What is Person-first Language?
Since the 1990s, professionals and parents have been strongly encouraged to use person-first language (person with autism or people with disabilities). The intention is to emphasize personhood and individuality rather than reducing someone to a diagnosis. Person-first language is nearly universal in medical, educational, and therapeutic settings.
What is Identity-first Language?
Most autistic people prefer identity-first language* (autistic adult or disabled person). They disagree with the idea that naming the condition first might cause others to overlook their humanity.
Why is Identity-first Important?
We use identity-first language for many other things, including nationality (I am American — I don’t have Americanness) and gender (I am female — I don’t have femaleness), without forgetting that Americans and women are, in fact, people. In English, person-first language is used for conditions that are temporary (I have a cold — but I won’t have it soon) or separate from a person’s identity (I have allergies — but if I didn’t, I would still be me)
Autism impacts everything about a person — how they think, what they enjoy, how they relate to others. As something so integral to their experience in the world, autism forms part of their identity. Had they gone through life as neurotypical, they would not be a neurotypical version of themselves but altogether different people.
How Does the #ActuallyAutistic Community Feel?
Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel, took a poll on Twitter to find out how her #ActuallyAutistic peers felt about identity- or person-first language. The results were overwhelmingly for identity-first language:
Here are more thoughts from Christa on video:
Why use “Autistic” Over “Person with Autism”
We envision a world where autistic individuals are fully accepted and valued. They deserve to have a voice and we support their right to claim the narrative of their lives and control the terminology we use. We encourage parents, professionals and the community-at-large to adopt identity-first language moving forward. It’s an important step towards full acceptance.
More articles on language, labels and terminology:
- Why the High-Low Labels are So Wrong by Rochelle Johnson
- Why it’s Important to Unlabel Yourself by Robert Watkins
- Taking Language for Granted by Rochelle Johnson
*Researched and written by Lydia Wayman