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Kay W

Kay W
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Texas, United States
Birthday
June 22
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Teacher, tinker, geek, mother, wife

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Salon.com
JUNE 6, 2012 11:27AM

Language Police

Rate: 1 Flag



Miss Wombles,

1. Person first language. Learn about it. This is the first clue that indicates to me that you are not equipped to have this type of discussion. --part of a new comment on a two-year-old post

The post, in itself, and the remainder of the person's comment aren't what's important here. Plenty of folks have tackled this issue of person-first language. Lydia of Autistic Hoya has done so several times. Stuart Duncan has covered it. I'm pretty sure there are few long-term bloggers in autism-land who haven't handled this issue.

As part of my master's in psychology, APA strongly insisted on person-first language, which in a ninety-page thesis can get incredibly tedious. But even the APA has backed away from that insistence in its latest update.
Although you should avoid labeling whenever possible, it is sometimes difficult to accurately account for the identity of your research population or individual participants without using language that can be read as biased. Making adjustments in how you use identifiers and other linguistic categories can improve the clarity of your writing and minimize the likelihood of offending your readers.
In general, you should call people what they prefer to be called, especially when dealing with race and ethnicity. But sometimes the common conventions of language inadvertently contain biases towards certain populations - e.g. using "normal" in contrast to someone identified as "disabled." Therefore, you should be aware of how your choice of terminology may come across to your reader, particularly if they identify with the population in question. (Purdue OWL) --emphasis mine.

It's a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of equality to refer to people by the terms they prefer. It's the height of rudeness and disrespect to force your own preferences on others and to insist, as this anonymous commenter has done, that one is "not equipped to have this type of discussion."  Firstly, it's an ad hom attack and offers no substance to the discussion at hand, which, let me point out, was a two-year-old article.

Language choices should be respected. For example, my son has no desire to be identified as autistic or as a person with autism. He's Bobby. That's who he is. He wants no other label. Lily, on the other hand, gravitated to her Asperger's because she associates it with Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, and she is proud to be like him. Rosie has no preference and doesn't care. How I refer to my kids depends on what the situation is and what the other people in the conversation need to know.

When I write an article on autism, I use autistic individuals and people with autism interchangeably. I have no personal preference. I am not autistic, so I shouldn't. I should respect what the majority seems to prefer, and when I'm dealing with individuals, I should use whatever those persons prefer.

Trolling the internet to play language police on person-first language is nothing more than that: trolling, and it misses the main point of having meaningful discourse that allows for growth and understanding.


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This issue is something I've struggled with when introducing Bobby to people, especially when acting as his advocate. Since Bobby is low- to non-verbal, he must always be accompanied by a caregiver who can help him navigate the complexities of our very verbal world.

Autism changes the dynamics of social situations. Sometimes I need to communicate to people immediately what the situation is and how I need them to react in order for Bobby to have a successful interaction with them. So, if I say "He's autistic and nonverbal," rather than "he's a person with autism who has difficulty speaking," I'm simply trying to communicate in a way that I believe is more direct and will lead to a better outcome. If I sense Bobby is seconds away from a major meltdown, I'll take the more direct way that in my experience has better results rather than trying to fumble around with awkward phrasing that oftentimes leads to quizzical expressions and additional questions from the person I'm addressing.

So, I guess I'll take my lumps from the person first language proponents if need be. I try very hard to be a good advocate for Bobby and I'm sure I flub up from time to time when presenting him and his form of autism to the world. While Bobby can't communicate verbally what he prefers, his nonverbal cues are pretty clear. If my use of quick and concise communication gets him out of a challenging social situation, then that's what I'll opt for 100% of the time.

Thanks for your posts. I enjoy reading them and appreciate your thoughtful approach.
Thank you, Elizabeth.

It seems to me that most of the time, people are reacting rather than taking the time to consider where other people are coming from--especially on the internet--and a good many who go around trying to police other's language just want to shut dialogue and discussion down.

In those cases, like the comment that I highlighted, I try to remember to consider the source and file it accordingly.

Most of us are doing the best we can and working hard to be good advocates--we should raise people up, not tear them down or let semantics get in the way.