‘Autistic Individual’ or ‘Individual with autism?’
The other day, I received this comment:
I loved your article, Kamini. Perhaps you should say individual with autism rather than autistic individual. It would be more respectful. Autism doesn’t define them. It’s only one part of their lives.
I gently thanked the reader and decided to dig deeper into this.
What would be better than asking an autistic individual?
Look at what I came up with.
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.
I found a comment from self advocate, Lydia Brown.
“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 — the same way one refers to “Muslims,” “African-Americans,” “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer,” “Chinese,” “gifted,” “athletic,” or “Jewish.”
Personally, I don’t see anything offensive about the term “autistic.” I use it quite frequently to describe others and myself on the spectrum. First, let me ask a rhetorical question. Would it be offensive if someone said, “the man is tall” or “the girl is blond”? Does that sound offensive? Would it be better to say, “he’s a man who’s tall” or “she’s a girl who has blond hair”? The answer of course is no. Nobody would find it offensive to say somebody is blond because there’s nothing wrong with being blond, and saying “she has blond hair” really means the same thing as “she’s blond.” The same applies to whether you say “he’s tall” or “he’s a man who’s tall.”
Deciding to delve further and came across this quote:
On preferring to be called autistic, Jane Strauss says “Most of the ‘professionals’ I have met who are the most vehement about ‘person first’ are the most disrespectful of me as a person and assume incompetence. I also to be accurate capitalize the A in Autistic … I am no more a ‘person with autism’ than I am a ‘person with femaleness’ or a ‘person with Jewishness’ or a ‘person with cleverness’ or a “person with Photographic skill. I am an Autistic, Jewish, clever, woman photographer.”
Judy Endow in her sublime blog “Person First Attitude Trumps Language” states:
“The way many people with an autism spectrum diagnosis wish to be recognized is with the word autistic. For us, autism is not simply an add on to our personhood, but is in fact, foundational to our identity. Just as we would not refer to an African-American as a person with Blackness, to a person of the Jewish faith as a person with Jewishness or a boy as a person with maleness, many of us do not want to be referred to as a person with autism.”
Each of the above mentioned autistic individuals have shared their preference about how they would like to be addressed.
I go with how they would like to be addressed.
It’s about them and their preferences.
It’s not about what sounds good or right to us.
And beyond how we address them is R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Treat each person with respect.
And watch them blossom.
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 20 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.