UA-76843172-1

People-First or Identity-First? My autistic opinion

Nick Hughes

Opinion Editor

I am at a sort of crossroads right now. My ability to identify as autistic is the cause of this and I believe that a shift in language is necessary here. I want to say that I am autistic, not that I am an autistic man. This is the debate that is dividing autistic people and people associated with autistic people. 

I used to be of the school of thought that would say, “I am a man with autism, and I prefer people-first language.” Now, however, I prefer to say, “Autistic man.” I discussed this topic in detail prior to this writing. I have switched positions due to my knowledge of myself growing and knowledge of autism growing. 

What autistic is for me

Autism, for those who do not know, is a way of thinking, feeling and interacting with others based upon social interactions. I used to say it is a social anxiety disorder, but I have come to realize it is much more than just anxiety-based. It is a puzzle that I am happy to leave unfinished, however. 

Speaking of the puzzle piece, I see the puzzle piece imagery a lot and I am not too fond of it. I used to be big on the puzzle piece and other imagery. It is my opinion, an autistic person’s opinion, that the puzzle piece promotes a stigma against autistic people. I do not think it is a healthy image to describe autistic people. We are not broken, as a puzzle is, and we are not a mystery to be figured out. We are people and a lot of us do not appreciate the puzzle piece. 

The people that I have interacted with that support the puzzle piece are not autistic themselves. To me, it seems ableist to say that I cannot say what I want to identify me in terms of imagery. Think of it like this: I tell you what you should feel about “X” and I think that you should act like this about “X.” It feels off, doesn’t it? I know it does because I am told that I am required to like the puzzle piece and the implications that follow it. I do not feel obligated to like the puzzle piece because I am autistic. 

The issue I have with the puzzle piece

There are some autistic people, completely in their right, that says the puzzle piece is a hate symbol. I disagree with that extreme, but I understand the reason it is said to be a hate piece. People who support the puzzle piece do so, initially at least, do so because the puzzle piece symbolizes hope to them. I support the wanting to help you child but saying that the puzzle piece is wholly innocent is misguided.

Autism is a sticky issue and those affected by it have an understanding of autism. I have progressed to points where I am okay with having and living with autism. I do not see it as just a negative and I embrace the good qualities of autism.