By in Politics

Autism Isn't Something You 'Have'

I've occasionally been corrected by some politically correct listener when I say my son is autistic . No, I don't mean that my son “has” autism . And no, I don't believe in saying " person with autism " instead of " autistic person " is any more appropriate (or descriptive, for that matter.) It's also awkward to say.

Autism isn't something he has – like a cold or a mosquito bite - that will eventually go away. It's an integral part of him. It affects not only his abilities, but his personality and the way he sees the world. Autism is inseparable from who he is.

So-called “person-first” language is intended to put the person before the disability. But I think it tends to highlight a special need like autism, turning it into a pathology instead of a neurological difference that has its pros and cons . Person-first language also fails to recognize the fact that many people feel their long-term conditions and differing abilities are a major part of their identity.

Higher functioning autistic people often refer to themselves as Aspies , for example (short for Asperger's, the name of the syndrome that until recently was recognized as a separate condition from autism.)

The deaf community carries this even further, as they have their own language and culture. The politically correct term “ person with hearing loss ” misses the mark broadly by not only failing to recognize the deaf culture, but also implying deaf people are somehow less than people with average hearing.

Probably the worst part of all this political correctness is that an outsider is trying to define for me and mine how we perceive and speak about my son's autism. Those most likely to come out and correct the way we speak tend to be people whose experience of autism is limited, at best. It's exceedingly presumptuous for them to think they know what we're living – let alone to tell us how to speak about it.

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Image credit: Disability icons by the National Park Service/Wikipedia (public domain)

Note: This article was migrated from Bubblews, where I originally published it

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bestwriter wrote on January 6, 2015, 5:19 AM

Is this issue more to do with the fact that one has to live with it and handle it rather than look for cures? Take for example schizophrenia. This also comes under the same category but it can be contained with medicine and ofcourse a bit of handling too. .

Wordsmith wrote on January 6, 2015, 5:37 AM

To me autistic person sounds just fine, to the point. I hate politically correct jargon. You are right to oppose it.

phoenixmaid wrote on January 6, 2015, 6:04 AM

I couldn't agree with you more. I'm tired of the politically correct brigade dictating how people should refer to and identify themselves in case it causes offense.

phoenixmaid wrote on January 6, 2015, 6:09 AM

schizophrenia is very very rarely contained by medication, the medication more often than not only manages to subdue the illness and quieten the voices a little. so while the person suffering may seem to be contained to others they still have to live with the voices and sadly the stigma that goes with it.

bestwriter wrote on January 6, 2015, 6:22 AM

I have dealt with this and I know what phenomenal change was noticed after medication. This person has a responsible job now and behaves quite normally. It cannot be totally eradicated but surely it can be kept under check to a large degree.

Soonerdad3 wrote on January 6, 2015, 6:58 AM

I cannot imagine what you go through on a daily basis as I do not even know anyone with an autistic child. I get pretty tired of political correctness and how judgmental people can be.

maxeen wrote on January 6, 2015, 7:00 AM

Just ignore them and do what one thinks is right,I don't like smarty labels.

HappyLady wrote on January 6, 2015, 7:03 AM

You remind me of a writer's group I attended. Most people were blind. They wanted to use that term. Again, they had created a culture and identity and did not want outsiders dictating it.

phoenixmaid wrote on January 6, 2015, 7:35 AM

This person is one of the few that medication has worked very well for. I am a full time carer for someone who also suffers and meet a lot of other carers and sufferers through our support network. sadly most people don't respond so well to the medication I am glad to hear it worked out so very well for the person you know.

bestwriter wrote on January 6, 2015, 7:48 AM

She was the daughter of a friend of mine. Initially she gave a lot of trouble. She stayed with me for six months without medication but that did not work. I had a tough time. Then I found out a place called half way home where she stayed for one year and under their guidance and treatment she almost became normal . She returned to her parents' home and now she has a job and she is on FB. She does a lot of social work too. Has scores of friends on FB. She even went to US to spend time with her sister. But she has to take those medicines till the end.

LadyDuck wrote on January 6, 2015, 9:57 AM

Political correctness is modern stupidity. I cannot understand why we cannot call things as they are, exactly as we did in the past.

catsholiday wrote on January 6, 2015, 11:23 AM

If you are the one with the child that is autistic no one has the right to tell you how you should refer to your child. Say it how you want to and the rest can take a hike. All this PC language is just pussy footing around things call a spade spade - it is all the same thing in the end. Now if someone who is deaf objects to be called deaf that is slightly different than someone else objecting for them in my view!

soupdragon wrote on January 6, 2015, 3:17 PM

I remember when we used to provide subtitling back in the early 1990s and we were told never to say "the deaf" but instead say "deaf people", presumably because "the deaf" made them sound like some cult.

Soreiya wrote on January 6, 2015, 6:28 PM

People who are not exposed to disabilities of any sort and try to understand what it's like and how to treat such people usually get a lot wrong. They also tend to act like they are better than disabled people. It's quite frustrating.

seren3 wrote on January 7, 2015, 7:21 AM

I can understand why you'd be frustrated with the arrogance of the nit-pickers (oops - persons with nits or would that be persons who are nit-free deficient?). I am more familiar with the Aspie's as I have read a lot of the bloggers and the frustration of the unwelcoming world around them. And now they officially no longer exist.

trufflehunter wrote on January 7, 2015, 6:14 PM

I can see why that would be upsetting. You have already come such a long way with your family, just ignore those PC idiots.

scheng1 wrote on January 8, 2015, 8:07 AM

Most people fail to separate medical condition from character traits. I think this can be due to the way medical institution de-humanize patients.

Feisty56 wrote on January 12, 2015, 12:34 PM

I can understand your frustration with others who would seek to correct your choice of words about autism, something you and your family know all too well. I don't believe I would be unthinking enough to correct your use of words, but I would be interested in learning why that terminology is preferable to you over what as a public we are taught is "correct."

I know I don't want to offend anyone if I can possibly avoid it, but on the other hand I don't want to be so afraid of offending someone that I don't speak of whatever the topic is, from autism to mental illness and more. I can only learn more and gain understanding if I ask questions. I will apologize if my choice of words are offensive, but hope my sincere interest in a better understanding would help to reduce the sting of the offense.

redcloaklife wrote on January 12, 2015, 4:47 PM

Thank you so much for this post! My little brother is also Autistic Spectrum (previously Aspie) and It is so offensive when people act like he is diseased. He doesn't need to be "cured" he doesn't need to be "changed". People obsessed with this "cure" for a mental development that has been around for centuries need to start putting more stock into looking for therapy options and teaching society not to be so obsessed with neuro-typical behavior.

redcloaklife wrote on January 12, 2015, 4:49 PM

Schizophrenia and Autism are WILDLY different. Schizophrenics are often out of touch with reality and anxious as anyone else to control their condition. Autism is a development that someone has their entire life. I have met many, many people on the Autism spectrum and none of them want to be cured. They just want to be accepted as people worthy of a normal life. I personally feel that the mental illness, or things that need to be treated with medication, are on an entirely different level than something like Autism Spectrum Developments, which are simply developmental differences.

redcloaklife wrote on January 12, 2015, 4:53 PM

I think I can answer your question:
Autism is not a disease. It is not a disability in the widely-understood sense of the word. It is a Developmental Difference. Not worse, not better, just different. High functioning people on the Autistic Spectrum, at least every single one I have met, get intensely offended when you imply that the way their brain developed is a disease. My brother and one of my best friends are both at the high end of the spectrum and I will let their words speak through me here, since it is their development.

"I am not sick, I am not broken. I am just less social than other people and have a hard time understanding social cues. What is so wrong with that. To imply that people like me need to be "cured" is offensive and wrong."

I, personally, feel that "curing" Autism is closer to Eugenics than we as a culture should be willing to go.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 3:46 PM

Deb, the reason I dislike "person-first" language is that in its awkwardness, it actually tends to emphasize the disability. It's stilted to say, "person with epilepsy" or "person on the autism spectrum," and you could just as easily say, "epileptic," or "autistic person." Saying "person who has diabetes" is even more awkward.

Would I be offended if you said you knew a person "who has autism"? Not in the least, Deb! And I'm not at all offended that you're trying to understand why I take issue with the politically correct language. I just think we should opt for language that flows naturally, rather than walking on egg shells so much that we use awkward turns of phrase that we've been taught are "more acceptable." Usually the people preaching what is and is not acceptable are not the ones to whom this type of language is applied.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 4:02 PM

I couldn't agree more! Autism isn't a virus you're going to get over, or a disease that needs curing. It can be a disability, but even there I wouldn't like to focus overly much on a cure. We are better served by ensuring anybody who needs ABA or any other useful resource can access it, and that we work on tolerance and awareness as a society.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 14, 2015, 4:10 PM

To tell you the truth, our worst experiences have been with the general public. The Bug's doctors always use "autistic" and always have. And even the ones I didn't care for would never presume to tell me I needed to use a more politically correct expression. The people who are most likely to be guilty of that are 1) people who have no experience whatsoever of any disability, and 2) people who teach in the field of social services but have little practical experience - and their current students and recent graduates.

Feisty56 wrote on January 14, 2015, 6:21 PM

I appreciate that you've shared these thoughts, particularly those of your brother and a best friend. I am one of the many people who have only a rudimentary understanding of autism in general and practically nothing of the specifics. I can improve on that knowledge when people such as yourself, Ruby3881 and others with practical experience explain things, as you both have done so kindly here.

Feisty56 wrote on January 14, 2015, 6:29 PM

I understand what you're saying now and why you are saying it. There are many phrases that while they may be politically correct are not functional or enlightening. It is almost as if by using a long-winded phrase or euphemism we are denying the importance, the value or the severity of the truth.

Thank you for taking the time to explain this so well. I have much to learn when it comes to understanding autism, but between you and Redcloaklife , I do now understand it is considered neither a disease nor something for which a cure must be sought. I am guessing, though, that much education of the public is going to be necessary so that autistic people are not shunned simply because of our ignorance at large.

Karonher wrote on January 24, 2015, 3:23 PM

It can be difficult to know what terms to use as various groups prefer to have specific words used - here I am not just talking about autism. It does seem unfair however to correct the words that are used.