I try very hard to be careful with the language I use to talk about autistic people and autism. If you read the earliest posts here you will see that my vocabulary has changed. I haven’t gone back and corrected it because it represents an evolution in my thinking about autism, disability and advocacy. Perhaps the most noticeable shift is that I now endeavour to use identity first language because my autistic friends have stated that this is what they prefer. I know that, for some, person first language is preferable. In my experience that tends to be (but is not always) the preference of parents and carers. However, when writing about autism I am writing about people and so I try to keep the sensibilities of my autistic friends and colleagues in mind. I respect them and I want my language to reflect that.
The notion that autism is an epidemic is wrong and derogatory and is used to spread fear and hatred of autism and so, autistic people. I do not and will not describe the Pwd’s stimming, his obsessions or language delays as symptoms but characteristics of autism. Lately, though, the word I am finding very problematic is “developed.”
“Developed autism” and its variations are phases I see all too often. I see them on blogs, in books and hear them in discussions and from both sides of every possible divide. For instance, when dissecting studies, commentators – even those of a skeptic bent – tend to talk of the number of subjects who “went on to develop autism” after a given event e.g. vaccination. Not for one moment am I arguing that autism is static but we must not be lazy with our language. Overwhelmingly, evidence suggests that autism is congenital and that no postnatal event or condition causes an unaffected individual to become autistic. We, at least those of us who are on the side of well conducted science, must discuss subjects of studies who were later diagnosed as autistic, recognising that autism is innate.
Men, women and children
Adult male with autism? Autistic female? Male autistic child? Female teenager with autism? Really? Is it just me or do those descriptions read like criminal profiles or as if autistic people are merely specimens? Talk about autistic people like you would talk about, well, people. Let’s talk with and about autistic men and autistic women, autistic boys and autistic girls.
It’s frustrating arguing with the wilfully ignorant. It’s the reason I will not go to obviously anti-vaccine/pro-disease pages; that and they are censorship fiends. Sometimes, I will engage on thread that may get an audience of the undecided. The language I see used by the pro-disease to describe autistic children frightens me. Saying that a child’s life is over because they are autistic seems to me like an excuse for neglect and abuse. I understand that confronting people who are spreading dangerous misinformation is, to put it mildly, trying. Using words that denegrate people with learning disabilities like retard and retarded to mock science deniers is tacit agreement that the learning/developmentally disabled are of inferior worth as human beings compared to the neurotypical.
Retard is the word that gets shouted at people, just like my beautiful Pwdin, for having the temerity to be out in public whilst disabled. When the homes of disabled people are vandalised, it is “retard” and “spaz” you see sprayed on the wall. Those are the words that get scratched into cars, and wheelchair accessible vehicles. The word is used as a weapon to oppress, demean and dehumanise. I know not one of my friends in real life or in the internet world who would use the N- or F- words yet some whose opinions I respect and hold in high regard still use retard, retarded or promote work by others who use these words as terms of abuse. Please consider your use of the term “retard” and its derivatives (including f***tard). More than that, if you wouldn’t let terms of racial abuse or homophobia go unchallenged then please challenge others on their use of “retard”, “retarded” and other ableist language.
Perhaps you think I am being over sensitive. It’s hard not to be when the person you love most in the entire world has this word used against him for flapping, singing, feeding from a bottle or being in a major buggy. If you still think that using the r-word just isn’t so bad, please take the time to read this post. It is written by Alyssa, a young autistic woman who writes the Yes, that too blog. In her post for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network entitled Calling People the R Word, she writes
“If people didn’t think that having an developmental disability made you inherently worse than or less than, we wouldn’t have the problem we currently have (that developmental disability is consistently used as an insult).”