Person First Language: I can’t win.
Yet another person in the Down syndrome community (I’m sorry, a community with people who have Down syndrome in it) has sent me an email saying that it’s wrong for me to say that Casey is “autistic” instead of saying that he has autism. Anyone outside the special needs community reading that is scratching their heads and saying, “I really don’t get the difference.” Anyone within usually has an opinion about this. Don’t get me wrong- I’ve actually had people from within the Autism community tell me that it’s wrong that I ever say that Casey HAS autism instead of “is autistic.”
I can’t win no matter what I write! Maybe I’ll just write it out both ways so that I can make sure to offend EVERYONE:
My autistic son Casey who has autism doesn’t give a damn what you call him. He just wants to tell you about the Titanic.
For me personally, I’m so bored of “person-first language” I could tear all of my hair out, light it on fire, and watch it burn at the feet of a horrified special needs community. It bothers me in particular when people tell ME how to call MY KIDS (Although, Heidi was not wrong when she said it’s probably not a good thing to call them assholes). It bothers me that in the Down syndrome community where we plead for acceptance and love of our kids who are ‘chromosomally enhanced’ that we’d actually make it a point to separate the child from the diagnosis. I firmly believe that doing so doesn’t show that the kid is person first. It shows that we are trying to distance them from the way they were born, who they are; as if their diagnosis is something to be ashamed of. Their autism and Down syndrome are not something that they will ever be without. It’s not something they will be cured of outgrow. I want them to embrace it. Does it lump them together with their respective communities of people with their same diagnosis? It sure does. That doesn’t bother me either.
No amount of sentence jumbling is going to make people not notice Abby’s Down syndrome when they first see her. That’s okay with me. I’m not ashamed of her disability. Forcing people to change the way they address her isn’t going to make them think, “Oh, noooooow I see the little girl and not her Down syndrome, I’m going to treat her better!” It’s going to make them think, “Wow, the mother of that Down’s girl is a sanctimonious jerk.” Want to know how I know that? Because I’ve been told it! I used to force people to use person-first when they spoke about Abby. I fully embraced what the community told me to do. I was a sanctimonious jerk about it and I was wrong.
My other beef with it is that it’s linguistically cumbersome. And while I won’t be saying Abby IS Down syndrome because that doesn’t work linguistically either, I’m not going to bend over backwards to use person-first language all of the time. Sometimes “autism” works better in a sentence than “autistic.” When that’s the case, I’ll use it that way.
I don’t care how you address your kids. If you use person first or not, fine. Just don’t tell me what to call my kids.
(unless, as was mentioned, you see me calling them assholes.)