Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Language choices and history

Yeah, yeah, I know, I've talked about this before. Assuming I caught all my prior posts, this is the sixteenth time I've talked about language choices for autism, though this one isn't quite the same as the others. It’s coming as the result of a good discussion that helped me clarify thoughts I'd been having rather than the result of someone insisting my language choice is wrong because they were taught so.

So: I hate being called “differently abled.” It feels euphemistic to me, like we can’t admit to the fact that I’m disabled. I also hate being called a “person with autism.” Even being called “on the spectrum” rankles, and not just because I think the idea of autism as a spectrum gets used to reduce everything into a spectrum of “less autistic” to “more autistic” and also “higher functioning” to “lower functioning,” with these two incoherent concepts also being considered to be the same[i]. It’s also the way the term has been used. It’s a sort of (very recent) usage history that makes me extra wary of “on the spectrum.”

And history is the key to my current thoughts. Every way I can think of to identify myself as Autistic or as Queer has history. Usually as a slur, in the case of Queer identity - Queer itself is an example of this. “Autistic” as noun? It’s part of the dehumanizing nonsense that got person-first language started in the first place.

Person-first language, or “person with autism”? Yeah, it started in a good place, where people with disabilities, mostly intellectual or developmental disabilities, decided that they wanted that language to emphasize their personhood. Professionals were (frankly often still are) forgetting that we’re people. Said professionals picked up the language. They didn’t pick up the intent: remember that we’re people. At least in the case of autism, and probably for other disabilities, they picked up a completely different idea: that the autism or other disability is somehow separable from the person, and there’s a “normal” person underneath. That’s a history I want nothing to do with – don’t call me a person with autism. Also, if you need a language construction to remember that I’m human I don’t want you anywhere near me. I don’t. I’m not sorry.

“Differently abled”? Technically true, I guess. It’s another one where there may have been good intentions originally – recognizing that we have abilities that typical people may not have access to, and that this can be a direct result of our disabilities. (Or, or different abilities?) It gets used as as a way to ignore the realities of disability, of access barriers, and sometimes of the reality that there are things we just can’t do.

“On the spectrum”? It’s been touted as a compromise solution to this language debate. Mostly by professionals who think “person on the spectrum” is less euphemistic than “person with autism” and by people “on the spectrum” who are willing to be tokenized, as far as I can tell. It’s not only unclear (there are many spectrums), but also still a person-first construction. That’s not a compromise! But folks insist it is one.

“Aspergers” or any variation thereof? 1) False. Literally does not apply. 2) When it was a diagnosis in the DSM, it was frequently applied to mean “high functioning” or to avoid scaring people with the “autism” label. It ties in with aspie supremacy, and that can kill. No way. That’s not just a history I don’t like. That’s a present I find morally reprehensible.

Now, I need to find a way to talk about who I am, what my experiences are as an Autistic person. I need to use language that will be understood. Making up new words is a valid option. It’s where new language comes from. I use plenty of words that were created in my community. But take a look at the history behind some of the words I said I have issues with. Some of them started in my community, or communities like mine. Then they got picked up by folks who want to pretend that the difference isn't quite real, isn't important, or can somehow be separated from the person (maybe needs to be in order for the person to count as a Real Person.) Even language that could be good has this happen. Then there’s the reclaimed slurs. (A lot of the language around Queerness is of the reclaimed slur type.) Just about all the language has problems of this sort. At this point, reasonable people can reach different preferences based on which bad history, which bad associations, which ones are we going to tolerate or reclaim for the sake of being understood?

Now, I am of the "queer as in fuck you" school of thought for most of my divergences[ii]. Disability is a word that scares people. “Good intentions” behind folks saying they don't see me as autistic, or as disabled are an indicator of how much disability is seen as a Bad Thing. Making people face the scary concept is actually an argument for using capitalized, identity first Disabled and Autistic in my case. Folks can sit with that particular discomfort, and if they tell me they don't see me that way or I shouldn't call myself that, they're getting asked 1) why they think their idea of me trumps my own, and 2) why they think they know better than I do what I should be called. If my identity is so uncomfortable for them that this is taken as attacking, we’ve got a big problem.

[i] That would totally be enough for me to hate being called “on the spectrum,” though.
[ii] This includes my actually being Queer, just to be clear.

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