Allistics need to start using identity-first language: Say autistic

Morgan Fitch, Contributing Writer

The month of April is Autism Awareness Month, and is dedicated to all autistics, or so allistics claim. On the surface, you have allistics reading about autism, posting their support on social media and expressing their understanding, while falling short of actual awareness.

One of the simplest ways to support autistics is to use identity-first language instead of person-first language. Person-first language means saying “person with autism” and identity-first language means saying “autistic” or “autistic person.”

Autism Speaks, the DSM-5, the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style) and numerous other agencies not run by autistics feel they are qualified to determine how autistics should label themselves, and the groups have decided that people should use person-first language.

Autism Speaks, which autistics consider a hate group for reasons such as believing in eugenics, saying autism will ruin marriages and endorsing abusive “therapies,” created polls on Facebook and Twitter asking people to decide if they prefer person-first or identity-first. Since most Autism Speaks followers are allistic teachers, parents and professionals, the polls started out leaning toward person-first language and were another example of the organization trying to justify their use of anti-autistic language.

Once the autistic community learned of the poll, they voted in droves and changed the results drastically. The Facebook poll had a final result of 69% of people preferring identity-first language, and the Twitter poll had a final result of 82% for identity-first.

With autistics clearly showing their preference for language, why do non-autistic organizations, like our very own Accessibility Resource Center (ARC), continue to use language not approved by autistics?

On April 12, the Charger Bulletin published an article about ARC and autism awareness. The office on campus that says they are dedicated to disabled students used person-first language multiple times. Linda Copney-Okeke, the director of ARC, said “students with autism” multiple times throughout her statement. A quick Google search would show that the language was incorrect and harms the very population they claim to uplift.

ARC has not been the only one to use person-first language, such as AP Style, the writing style that Charger Bulletin adheres to, which mandates journalists use person-first language, as well. The AP Style Twitter posted tweets in April 2021 that said, “we advise avoiding writing that implies ableism,” and continued to say, “In describing groups of people, or when individual preferences can’t be determined, use person-first language.”

AP Style didn’t want people to seem ableist, and yet they are actively participating in ableism. Many people in the thread expressed their dislike of the forced language, but it doesn’t seem as if AP Style commented, and they haven’t changed their rules on person-first versus identity-first language.

Autism and autistic are not bad words. We understand that autism cannot be separated from our identities and, frankly, we do not want it to be. Autism is not an accessory that we can choose to carry; it is a lifelong condition and without it, we feel as if a part of ourselves has been lost. People who use person-first language need to understand that they are treating our condition as if it is a disease, as something that is unwanted and tainted. Autism cannot harm the autistic or allistic and, while we may go through struggles, it does not make autism a less meaningful part of our identity. To actually support autistics during this Autism Awareness Month, and the rest of the months during the year, use identity-first language.

Disclaimer: While the majority of autistics prefer identity-first language, it is up to the individual autistic to determine what language they prefer. If you have any doubts on what language to use, ask.