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ASPartOfMe
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07 Jul 2021, 7:24 am

How Autistic People Are Showing The Limitations Of Person-First Language

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While speaking at an event, autistic advocate Lydia X. Z. Brown referred to themself as “an autistic person” — and someone interrupted to “correct” them: “You mean you’re a person with autism; you need to separate yourself from the condition.”

The interaction was emblematic of how person-first language has been so “indoctrinated” in people, Brown said, and it’s not the best way to describe themself at all.

Person-first language is a mainstay of many newsrooms’ style guides, the result of disability activists who objected to the stereotypical and dehumanizing way people with disabilities were historically written and spoken about. It’s grown to encompass a variety of phrases that place a person above their condition; “a person in jail” is more multidimensional than “an inmate,” and “a person experiencing homelessness” paints a fuller picture than simply “a homeless person,” since it acknowledges that housing insecurity is not a permanent characteristic.

And although 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 National Center on Disability and Journalism’s guidance is to only bring up someone’s autism when relevant to the story and if they’ve been formally diagnosed, and to ask individuals for their preference between the identity- or person-first descriptors. AP style also recommends asking someone’s preference, but when that’s not possible (or if you’re describing a group of people), the Stylebook defaults to person-first language.

Person-first language actually had revolutionary origins. Unfortunately, that has become lost in most modern discourse,” Brown said, “because the people who most loudly advocate for the use of person-first language are not disabled at all.”

It’s often co-opted by nondisabled, nonautistic (aka “allistic”) people, they said. Plus, social workers, teachers, and therapists are instructed in university programs to only use person-first language.

“We’ll often say that if you have to put the word ‘person’ first to remind yourself that we’re people, you really have a problem, not us,” Brown said. “Because if you have to go through linguistic gymnastics to remind yourself that we’re people, you already didn’t believe we were people.”

Both person- and identity-first language are rooted in disability advocacy, a resistance against the historic abuse and subjugation of people with disabilities.

Over time, “autistic” became a schoolyard insult, conflating it with someone who’s self-centered, withdrawn, or socially awkward. The community reclaiming the label is a relatively new phenomenon.

“One of the things that’s hard for everybody, including autistic people, is to recognize how recent a lot of these changes are,” said science writer Steve Silberman, author of the book NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.

Person-first language can have the unintended implication that autism is an impediment rather than a natural variance in neurology

Here we get into the limitations of person-first language: Some people prefer to be called “disabled” since it’s simpler than its alternatives and doesn’t connote shame or pity; likewise, some argue that person-first language, by avoiding the word “autistic,” indirectly turns the word into a pejorative when it should be a neutral label.

Of course, while many feel strongly in either camp, it’s clear that neither side will ultimately overtake the other; plenty of people use both.

“What becomes so difficult is there’s not necessarily a right answer of person-first versus identity-first. Individuals will feel very strongly one way or another, and I myself use both interchangeably,” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president of communications at RespectAbility, adding that the divide might also be a generational one; an older person is more likely to use person-first language than a teenager or young adult is.

This has radically changed since I was diagnosed and joined WP in 2013. Back then outside of places like WP “person with autism” was nearly universal. Autism professionals used it and media style guidelines followed suit. Seemingly every comment section for autism articles or videos devolved into a situation where some NT would demand “person with autism” and we would push back. Now in those spaces a live and let live attitude mostly prevails and we actually discuss the topic at hand. How different from the rest of social and political discourse. Sometimes I need an article like this to remind me to appreciate the progress made in this area.


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magz
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07 Jul 2021, 8:12 am

Why did the "person-first" language emerge in the first place?
I mean I can understand "a person experiencing homelessness" stresses that homelessness is a situation not identity but - apart from how it fits or doesn't fit in the case of autism - would you go on correcting someone when they says e.g. "I've been homeless for the last 6 months" - "Oh, no, no, no, you haven't been homeless, you've been experiencing homelessness for the last 6 months"?


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ASPartOfMe
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07 Jul 2021, 8:41 am

magz wrote:
Why did the "person-first" language emerge in the first place?

People-first language Wikepedis
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Recommendations and explanations to use person-first language date back as early as around 1960. In her classic textbook, Beatrice Wright (1960) began her rationale for avoiding the dangers of terminological short cuts like "disabled person" by citing studies from the field of semantics that "show that language is not merely an instrument for voicing ideas but that it also plays a role in shaping ideas". She concludes her arguments thus: "Since physique does stimulate value judgments, it is particularly important to use expressions insofar as feasible that separate physical attributes from the total person".Another influential rehabilitation psychologist, Carolyn Vash, who also spoke from the perspective of her experience living with quadriplegia from polio, advanced similar arguments for person-first language in an unpublished address in 1959.

The term people-first language first appeared in 1988 as recommended by advocacy groups in the United States. The usage has been widely adopted by speech-language pathologists and researchers, with "person who stutters" (PWS) replacing "stutterer"Although it is believed that People-first language originated in the mental health community, its origin dates back to AIDS activism, appearing in the Denver Principles (1983), which states, "We condemn attempts to label us as "victims," a term which implies defeat, and we are only occasionally "patients," a term which implies passivity, helplessness, and dependence upon the care of others. We are "People With AIDS.”


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07 Jul 2021, 9:15 am

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In 1993, the National Federation of the Blind in the US adopted a resolution condemning people-first language. The resolution dismissed the notion that "the word 'person' must invariably precede the word 'blind' to emphasize the fact that a blind person is first and foremost a person" as "totally unacceptable and pernicious" and resulting in the exact opposite of its purported aim, since "it is overly defensive, implies shame instead of true equality, and portrays the blind as touchy and belligerent".[22]

In deaf culture, person-first language has long been rejected. Instead, deaf culture uses deaf-first language since being culturally deaf is a source of positive identity and pride.[23] Correct terms to use for this group would be "Deaf person" or "hard of hearing person".[24] The phrase "hearing impaired" is not acceptable to most Deaf or hard of hearing people because it emphasizes what they cannot do.[25]

Autism activist Jim Sinclair rejects person-first language, on the grounds that saying "person with autism" suggests that autism can be separated from the person.[26] Identity-first language is preferred by many autistic people and organizations run by them.[27][28] Some advocacy groups and organizations such as Autism Speaks,[29] The Arc[30] and Disability Is Natural[31] support using people-first language. Others including the Autistic Self Advocacy Network do not, saying:

In the autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as "Autistic," "Autistic person," or "Autistic individual" because we understand autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity...It is impossible to affirm the value and worth of an Autistic person without recognizing his or her identity as an Autistic person. Referring to me as "a person with autism," or "an individual with ASD" demeans who I am because it denies who I am...When we say "person with autism," we say that it is unfortunate and an accident that a person is Autistic. We affirm that the person has value and worth, and that autism is entirely separate from what gives him or her value and worth. In fact, we are saying that autism is detrimental to value and worth as a person, which is why we separate the condition with the word "with" or "has." Ultimately, what we are saying when we say "person with autism" is that the person would be better off if not Autistic, and that it would have been better if he or she had been born typical.[32]
— Lydia Brown
from the same article.
It looks like the deaf, the blind and the autistic people don't like this language - probably because these conditions are crucial to how one experiences the world and, thus, to one's identity.


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07 Jul 2021, 9:21 am

So ... can I still call myself a human, or must I now start referring to myself as a "person experiencing humanity"?

:roll:


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magz
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07 Jul 2021, 9:25 am

You're a Person Experiencing Fnordness :jester:


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07 Jul 2021, 9:51 am

magz wrote:
You're a Person Experiencing Fnordness :jester:

I thought we are on the wrong planet so it would be “a klingon with spockness”.


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07 Jul 2021, 10:50 am

It is more like, "A Daryen experiencing Solomani-ness."


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08 Jul 2021, 12:42 am

when i was homeless, i wasn't just experiencing it, but was living it, IOW i WAS HOMELESS.



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08 Jul 2021, 1:08 am

"Sentient being with elements of consciousness that may or may not suggest life is real or that they actually exist", here.



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08 Jul 2021, 1:50 am

I find the zealotry that can occur over word usage very anxiety provoking,and more than a little intimidating. There are those, in high control freak mode, who want to dictate how you are as an autistic person ,and how those who are NT respond to us. Veer slightly from what they demand,even not intentionally, and a s*** storm of anger and hate will be aimed at you.


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carlos55
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08 Jul 2021, 2:53 am

firemonkey wrote:
I find the zealotry that can occur over word usage very anxiety provoking,and more than a little intimidating. There are those, in high control freak mode, who want to dictate how you are as an autistic person ,and how those who are NT respond to us. Veer slightly from what they demand,even not intentionally, and a s*** storm of anger and hate will be aimed at you.


Very true it just allows the elite few at the top of the functioning tree an excuse to bully the rest into their little control language while those outside look on indifferent and confused.

It does nothing to help autistic people in general.



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09 Jul 2021, 11:12 pm

Similiar example: When I worked in group homes, the language we were supposed to use changed like every 6 months or so, and eventually came full circle to having to use what we had to use at first - but pretending that we hadn't.

People who think "fixing" the language (what's most visible) will fix the real problem (treating people disrespectfully) will never be "done", because you can paste a new label on anything but actually change nothing.


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10 Jul 2021, 8:34 am

WhatTheHey wrote:
People who think "fixing" the language (what's most visible) will fix the real problem (treating people disrespectfully) will never be "done", because you can paste a new label on anything but actually change nothing.

Fixing the language won't, in itself, fix the underlying problem. However, language changes often do accompany a genuine shift in consciousness.


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10 Jul 2021, 8:36 am

firemonkey wrote:
I find the zealotry that can occur over word usage very anxiety provoking,and more than a little intimidating. There are those, in high control freak mode, who want to dictate how you are as an autistic person ,and how those who are NT respond to us. Veer slightly from what they demand,even not intentionally, and a s*** storm of anger and hate will be aimed at you.

Where do you encounter these s*** storms of anger and hate? Mostly on major social media such as Twitter?


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10 Jul 2021, 9:45 pm

Mona Pereth wrote:
firemonkey wrote:
I find the zealotry that can occur over word usage very anxiety provoking,and more than a little intimidating. There are those, in high control freak mode, who want to dictate how you are as an autistic person ,and how those who are NT respond to us. Veer slightly from what they demand,even not intentionally, and a s*** storm of anger and hate will be aimed at you.

Where do you encounter these s*** storms of anger and hate? Mostly on major social media such as Twitter?


This forum can have its 'moments' but, yes, it's much ,much worse on Twitter. You either get the anger and hate, or the autistic version of Monty Python's '4 Yorkshiremen ' comedy sketch. In other words -'You wouldn't believe how autistic I am'.


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Your neurodiverse (Aspie) score: 133 of 200
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You are very likely neurodiverse (Aspie)