Thursday, September 14, 2017

I is for Identity First

Filed under Autism

Continuing the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll talk about the topic of my last radio show: Identity First Language.

Politically correct language can be a burden sometimes. But language has power and the words we use to describe people can affect our perception and their ability to operate in our community. This is why there are campaigns to eliminate words, like “retarded” from our vocabulary. “Retard” and “idiot” are labels we might give to our friends when we’re joking with them, but these were actually medical diagnoses at one time. “Short bus” has become a joke, but what does that say about the people who are actually riding on that bus? Let’s not turn human beings into jokes.

Person-first language has become the politically correct way to refer to people with a diagnosis, so that we look at the person and not the diagnosis. This means that instead of saying, “Intellectually Disabled Person,” one would say, “person that has an intellectual disability.” The focus is intended to be on the human and to not define that human by the diagnosis. Look at the difference between the attitude behind these two phrases:

“Let’s provide day care for children who have Down syndrome.”

“Let’s provide day care for the Down syndrome children.”

Identity-first language is a concept I first heard of from CJ Shiloh. She explained to me that some people in the Autistic community wish to be identified as Autistic because it is their culture, in the same way that being Jewish, Deaf, or American is a culture. This movement has been initiated by self-advocates–people who are Autistic and advocate for equal rights for the Autistic community, and who subscribe to the Neurodiversity Movement.

The trick is, not all people on the autism spectrum wish to be identified as an Autistic person. So the key is to be mindful of your intent with language, and to listen to how the people with diagnoses are referring to themselves.

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