When I tell people about my son’s neurological difference, I say he’s “autistic,” not that he “has autism.” I’ve never questioned my choice of language, and until recently I didn’t even realize it was controversial.
It was only when I read the book, Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D. last year that I fully realized the implications of both terms. From Dr. Prizant’s “Author’s Note” at the beginning of his book:
I am also aware that others, in particular some adults with autism, prefer the label “autistic,” feeling that autism is indeed a defining characteristic and is essential to their identity and that person-first language implies that autism is inherently bad. (In the same way , you wouldn’t call someone “a person with maleness” but rather “male” or “a male.”) While I fully understand and respect that opinion, I have chosen otherwise for this book.
Until I read that passage, I hadn’t ever put serious thought into the words I used to describe Kiddo’s autism, and at first I wasn’t even consistent about it. I would say he “is autistic,” “has ASD,” “is on the spectrum,” or any number of other terms, but saying he “is autistic” always felt most comfortable to me.
I think there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that my first real introduction into autism — other than Rain Man — was Dr. Temple Grandin, and she describes herself as “autistic.” I love Temple Grandin and her attitude toward autism as being “different, not less.” Saying that kiddo “had autism” made me feel like he was somehow less. And “autism spectrum disorder” felt even worse.
I understand why the terms are controversial, but I say to each his own. I choose to say Kiddo “is autistic.” When he’s old enough to make the decision for himself, I will respect whichever language he prefers, just as I respect others’ right to choose the language with which they frame themselves.