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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Identity-First v. Person-First Language

 From the preface to The Politics of Autism.

A major theme of this book is that just about everything concerning autism is subject to argument. There is not even any consensus on what one should call people who have autism and other disabilities. “In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terms such as `Autistic,’ `Autistic person,’ or `Autistic individual’ because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity,” writes blogger Lydia Brown.[i] Other writers prefer “people-first” language (e.g., “persons with autism”) since it puts the persons ahead of the disability and describes what they have, not who they are.[ii] For the sake of stylistic variety, this book uses both kinds of language, even though this approach will satisfy neither side. I can only say that I mean no offense.

Emerson Malone at Buzzfeed:

{A]lthough copy editors may want to prescribe a one-size-fits-all template to describe someone's condition, the varying feelings among neurodivergent people — which includes those with autism spectrum disorder — complicate this approach.

Many style guides point out that when it comes to autism, the preference among autistic people is for identity-first (“an autistic person”) language over person-first language (like “a person with autism” or “person with autism spectrum disorder”). For this reason, BuzzFeed’s current style is to use the phrasing “autistic person” over “person with autism” unless it appears in a direct quote. We also advise writers to ask someone how they would like to be identified whenever possible and defer to their preference.

The promotion of person-first language goes against the results of surveys from the Organization for Autism Research and Autistic Not Weird, where autistic respondents overwhelmingly said they prefer identity-first language, whereas those who were nonautistic said they generally opt for person-first. One study from the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health claimed that the styling that orients the “person” first is, paradoxically, othering.