Within any community, there are certain ways to say and not to say things.  Within the autism community, one of the larger discussions is on  the use of person first or identify first language.  Some being offended by one or the other, while others are just left to wonder which is right?  Autistic or has Autism?

Through my last major post on autism, it was brought to my attention through the #actuallyautistic community that there needs to be more conversation on labels and their affects on those on the spectrum.  In response to the amazing conversations that post created, I will posting on some of the toughest topics in and surrounding the autistic community.

Your input will be a huge factor on where this series goes.  So jump in and ask me questions or let me know what questions you need answered.  Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter so that you do not miss a beat!

Autistic or Has Autism, which way is right?

When you first receive an autism diagnosis, there is so much to learn.  As a parent or caregiver, Autism awareness is brought through education and understanding.  Breaking down these issues into smaller posts will help make these topics a little easier to digest.

Person First Language

Person first language is when you say “Alicia has autism.”  The idea behind this is quiet simple.  We are taught that to put the person first, as a diagnosis is just an additional part of the person and not the definition of the person.

Person first language is most commonly used by parents, caregivers, and other neurotypical persons.  The idea behind this is to reduce the chance of stereotyping. Basically, a political correctness towards a diagnosis.

Identity First Language

Identity first language is when a person says “I am autistic.” When used in a sentences about an individual, the phrases would be “my daughter is autistic.”  Being autistic is a part of our identity, just as much as saying I am female or petite.  Being female and petite do not define me, but is undeniably apart of my identity.  Much as autism is.

Autistic or Has Autism, which way is right?

There are those that feel strongly on both sides of the question of autistic or has autism.  There are also those who are fine with either.  Personally, I use identity first for myself and my children.

There are both positives and negatives to being autistic, but all are apart of our identity. At the same time,  I am not offended by person first language.  You could say I am more in the neutral zone.  As long as either terminology is spoken with respect, that is what really matters to me.

The answer

When it comes down to what the answer is, that would be autistic (identity first language) unless other wise stated by the autistic individual.   This is the route that the large majority of autistic community wants to be referred to in reference of autism, especially from an advocacy stand point.

Well, that sums up today’s conversation on labels.  Which terminology do you prefer, autistic or has autism?  Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. For me personally, either works in reference to myself. I’ll use whichever of the two forms a specific person requests, though identity-first is my usual default.

  2. While I absolutely agree that those that are on the spectrum should be referred to however they personally choose- even if that is person-first, I have gotten tired of stating why I prefer identity-first personally.

    I am a member of the Autistic community, and the prefrence is overwhemlingly (70-80% or more depending on the study you ask) for Autistic, or identity-first language.

    As that is no where near “divided” or “half” territory, I now see it as a matter of respect. Autistics have been clear they prefer Autistic. To use “person first” because you- as an allistic person- doesn’t like Autistic is nothing short of disrespectful to your child’s community.

    I know you personally use Autistic- and that’s awesome! The “you” above is the generalized you. I just wanted to say that when people – whoever it is- uses- or insists that others use- person first identity, they are in no uncertain terms disrespecting the Autistic community

  3. In my humble opinion:

    It does depend on the individual, but as indicated in Shayna’s comment, the majority of polls show that around 75% of Autistic people want to be identified as Autistic. I do. I would hazard that of the 25% of those who either don’t care, or don’t want to be called Autistic don’t fully understand the ramifications of how the language around Autism has an affect on how Autism is viewed. For every person who says “XXX has Autism” The subtle underlying message is that Autism is a separate thing to the person and disregards that they have an Autistic brain, see with Autistic Eyes, feel with Autistic senses and interpret the world ‘Autistically’.

    The separation of Autism from a person reinforces the concept that if it is separate it can be treated or removed and that’s the road that the overwhelming majority of Autistic people want to get off of.

    Neurotypical ‘Professionals’ have created the language of Autism and the negative narrative; claiming our Identities is the first step in taking control of our futures.

  4. Thank you for clearing this up. I have generally used person-first language for my son for the same reason you state above. After reading this article & comments, I will start using identity first language.

  5. Personally I say “I am autistic” or “I am on the spectrum”. I never say “I have autism”.

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