Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Autistic Person," "Aspie," or "Person With Asperger's Syndrome?"

No matter how minuscule the issue of "person-first" as opposed to "identity-first" language may seem to an outsider in the autistic or the wider disability community, the issue is one that many, many autistic people, parents of autistic children, and professionals from all disciplines whom work with autistic children, adolescents, and adults all seem to express a myriad of views on.  As a result of me being new to the blogosphere, I am going to state what I have used previously, what I continue to use, and overall, my take on the matter as an introductory post.

At one point in time, did I solely identify as an "Aspie" or a "person with Asperger's syndrome."  When I was younger, admittedly, I knew little about Asperger's syndrome, other than the fact that many others deemed it as a "mild" form of autism.  Truth be told, the autism spectrum is not as linear as some believe for it to be: you do not have Asperger's syndrome at the "highest" end of the linear sale, with "low-functioning" autism at the other end, and PDD-NOS and "high-functioning" autism somewhere in the middle (I have my qualms with functioning labels that I will detail in another post).  Rather, it is a circle with different points plotted on it in relation to an individual autistic person's skill set.  If you would like a visualization, I would suggest following this link at the Art of Autism, which does a much more efficient job at explaining this than I am doing right now.

But, now that I am older, I know much better than I did as a newly-diagnosed nine-year-old child.  Not only did I begin to question my own identity in regards to being autistic in the World, but I also learned that "Asperger's syndrome" as a label does not automatically render me as better than other autistic people without said diagnosis, nor better than any neurotypicals on the sole basis of my neurology.  It is as a result of this self-exploration and discovery that I have began to use the label "autistic," which, admittedly, I at first tried to distance myself away from the fact that I was so.  For quite a many years, have I endured bouts of self-loathing for my autistic essence as a result of absorbing negative discourse from the people and from the media surrounding me.  It is only when I had begun to read more blog posts and other tales by autistic self-advocates, some much like myself, and others, whom society would wrongly dismiss as being "intellectually-incompetent," that I had truly began to realize that I am certainly not alone in breathing an autistic consciousness, that there is indeed hope for people such as my cousins and myself, and that the negative rhetoric coming from so many sides all around me was merely inappropriate and untrue. 

The label "Aspie" is one that I have used since I was a child.  I find it concise and adorable, a label that I am glad the community of autistics with a specific diagnosis of Asperger's has chosen as one of their identifying labelsFor many with the specific diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, "Aspie" carries a great deal of cultural significance, this I know from my own personal experience with those who proudly bear its badge even in the face of scrutiny. 

However, in regards to the term "Aspie," I recognize that there can be an inherent negativity that comes along with it.  The term "Aspie" can be used by some as a means of separating themselves from "those" autistic people, the autistic people whom require assistance in day-to-day activity and who have a limited or nonexistent verbal repertoire, and instead must communicate via a form of AAC.  The "Aspie" label has caused and at times, still does cause, unnecessary division within the autistic community-- and, that is largely why I use the term less-and-less, no matter how definitive of my reality it may be.  

I prefer identity-first over person-first language for a myriad of reasons, the number-one reason being that of an echoed sentiment in the autistic community: the fact that my flesh and my soul are inseparable from my neurological wiring.  I do not seek to be "cured" of my autism, and frankly,  a great deal of fellow autistic people do not want to be, either.  Whether they can speak or must use AAC, can or cannot live independently, have or do not have cognitive delay, many autistic people of all walks of life have expressed an intense desire not to be cured of their immutable essence that is their neurology.   This, I have learned over the past few months alone, dismantling all of the internalized preconceived notions that society has ingrained into my mind for perhaps the longest time.

For myself, I see little purpose in using the term "person with Asperger's syndrome" outside of a clinical context, for the sole reason that "Asperger's syndrome" and not "Autistic disorder" is what appears in medical records.  Would I yearn for professionals to recognize the identifying label of "autistic," no matter what an autistic individual is capable of, and what they may need more assistance with?  Yes, I would.  I would love for medical and other professionals, such as those involved in education, to cease their insistence upon "person-first" language and only deploy said language if so the individual requests; however, there must first be a shift in the general public's incarnation of autism in its consciousness, as well as a shift in paradigm from "awareness" to "acceptance," before it comes to fruition-- unfortunately.  Much as how I am a queer* person and not a "person with queerness" or a woman and not a "person with womanhood," I am an autistic person, not merely a "person with autism or Asperger's syndrome."

I hope that identity-first becomes more commonplace, especially with regards to the fact that it is becoming ever-increasingly easier to identify individuals of all ages as being on the spectrum.  The word "person" need not arrive before the word "autism" in order to make it cognizant within an individual that autistic people are competent, complete human beings.

*I choose to use the terms "queer" and "lesbian" interchangeably, the former mainly due to the sociohistorical context of it and how it can in fact be made positive by a member of the LGBT community in the context of today.  I use the latter because of the simple, irrefutable fact that I am a woman who is attracted in every manner potential to other women.  This could, potentially, be worthy of a blog post all on its own at some point in time when which I may find it appropriate.  Yet, for the time being, I am only going to summarize my thoughts behind as to why I choose such identifying labels in regards to my sexual orientation.