An autistic child plays outside, learning to socialize and embrace his identity. / PHOTO COURTESY OF PIXABAY

Nick Hughes
Managing Editor

Identity-first language is the preferred way that I like to be referred to. This means that I prefer to be called an autistic person, instead of a person with autism. I have been told by medical professionals all my life that people-first was the correct way. These past couple years I have decided, for myself, that this was not the correct way. People-first, for autism, diminishes my personal identity, and I hold that identity in high regard. 

Identity is defined as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. I am autistic. That is not a slur at all, and I am working so hard to keep it from becoming a slur. Unfortunately, another word became stigmatized, the r-word, and I am concerned that will happen to the term autistic. It is imperative that this does not happen. My personhood should not be a slur to insult others with. 

The forced nature of people-first, when it comes to the term autistic person, is making the term become stigmatized. This forcefulness comes from a multitude of sources. Chief among them is the misinformation about autism. A group that is partially responsible for this pushed agenda is the charity group Autism Speaks. I have spoken at length about Autism Speaks in many of my prior articles here at the Snapper, and you can find them on the Snapper website.

The misinformation about autism started, that I became aware of at least, with the Andrew Wakefield study, which has been debunked multiple times, but which claimed that certain vaccines cause autism. This is not true. There is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. 

Another source of misinformation is the cycle of it being regurgitated by parents who see Autism Speaks as the best source to look to for information. I get it, finding out that your child has autism, would probably be scary. This leads to the issue of trusting science, and there is a severe lack of trust in American society these days. 

Through all the misinformation, there are still autistic people figuring out that they prefer identity-first language. My journey of being autistic has shown me who I am as a person. The autism that is an inherent part of my identity helped me figure these issues out. I do not know how to not be autistic. I was born autistic, and I think it is important to reinforce that point. Autistic is what I am, and it is something that I must deal with and work through. 

One aspect that has helped me out a lot is Autistic Twitter, which is exactly what it says it is. It is a space in Twitter that allows autistic people to talk and sort through their autism in a group setting. Autism, for me, is a social anxiety disorder, and I think it is difficult to define everyone’s autism in one blanket criteria. I struggle greatly with social interaction, but there are some autistic people that do not. 

My identity is an important part of me, and it hurts the autistic community when others do not respect that identity. My suggestion for people who do not know about autism is to ask an autistic person. Go on Twitter, use the Actually Autistic hashtag and ask us. We will talk to you about our experiences. 

My final thought for this is that it comes down to a willingness among us to respect each other and our identity. Everyone has an identity of some sort and there should be respect all along the way for people who are trying to sort their own out.