Autistic Person or Person with Autism

Online Poll: Which language are you most comfortable using?

We conducted an online poll between October and December 2105 to learn which language members of the community preferred to use when referring to autism in a person. A weakness in the poll is that it did not ask the voter to identify themselves as having autism/being autistic. In the future, a new poll should be conducted.

Until then, below are the results of the poll:

  • Prefer saying: “Autistic Person” (56%, 972 Votes)
  • Prefer saying: “Person with Autism” (25%, 439 Votes)
  • Use both (19%, 338 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,749

70 replies
  1. Autistic Luna
    Autistic Luna says:

    Identity-first language is standard in the Deaf, Blind, and Autistic communities. One of the greatest ways to show respect to a group of people is to actually listen to them. Autistic people have been using identity-first language for decades (beginning with Jim Sinclair), and its presence is constant throughout Autistic culture today.

    But don’t just take my word for it – here are the thoughts of other autistic people and organizations:
    http://autisticadvocacy.org/home/about-asan/identity-first-language/
    http://www.identityfirstautistic.org/
    http://autismmythbusters.com/general-public/autistic-vs-people-with-autism/jim-sinclair-why-i-dislike-person-first-language/
    http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/resources/101-3/ways-of-thinking-about-disability/identity-first-language/

    Identity-first is the standard for a/Autistic people. If someone specifically prefers person-first, then you should definitely respect that, but otherwise identity-first honors the community preference.

    Reply
    • Autistic Luna
      Autistic Luna says:

      I recognize that this is pretty new information to a lot of people. Autistic adults and Autistic culture tend to get swept under the rug, so how would people know?

      If you choose to use identity-first language, you may find it useful to make a footnote explaining the choice, perhaps referencing an article from the Autistic community. I’ve seen a lot of people and organizations do that, to help other people understand the reasoning behind the decision.

      I hope this helps! Have a great day.

      Reply
    • Grace
      Grace says:

      What Community?

      There is no “autistic community”. The very existence of any such thing is a myth. What there is, is a very self-selecting group, who claim to speak for all.

      One complaint from parents is that most people in this group are high functioning. There is some truth to this, but in my mind the bigger issues involve the willingness of a self-selected group who want to impose their will on all.

      We don’t even know if high-functioning or Aspergers is one disorder. What about even all the high functioning people who want a cure? What about all the people who don’t speak and can’t weigh in either way?

      Reply
  2. Grace
    Grace says:

    I prefer to consider myself “recovering from Aspergers”. Because between long term sensory enrichment, vision therapy, long Tomatis/Davis Sound Program with the ABT’s “InTime” program after, two years of NeuroNet after two years of Interactive Metronome/Balametrics and later RDI, and intensive virtual reality social training I AM becoming less of an “Aspie” and slowly but surely, and more of a normal person. I enjoy this change, and find my personality hasn’t changed a bit.

    Jim Sinclair’s claims flat out aren’t true or proven. They were just his speculation.

    I’m not just “faking it” or “Learning compensatory strategies”. I have found that now a lot of my new responses are pretty much instinctive and the old ones would feel unnatural. The process is slow, but it IS real. Nothing like psychiatrist’s droning on about compensation, or about Ari Ne’eman comparing it to closet homosexuality.

    Reply
  3. CC
    CC says:

    Autism is not a side salad, nor is it something that can be removed from me. While people who use PFL tend to dogmatically tell me that I am “more than my autism,” it is also something that affects every part of me and how I see the world. It is extremely integral to who I am. When people use PFL – and, worse, people who do so in spite of my clearly stated preference for IFL – they are telling me that they do not like who I am, and will not even let me be the undisputed arbiter of how I am to be discussed. I will not stand for that, period.

    Reply
  4. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I used to do all sorts of verbal gymnastics to do “people first” language of “person with autism.” But in the end, I think other language is more important (getting rid of the dreaded “R” word) than word order itself. And I look to the deaf community who prefer to identify as deaf and not “hearing challenged” or “person with hearing challenges.” I think we can make room for another way of looking at things.

    Reply
    • CC
      CC says:

      With respect, who is “we”? Non-autistic people need not “make room for another way of looking at things.” Non-autistic people need to understand that what autistic people wish to call themselves and have others call them is the only relevant factor.

      I’m not looking to attack you personally, but so many non-autistic people seem to think their opinion should matter as much as those of autistics on this score. They shouldn’t. What we call ourselves is of literally no importance to them. It can be everything to us.

      Reply
      • Michelle
        Michelle says:

        Yes you are trying to attack. The “we” is a universal “we” — as in all of “us” on the planet need to consider new ways of looking at things, yourself (obviously) included. I never held my opinion should be weighted more than someone else’s — this is an opinion board and I chimed in with an opinion. Lighten up.

        Reply
        • CC
          CC says:

          Congratulations on utterly missing the point. You don’t get to tell me what I am trying to do. I was trying to seek clarification and you took it as a personal attack because you still see your opinion as mattering more than those of the people this directly affects. I hope you don’t consider yourself an ally to autistic people – you’re a terrible one.

          Reply
  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    I’m not a person with autism, I am autistic, I don’t carry it around with me in a handbag or a backpack, it is an intrinsic part of me. I can’t not be autistic, I was born autistic, I live autistic and I will die autistic. Just as I was born left-handed and remain so. Not a person with left-handedness. Just as I was born an Australian not a person with Australianism.
    Autistic is not a bad word at all. I wear the word with pride as a part of my identity I am an Autistic left-handed Australian. And dam well proud of it too.

    Reply
  6. Teighlor
    Teighlor says:

    I’m Canadian. I’m a person from Canada. I’m female. I’m a person who is female. You’re literally saying the exact same thing, just adding more words. “Autistic” is not a bad word! Just like my nationality, it is apart of who I am. Not all that I am. But certainly a part of me. Sure, I’m a person with autism. But I’m definitely autistic. And that isn’t a bad thing.

    Reply
  7. Frank L. Ludwig
    Frank L. Ludwig says:

    I’m a person with maleness and Caucasianness, and autism is an integral and cherished part of my identity. Therefore I couldn’t possibly refer to myself other than an autistic person.

    Reply
  8. Sue Abramowski
    Sue Abramowski says:

    I prefer “autistic person” because autism is an integral part of who I am. It’s not an affliction or a disease, but simply part of what makes me the person I am!

    Reply
  9. Emma Goodall
    Emma Goodall says:

    As an autistic person I think my Aspergers is such an integral part of me that it cannot be separated out. It is not inherently negative or positive. It just is. I appreciate that some people are uncomfortable labelling their child for example. However all nouns and adjectives are labels! It is how society responds to the label that is important

    Reply
  10. Reina Grosvalet
    Reina Grosvalet says:

    I appreciate any NT who is willing to be an ally. My boyfriend is NT and so are most of my friends, and I find them to be really helpful in helping me succeed and understand this world. In turn, they learn a lot about me.

    Reply
  11. Reina Grosvalet
    Reina Grosvalet says:

    Judy, Autism defines me. Autism is very much wired into how I think, feel and perceive everything around me. Autism is responsible for my gifts, my high IQ. I’ll do one better. I’ll also call myself a Spectrumite.

    Reply
  12. Reina Grosvalet
    Reina Grosvalet says:

    I do not like person first language as it demonstrates shame in who I am. Yes, being on the spectrum presents it challenges; however, we all have challenges to contend with NT or not. So I embrace my Asperger’s Syndrome and the gifts it gives me.

    Reply
  13. Paula Jones
    Paula Jones says:

    For me personally, I’m autistic. I don’t have autism. It’s not like I can take it off and leave it at home when I go out.

    It’s part of me, one of my defining characteristics.

    But each to their own.

    Reply
  14. Chelle
    Chelle says:

    I don’t mind when people refer to me as a high functioning autistic, (and yes I know the functioning labels can carry misconceptions however I have not rendered them entirely inapplicable yet). I also know my alternate neuro wiring system to be a valuable component of my identity but not the entirety of it. But I still prefer “with autism.” I don’t say that like it’s an accessory though like some people think the phrase sounds like.

    Reply
  15. Elizabeth Vesely
    Elizabeth Vesely says:

    I think it is giving them human dignity and respect to say person with Autism. I consider my husband a man who has cerebral palsy. I think we are all human first. Afterall, that is the one thing every single human has in common is that we came from the same manner of conception on a cellular level and we should treat each other as such. The term human means flawed and imperfect probably more so than the Autism part. The way I look at it and we will all see this different and I can respect that, is that as a person flawed and imperfect this person has Autism which in many ways if we are really seeing the person rather than the Autism….really seeing the person under the “symptoms” ….who they are really is something amazing even given Autism. Thanks to Mendability, I am beginning to see a delightful, charming, pleasant and humorous boy under all of the “behavior stuff” that gets in the way of really seeing him. In a way saying person first is acknowledging that we are all flawed and imperfect and maybe the Autism part is saying at least these are not afraid to be who they are and should be accepted as is apart from proper social mores, behavior and perfect social and communicative skills. I suppose there is a ton of meaning that goes unsaid in the words we use.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Vesely
      Elizabeth Vesely says:

      I don’t get offended with whatever semantics thought as long as I don’t hear the “r” word. We should try to be easy going with each other and make this social connectedness thing easy on one another given Autism or not. Yep, they call me a hippie mom. What I say is just the meaning I have. Unless I ask, I don’t know the meaning behind terms other people use but we should all assume the best of each other. :)

      Reply
      • Elizabeth Vesely
        Elizabeth Vesely says:

        I’m really glad to hear that a lot of people don’t use the terms I do. But, I’m not going to argue or get upset. I think it’s silly to argue especially online where we can’t see or talk to each other in person and have never met. Who wants to be friends with a person who can’t allow you to have your own opinions and beliefs about semantics without being offended?

        Reply
    • Kat
      Kat says:

      I disagree. I feel that we are a genetic variance, a different KIND of person, I see Autism as the real life version of the X-Men or the Tomorrow People. We may not have the ability to move things with our minds, fly or have laser vision but we sure do differ from non autistics in a way that isn’t replicated within groups of strictly non autistics.

      We aren’t sick, we aren’t diseased or afflicted – we are simply born different. If society would restructure to accommodate our natural states, we would all have much higher functioning rates.

      For me that would mean having help with things like: Doctors being understanding of me missing appointments due to a memory issue, accidentally writing down the wrong day/time or even me having an anxiety attack & simply not being able to make myself go. (Many doctors refuse to schedule with you again if this happens or they only allow 1 missed appointment). Extended deadlines or assistance with filling out paperwork for schools/assistance programs/basically anything. Access to schools or alternate schooling options that will actually allow us to learn in a way that works for US, an option that allows us to focus on our own passions & tells us we CAN SUCCEED (I was always told my dream jobs were in realistic & to not even try – I wanted to work in forensics or archeology/paleontology but was terrible at doing homework & being on time to school).

      Changes like that (and so many more things) would serve to remove the unrealistic expectations & put realistic & positive things in place to allow us to be the best versions of ourselves. We have never been nor will never be “non autistic” – we are not flawed or defective (though we can be just as imperfect as anyone else) we’re just us.

      Sorry, I’m just saying…. It isn’t easy living your whole life being expected to be as “normal” as possible even though it’s just never exactly possible because you ARE normal, just different.

      Just my thoughts anyways…..

      Reply
  16. Jadea
    Jadea says:

    Autistic person – with a capital ‘A’ – I also use ‘disabled person’.

    Autism is literally who I am – how I think, communicate, feel emotions, feel sensations, experience the world, interact with the world, it is how my personality was formed and my memories are tinted through autistic understanding – if we are anything we are our mind and so to suggest that our brains are somehow separate from who we are is nonsensical. I find person-first language offensive to those of us born with certain neurologies or disabilities as it’s othering, the suggestion is that able-bodied neurotypical people are the norm and we are something different, flawed, broken…it suggests that autism is something that happened to us, that we should otherwise be neurotypical.

    I also like identity-first language because it represents us as a community, among a people who are so often excluded from the rest of society and find ourselves alone or rejected by our peers, having others like us helps improve our own self-worth. How many of us were diagnosed later in life and felt a huge sense of joy when we realized that we weren’t the only ones…that we weren’t alone after all? Our identity reaffirms that, thus I believe why the term ‘Aspie’ is so popular among those who have an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis.

    Reply
  17. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I voted ‘both’ as I’m ok with using whatever the autistic person wants to use. My own preference is autistic. I’m NT btw with an autistic son.

    Reply
  18. Kate Gladstone
    Kate Gladstone says:

    Frank — To preemptivrey assign all of history’s inventors to the category “autistic” is as questionable — and is as disrespectful of their (genrrally unknown) actual neurologies, whatever these were — as to decidie on any other stranger’s neurology without evidence, How do you imagine you would know if (for example) whoever invemted something several thousand years ago (some ancient invmtion like cheese or knitting or pottery) was, or was not, diagnosable as an autistic tday: thousands of years later, in ignorance of ANYthing about the person?
    Autistic chauvinism is as unsupported as any other kind.

    Reply
  19. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I am autistic, as is my son. We prefer identity first language. Being autistic is an inherent part of our identity. It can’t be separated from us. It also isn’t a disease or a negative thing (to me person first language implies that autism is something bad or some sort of disease).

    All of the autistic people I know prefer identity first language. I suspect the vast majority of people who say they prefer person first language aren’t autistic. Autistic people should be able to choose how they wish to be identified. Any autistic people who prefer person first language should have their choice respected too.

    Reply
  20. Lexi
    Lexi says:

    If it requires semantics to remind yourself that a person is, well, a person, that says more about you than it does about them.

    It seems clear that most autistic people prefer IFL. Obviously if an individual says they prefer PFL, then respect to that, and use it with that person. Never met one myself, but I’m sure they exist.

    Reply
  21. Daniel Obejas
    Daniel Obejas says:

    Applying person-first language to autism makes no sense. The person and the autism are the same entity. You cannot be “with” something that you ARE.

    Reply
  22. Holly
    Holly says:

    Neither one bothers me and I have used both to describe myself. I think as long as people mean no ill will, why take offense? People can’t win whether they say one or the other, either way someone will be offended. It’s crazy. If someone means well, why take offense?

    Reply
  23. Corina Becker
    Corina Becker says:

    If you have to insist that I am a person, and refer to me as such when you talk to and about me, then subconsciously you really don’t think I am a person at all. That is the problem with Person First Language.

    However, since Autism is pervasive and a part of our DNA from the beginning, it is a part of who we are, you cannot separate it from us as people. Autism describes how we think, how we feel, how we interact with the world. Therefore, we are Autistic.

    Reply
  24. MZ
    MZ says:

    autistic is not a dirty word. what are you saying about autistic people if you think it is insulting to call us what we are?

    Reply
  25. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    I generally prefer “autistic person” rather than “person with autism” because it’s so intrinsic to how we see and experience the world. I’m tempted to use glasses as an example of the opposite, that I am “a person with glasses” as that doesn’t affect my view and experience of the world…except it does because without them everything’s fuzzy!

    For myself, I will *always* say that I am autistic rather than I have/I am a person with autism, because it’s so central to who I am, my identity, the way I experience the world, all of which would be completely different if I was NT.

    However, I respect that some people prefer “person with autism” and because of this, the crucial thing is to ASK THE INDIVIDUAL PERSON WHICH THEY PREFER and use their preferred term. Some of us prefer one way, some the other, and it comes down to individual preferences (so yes, you may have to chop and change between the two!)

    Reply
  26. essijay
    essijay says:

    I don’t like either of these, really. I call myself an aut or an aspie. Why would I need to refer to myself as a person? I’m obviously not a unicorn. No one is arguing the fact that I’m a person, therefore I don’t feel the need to throw it out there every time I refer to myself.

    Reply
    • Penny P
      Penny P says:

      I like your logic! Why should I have to explain that I’m a person, indeed?

      I tend to prefer Aspie for myself and my sons on the spectrum.

      Autistic people/PWA should obviously use whatever terminology they prefer. It seems to me that there are a lot of angry autism mommies out there who are banging the person-first drum pretty hard, and that’s mostly about them.

      Reply
  27. Kate Gladstone
    Kate Gladstone says:

    I’m not a “person with Americanism” or a “person with Judaism” or a “person with female-ism” … such clinical and dehumanizing phrases don’t become magically respectful if you insist I’m a “person with autism.”

    If “person with _______ ” language actually respected anyone, then “people with neurotypicality” would be using it about each other, not just about us.

    Reply
  28. Angela
    Angela says:

    I am autistic, period. There is no way around that, but I’m also just a person, no way around that either. I would prefer people stop fighting over wording and start getting to know us as individuals. Meet us where we are and learn what WE as INDIVIDUALS want/need/feel. I don’t care what words you use.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Vesely
      Elizabeth Vesely says:

      I agree, no arguments about semantics. Opinions are great and I will totally respect a person if they demand I change my semantics for them but it’s not necessary with me. :)

      Reply
  29. Klara Westhoff
    Klara Westhoff says:

    I prefer “autistic person”, because I also say “blind person” oder “deaf person”. If you say “person with autism, it seems for me, as if it means a tag. But autism is a way to be, also as to be blind. Nobody says “a person with blindness”, so why should I say “person with autism.

    My son is autistic, not person with autism :-)

    Reply
  30. judy
    judy says:

    i apologize if i have offended any of you. i tespect your opinion. My statents were not meant to offend and i don’t believe i was able to get my point across in the manner i wanted.
    having worked with children and adults with multiple disabilities for 30 years it been important to me to tecognize the individual as a person first. an individual. then recognizing their unique qualities. i have a brother who is Gay . he is first and foremost my brother. and he is GAY and married. i have a grandson who has autism. he’s my grandson and he has autism. i love him do much. i have a friend who has a mental illness. as opposed to having a mentally ill friend. . the mental ill ess does not define my friend
    if you think i am daying these things to be offendive i not amd i m sorry if it comes across that way
    judy

    Reply
  31. Susan
    Susan says:

    I have autism, but I am autistic. Why do I say that? Because to say person with sounds like you are saying the person has a disease. To say person with is not accepting the identity aspect of autism or whatever the challenge may be. A person who cannot hear is a deaf person because the deaf have their own culture with their own language; therefore, we say that they are deaf or a deaf person. So why should autism be different? We are autistic because it is an ingrained part of what makes us who we are.

    Reply
    • Klara Westhoff
      Klara Westhoff says:

      that’s it, Susan. I wasn’t able to explain it in this wonderful way like you did. My problems with english language. My son is always loughing at me, because for him English is like his first language. It should be german, but he dreams and thinks English.

      Reply
  32. Stella
    Stella says:

    As an Aspie i feel that i am an autistic person, it makes me sound like an individual among others with autism and not just a PC statistic “Person with autism” .

    Reply
  33. Frank L. Ludwig
    Frank L. Ludwig says:

    By the way, am I right in guessing that almost all of the ‘person with autism’ votes come from non-autistics? ;)

    Reply
  34. Frank L. Ludwig
    Frank L. Ludwig says:

    Autism is part of my identity, and just like I don’t refer to myself as a ‘person with maleness’ or a ‘person with Caucasianness’, I shall not call myself a ‘person with autism’. Furthermore, autism is not a disability or a disorder, it is a different way of thinking which benefits everybody. From the invention of the wheel to the development of the Internet, autistic minds have driven the progress of mankind.

    Reply
      • Frank L. Ludwig
        Frank L. Ludwig says:

        Simple, an invention requires original thought, which in turn requires an autistic mind ;)

        Have you ever heard of a non-autistic inventor?

        Reply
        • Kate Gladstone
          Kate Gladstone says:

          Frank, I have _met_ non-autistic inventors. I’m as certain that they aren’t autistic as I’m certain that others (whom I’ve also met) are autistic.

          In the light of this, and otherwise, i have no reason to accept your premise that autism is required for originsl thought.

          What evidence would you accept as demonststing the existence of originsl thought in a non-autistic human being? Also, what evidence would you accept as demonstrating that a particular human being is non-autistic? When someone who fits that evidence is an inventor, do you examine and revise your premises? Or do you tell him: “You cannot have invented what you invented, because you are not autistic”?

          Reply
          • Frank L. Ludwig
            Frank L. Ludwig says:

            You’re lucky, I don’t think I’ve ever met an inventor myself. However, the biographies of all great inventors (and scientists in general) indicate that they were/are on the autistic spectrum. Hans Aperger pointed out that ‘ for success in science or art a dash of autism is essential’, and I think he was right.

            Of course I may be convinced otherwise if I came across an inventor who displays no autistic traits.

  35. Rachel Clark
    Rachel Clark says:

    I prefer to call myself autistic. For one thing, it’s a heck of a lot easier to say than “person with autism”. And for another thing, I’m also Jewish, and I’m also Lesbian, and it would be ridiculous if I were to refer to myself, or if anyone else were to refer to me as “a person with Judaism” and “a person with Lesbianism”. No one questions or feels they have to defend my personhood over being Lesbian and Jewish; my being Autistic shouldn’t necessitate reminding folks I’m a person either.

    Reply
    • essijay
      essijay says:

      …I dunno… you’re quite the oppressed individual… I’m pretty sure you should be constantly reminding everyone that you’re a person. (I say this completely tongue-in-cheek — I’m also an autistic non-Christian lesbian. :-) )

      Reply
  36. Judy Fiedler
    Judy Fiedler says:

    Person first language. Shows respect. Does not use the condition to define the person.
    A person would not refer to a person with cancer as the cancerous person. In fact we should take this into consideration when referring to any individual.

    Reply
    • Semilocon
      Semilocon says:

      @Judy Fiedler: So you’re just going to compare my identity to cancer? Really? Because that’s not ableist at all (big sarcasm sign).

      Reply
    • Susan
      Susan says:

      Judy, I have to disagree and anyway, a cancer patient is a cancer patient. You don’t call someone who teaches a person with teaching skills or a musician a person who has musical gifting. Respect the autistics on here who clearly and eloquently indicated that they do prefer to be called autistic. Stop stripping away our identity with the derogatory people first language. BTW, I am hard of hearing and I have a lot of deaf friends. They are deaf people because they have a culture. Autism is not that much different, therefore we have a culture and we are autistic.

      Reply
    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Autism is in no way similar to cancer, and unlike cancer it can easily define a person. Autism is a neurotype, which means that anything and everything I do is affected by the fact that I’m Autistic, therefore trying to separate Autism from me is ridiculous. I use person first language if an individual specifically requests it, but that is the only situation in which I will use it and even then I feel uncomfortable with it because it implies that the person is detaching themself from their neurotype suggesting that their self image may be damaged or that they may have been subjected to the idea that their brain is defective.

      Reply

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