Thursday, October 27, 2005

Autistics or People With Autism?

I came across a list of "Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew" by Ellen Notbohm, via Reflections of a mom living an Autistic child. The first item claims the following:

"I am a child with autism. I am not "autistic." My autism is one aspect of my total character. It does not define me as a person. Are you a person with thoughts, feelings and many talents, or are you just fat (overweight), myopic (wear glasses) or klutzy (uncoordinated, not good at sports)?"

I've read others who claim the exact opposite. They say that saying they "have autism" or are "people with autism" is derogatory, since it sounds like a disease. Like "people with cancer" or who "have cerebral palsy". In their opinion, if you are referred to as autistic, it means that it is just part of who you are.

So, who's right? First of all, definitely not Ellen Notbohm. She claims to speak for every child with autism, but most of the autistics on-line have written they consider themselves autistics and not people with autism for the reasons I wrote above. So if you go by self-determination, most autistics (at least the adult ones who participate in the blogosphere) have decided against the "with autism" label. Saying they are autistic doesn't mean they are only autistics. Try comparing it with other minorities - if you're Jewish or African-American, that isn't all you are.

That doesn't mean the "anti-with autism, pro-autistics" are right. I don't think that saying someone has autism is derogatory. If a person has X or is a person with Y - the X and Y won't necessarily be diseases or anything negative.

In other words, I think that both options are acceptable. Autistics are people with autism and vice versa. Neither one is a negative term.



  1. looks like just a semantic issue. autistics or kids with autism isn't the interesting debate. is it autism or mercury poisoning - now that's the big question

  2. Oh, well, I see it as just another example of political correctness gone AWOL and it shows that those who feel "persecuted" by some term, word or label are just as capable as contributing to this semantic madness, as our well-paid and well-coiffed think-tank members.