have already come up with a model for “Autistic person” and it doesn’t include me. At that point I either have to deal with having a model imposed on me that doesn’t fit who I am at all (including a bunch of disabling assumptions about what I can and can’t do) or having no model at all. It doesn’t help that usually people don’t interpret “Autistic” as including all types of autism spectrum disorders, which is why I usually don’t say “I’m Autistic” and instead say “I have Asperger’s,” but even then they generally don’t think that “people with Asperger’s” includes me. It might help when we all switch over to “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” since along with the new label will come a reexamination of what kinds of people it includes.

  4. In my experience, the division tends to be between those who accept a medicalized approach to their condition, and those who reject this approach. Many (though by no means all) people with various physical and psychiatric disabilities consider their disabilities medical conditions, while many (though by no means all) autistic people consider their condition something other than a medical condition. MFI’s use of language seems tied to its philosophical position against medicalized approaches to mental difference.

    As someone who does not regard any of my mental atypicalities—the one doctors label “autism” or the ones doctors label “mental illnesses”—as medical conditions, I find myself in line with the majority of the autistic self-advocacy community, but very much in the fringe minority of the psychiatric self-advocacy community. Of course, this raises the question of why autistic people seem so much more likely than other psychopathologized peoples to collectively reject the medical premise (which I’ve actually wondered many times), but there would certainly seem to be a correlation, at least, with language preferences.

    • Twitchy Woman

      I have a few theories about why people would want to call their psychiatric disabilities medical conditions:

      First, many psychiatric problems (particularly mood disorders) are objectively unpleasant to have and people want access to treatment to deal with them. That’s pretty straightforward, we’ll call them subgroup #1.

      On the other hand, the people I know who don’t experience their psychiatric disabilities as objectively unpleasant – mostly people with bipolar and schizophrenia (subgroup #2) – actually don’t always feel comfortable being medicalized. But there is a widespread perception (which probably didn’t come from within subgroup #2) that portraying mental illness as a medical problem is somehow better than simply saying that people with schizophrenia, etc. are “different types of people,” which will make them seem somehow alien. Plus, this is the official position of most of the more influential advocacy organizations (particularly NAMI), in part due to the influence of subgroup #1 and in part due to the influence of the provider industry. So some people make a strategic decision to go along with this model. The problem is, there’s some evidence that the “medicalization reduces stigma” theory is dead wrong..

      I really think it would be helpful for this community to more explicitly recognize the difference in interests between the two relevant subgroups, since there’s a lot of “consumer vs. survivor” infighting between them. But that’s another issue.

      • I’m already sort of regretting the above comment as overly simplistic in terms of how the two subgroups are defined… I wrote it while in a hurry while getting ready for work. The subgroups do seem to exist but are more fluid than I’ve characterized them here, and people can be in both art the same time.

      • noor

        I think this is an interesting explanation that makes sense to some degree, but I’m not sure the disability being objectively unpleasant is always directly linked to whether it’s medicalized/not just seen as a natural expression of being. I have physical, mental health, and developmental disabilities and I am not super picky about language but I prefer not to use person-first language for similar reasons to autistic self-advocates that I know. I see my disabilities as different expressions of being/a different kind of body (not, like, an alien kind, just that I think our society doesn’t recognize bodily diversity hardly at all), not as something wrong with me that needs to be fixed. But at the same time some of the symptoms I experience are horrifically painful and objectively unpleasant and that’s not to say I don’t want treatment for those symptoms (which I can’t get thanks to ableism in the medical industrial complex).

        I definitely think these issues probably have a lot to do with why there is generally a person-first language split. A lot of people who have the same disabilities I do, it seems, prefer person-first language whereas I don’t. I see my disabilities as a huge part of my identity and as a part of natural diversity – to me the problem lies with the narrowness of society’s emphasis on and definition of normalcy (in body or mind). I don’t want to be seen as normal despite my disabilities. I want my disabilities and my self by extension to be seen as normal. (I’m not saying all people who use person-first language want something different, that’s just why I prefer not to use it.)

        • Twitchy Woman

          Thanks for the response Noor!

          Can I ask, as a follow-up question, what it means to you to have a disability be “medicalized”?

          I seem not to have the same connotations that it does for others. To me, a medical issue is both a problem that needs to be fixed *and* a natural expression of being. A “medical problem,” to me, is just any problem for which medical treatment is appropriate, and pretty much everyone has such a problem at some point in their lives.

          To me, most disabilities are both medical and social problems at different times. For example, if I have severe anxiety, I may address the problem both by getting a prescription for medication and by trying to eliminate barriers that make it harder to get by as someone with severe anxiety. I address my ADHD both through meds and through informal accommodations.

          In any case I still would rather say “I have ADHD/anxiety disorder” than “I’m ADHD/anxiety-disordered,” which just sounds weird and is still medicalizing. I’m not sure that I can think of a way to refer to these issues in non-medical terminology and still have it understood that part of what I need is access to treatment for those very issues.

          • noor

            For me, being medicalized means that my disabilities/body/existence is seen as a medical problem that needs to be fixed. I feel like that is how people generally react to my disabilities (and to many people’s disabilities). I have a huge problem with that because IMHO it is predicated on the fact that certain bodies are seen as ‘normal’ and any body that is different from ‘normal’ is a problem, in need of fixing. I think that’s bullshit.

            That is not to say that our bodies don’t have symptoms that need treatment or that sometimes there is a medical problem. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive. There are some symptoms of my disabilities for which I want medical treatment. But I resist that kind of language to talk about disability in general because disability itself is a social problem, not a medical one, which arises from the privileging of certain kinds of bodies over other kinds of bodies and the way society is set up to only serve certain kinds of bodies. When a person who is labeled as ‘able-bodied’ experiences a symptom for which they need treatment, their very bodily existence/manifestation isn’t medicalized and treated as abnormal – they just go to the doctor and get treatment for that symptom. I personally would love as a disabled person to have my body treated as another normal manifestation of what it means to be a human being in the same way. And still be able to receive compassionate medical treatment for certain symptoms.

            It’s really hard for me to express this adequately, I’m sorry if I’m not making a lot of sense. :)

            • noor

              I also wanted to add – for me I understand disability in this way as a system of oppression, and in my experience the medical-industrial complex throughout history has been used as a tool to reify other systems of oppression as well (for example, racism and sexism – through labeling people of color, women, and other groups as somehow essentially inferior through some scientific means, and therefore that reinforces societal oppression). I think the way the MIC is used to oppress PWD is very similar. However the issue is somewhat more complicated because some of the things we experience DO require medical treatment, so many non-disabled people I know point to that and go “See! There really is something wrong with your body! You just need to be fixed!” Another thing that makes this complicated is that there isn’t a clear split between what it means to be ‘able-bodied’ and ‘disabled.’ It’s all a big jumble, or maybe a continuum if you want to see it that way. So some people go to the doctor and have able-bodied privilege and are able to get treatment for specific symptoms, whereas others go to the doctor, don’t have that privilege, and frequently have their ability to consent and their dignity taken away from them because their entire body and sometimes even their whole existence is seen as a medical problem that needs to be fixed.

              • Twitchy Woman

                What interests me is that I think there’s a lot of overlap between your perspective and that of people who prefer people-first terminology, particularly the observation that some people who are perceived as overall able-bodied can go to the doctor and be treated like a “real person” who has a discrete medical issue to address, whereas others are treated by doctors as being fundamentally wrong, in need of overall “fixing,” and thus not worthy of the same dignity and respect. For someone with, say, depression who insists on people-first language, using people-first terms is a way of saying she should be treated just like any non-disabled person who happens to have a medical issue; to her, non-people-first terms (“mentally ill woman” or “depressive”) are totalizing and put her, not in the category of people who simply have a different way of existing, but rather in the category of people who ARE a medical problem.

                This type of thinking is probably influenced by the fact that relatively non-stigmatized medical conditions/symptoms tend to be discussed using people-first constructions by default. You’d say “a person with high blood pressure,” “a person with asthma,” “a person with a headache,” “a person with a broken leg,” etc. “Asthmatic” exists as a noun, but “headachey person” and “broken-legged person” just sound weird.

                On the other hand, I see the argument that using that sort of language often fails to give expression to the social aspects of a given disability and how it changes one’s way-of-being in the world.

                Finally, I do sort of want to see if we differ on where you’d draw the line between appropriate treatment of symptoms and inappropriate attempts to “fix” the person. I have some disabilities that I wouldn’t wish to cure, but I’ve also had other disabilities that arose from medical conditions that I absolutely wished to cure – for example, when I acquired repetitive stress injuries that prevented me from engaging in physical activities that I really liked to do. I got accommodation for my RSI (in the form of voice software to help me type, and a dedicated note taker) because I deserved to be evaluated in school based on my knowledge and not my ability to type. But I missed knitting and I got medical treatment aimed at actually healing the injuries (which had a lot of success, although I still have some weakness/pain and need to take care not to reinjure myself). RSI, luckily, is not a particularly stigmatized disability so I did not feel stigmatized or devalued by my doctors and physical therapists, and don’t feel that my desire to heal from RSI came from anyone’s devaluation of me as a person. I understand, as someone who also has way more stigmatized disabilities that I don’t particularly want to “cure,” that there’s a range of ways in which people can be discriminated against by doctors. But it seems to vary by disability, as well as by race/gender/class/etc. I’m sure.

  5. Pingback: Worth Repeating: Person-First Language: Why It Matters (The Significance of Semantics)

  6. setrain

    I’m not exactly sure I’m typical about this and I can think of several reasons why I wouldn’t be, but it seemed worth giving an opinion because I had such a strong reaction to the different possible things to call myself before I even met many people in the community or started reading much about it.

    I’m really uncomfortable with person with autism, person with asburgers etc. I have the same aversion sometimes to saying Autistic because of the picture that calls to mind for most people. (To be honest I’m still teaching my own brain that the word doesn’t by definition imply nonverbal.) But I’ve resorted to calling myself an aspie just to avoid person first language.

    I even actually prefer an autistic to an autistic person.

    My reasons might be different then everybody else but I think I understand what they are. I actually have the feeling that my common humanity with everybody is being overplayed and I actually want to emphasize the difference as strongly as possible. If there was a linguistic category for a nonhuman intelligent life form I would want to put myself in it. That way people might stop expecting me to do and feel the same things as them.

    At the very least I want to be acknowledged as different in at least as fundamental a way as adults and children, men and women (in society’s eyes). Nobody calls me a mature male human or especially not a person of age with masculinity. This is because even though they have a more general noun to collect different kinds of people, they see these categories as different enough to warrant separate nouns. People do not assume that a rule that applies to children will apply to adult. Until very recently very few people assumed that a rule that applied to men would apply to women. I feel more different from either children or adults than they are from each other.

    I guess (if this is anything like the general reason) that it all comes down to whether you are more frustrated by the people who think you are more different than you are or people who think you are more the same.

    I’m going to end by comparing other labels to give examples of how this system describes my preferences:
    *I’m a surviver of child sexual abuse. The noun is survivor; I could have a said person who survived child sexual abuse, but I’d that would feel like leaving too much room for people to argue I should just get over it by now, because its phrased as a past tense verb. Even person with PTSD feels too weak, though I can imagine feeling differently if I got PTSD from a source that was less life-narrative defining. Even so survivor isn’t quite as all consuming as autistic. Survivor sounds like a profession; it feels about as identity significant as one.

    I have ADHD (or I might. I’m not exactly sure how much the ADHD diagnosis is superflous now that I have found the Autism label). ADHD feels like a “I’m a standard model human except for these three things” sort of disorder, at least as I’ve ever understood myself as having it. I don’t really need or want people thinking about me differently because of it outside of its immediate relevance. So I’m a person with ADHD.

    I’m bisexual, but I’m a bisexual person, not a bisexual. Possibly because of the above mentioned child sexual abuse, I’m rather touchy about being noun-level defined by my sexuality. But I wouldn’t want to be a person with queerness, because people have way too easy a time forgetting how sexual orientation affects way more than just my sex life.

    I’m really curious whether my analysis makes sense to absolutely anybody else. It’s entirely possible that I’ve converged on the same preferred terminology as the Autistic Community by accident. I can’t easily explain all of the examples listed in the article, but none of them seem glaringly contradicted.

    Sorry for the long comment. tl;dr version: Language that makes the condition more primary can increase stigma but it can also help emphasize difference to people who seem invested in assuming I work the same as everybody else.

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  8. your post is awesome! thank you for writing about this so carefully.

    I like pfl and I think that is because I feel the opposite of the person above me.

    A friend once suggested to me that the different preferences might be the way they are because people with more “visible”/stereotypical disabilities might have a strong to urge to remind people they are not their disability, while people with more “invisible” disabilities might want to remind people that their disability is important. There are a lot of examples that contradict his idea, but I think it could be an explanation in some cases.

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  10. Mackenzie

    As a lot of other commenters have noted, there is a difference. I apologize if someone else mentioned the points I present below but I didn’t have a lot of time to read through all the comments. The Deaf and ASD communities see things differently than other disability groups. To them, at least a good portion of them, embrace their ‘disability’ as differences or quirks and they don’t want to be defined by their ‘disability’ but also, they see their ‘disability’ as a part of them and without it they would not be the same person. In the case of the Deaf community, the fact that Deaf people can function and do pretty much anything that non-Deaf people can do, they just do some things differently and some in the community see themselves as disabled not because of an issue they have but disabled by societal circumstance. Consider this, if we did not communicate primarily by oral speech, would a Deaf person be ‘disabled’?
    The phrase “person with ASD” implies that ASD is something that can be removed or separated from the person but ASD affects people in so many ways, even if you could remove it from someone, they would not be the same person. One of the ASD neurodiversity movement advocates said that parents looking for a ‘cure’ for their child with ASD are really just asking for a different child because without ASD, they wouldn’t be the same child they have now. That is a big reason why these groups prefer not using person-first language.

  11. This confusion can be pretty easily resolved by simply concluding (as I have) that the correct approach is to assume that, to the extent that there appears to be a mainstream consensus within a community of people with disabilities, that community is correct about the language that is most respectful.
    I guess that makes you a person without ignorance, then. ;)
    One exception that I’ve seen is people’s use of the term “autistic economics” to refer to economics that doesn’t take into account economic actors’ feelings and experiences.
    That is offensive. It seems to be based on the myth that Autistic people lack empathy, and as such, would be better termed ‘neurotypical economics’. After all, who is it that always insists we should try to see things from the viewpoint of a murderer of an Autistic person, not even thinking about the person who was murdered?

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