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.
There is currently disagreement among professionals (such as teachers, therapists, researchers, and clinicians) about the most appropriate and respectful way to refer to individuals with disabilities in general, and those with autism, in particular. Supporters of person-first language feel that it is important to emphasize the person rather than the disorder or disability, and promote the use of terms such as, “person with autism” or “a person with ASD.” The goal is to reduce stereotypes and discrimination and emphasize the person’s individuality rather than their disability. However, some people within the autism community have questioned the use of person-first terms because they are awkward and use an unconventional style of language that draws attention to the disability. Moreover, autistic individuals and their families are beginning to support the use of identity-first language that embraces all aspects of one’s identity. Surveys in the United Kingdom and Australia support the idea that both types of language are preferred by different groups of autism stakeholder groups. In our study, we surveyed autism stakeholders in the United States. Overwhelmingly, autistic adults (n = 299) preferred identity-first language terms to refer to themselves or others with autism. Professionals who work in the autism community (n = 207) were more likely to support and use person-first language. Language is dynamic and our findings support the need for open communication among autism professionals about how we communicate with and about autistic individuals and their families.