Autistic is Okay

Last night, during the presidential debates, President Obama said “autistic kid.”

OH, THE MOTHERFUCKING HORROR.

Everyone should immediately commence to freaking out about person-first language instead of what really matters, which is that many people with disabilities require government assistance and that is what the president was talking about.

This is what ran through my mind when I heard those words:

(1) Hooray! We’re on the president’s radar!

(2) Hooray! The president used the term embraced by many, many self-advocates!

(3) Oh, shit. The person-firsters are going to have a motherfucking field day with this.

I would like to state for the record that if you prefer person first terminology, cool, man. Do your thang. I couldn’t care less how you refer to yourself or your child or your nephew or that mythological family with the kid that the president mentioned. Those words don’t hurt me.

BUT! DO NOT TELL ME HOW TO REFER TO MYSELF OR MY CHILD.

When you tell me that those words are limiting, that they are obscuring the person with the disability? No. They aren’t. YOU are. If I say that I am autistic or that my son is autistic and that means that you can’t see the individual intertwined within? That can’t be undone with a phrase such as “with autism.”

I use person first language sometimes. If someone prefers it, I try to use it when I refer to them or their child. But my preference—and that of many people I know—is to use “autistic.” Most people I know who say “autistic” don’t care if you say “with autism.” But for some reason, the people who say “with autism” really, really care if I say “autistic.” I don’t think it is asking too much to hope that people don’t tell me what words I can use.

I know that person-first language REALLY matters to some of you. Dude, that’s cool. Cool like a motherfucking cucumber. I get it. Words matter to me too. Use person-first language. Use your words. But let me use mine and let the president use his. Or we can bitch about his language enough that he never talks about us again.

President Obama wasn’t disrespecting your kid. I believe that he was respecting the self-advocates he talks to. If he were disrespecting your kid, he’d be dismantling Medicaid instead of talking about your family.

Seriously. I have seen this argument being debated all over the internet today. Today? This is what you want to obsess about? This is the important thing? Because I have a hell of a long list of things that bothered me about the debate last night and wanting to tell other people how to refer to themselves isn’t even on the goddamn list.

58 thoughts on “Autistic is Okay

  1. A-FRICKEN-MEN. Thank you for saying this, couldn’t agree more. Also, I just have to say that it feels as if people who rally against the use of autistic fundamentally don’t understand how adjectives work.

  2. A link to this article was Retweeted onto my TL. For once I’m glad I followed a link that way. I agree with you. The fact that he mentioned it and brought it up in front of the whole country, which in itself brings awareness, is good. Being petty over the use of a word that is acceptable to people “with autism” and that are “autistic” is a waste of time and energy. People should fight actual battles. And no, I myself am not “autistic”, in reality I know one family that has a child “with autism”. They told me straight out that “he is autistic”, it should be up to the person not pushed on them. Like religion and political beliefs.

    • Classy language from you and this blogger. I wouldn’t listen to anything from either of you regarding autism advocacy because your filthy mouths make both of you sound like you have the intelligence level of a couple of fleas.

  3. =D
    Sing it. Yes.

    I thought it was possible, even likely, that it was a nod to self advocates’ preferred term. It’s not like Obama has never met (or hired) an Autistic adult…

  4. If it IS a problem that needs changing, there have to be 178 other things that are more important that we need to change first. I’m happy that someone wants to protect my kids. Not punish me for having the bad grace to have kids with disabilities.

  5. “Because I have a hell of a long list of things that bothered me about the debate last night and wanting to tell other people how to refer to themselves isn’t even on the goddamn list.”

    Yup, exactly. So many other things on the list.
    I love the way you write and I lurve you to pieces.

    (I have a lot of grammar issues on the list though…)

  6. Thank you for this! I replied to a couple of tweets last night, and actually had someone reply to me telling me that “autistic” isn’t politically correct! According to WHOM? The great number of people on the spectrum who use that term to describe themselves?? This community better get its act together and come to some agreement about what issues we’re going to get a panties in a twist over, or we’re never going to achieve anything for our kids.

  7. Yes!!! You totally, completely nailed it. “President Obama wasn’t disrespecting your kid. I believe that he was respecting the self-advocates he talks to. If he were disrespecting your kid, he’d be dismantling Medicaid instead of talking about your family.” And ALL the other things you said too!

    You are all sorts of awesome!!

  8. Thank you!
    I was shocked one day when one of my daughter’s therapists told me I shouldn’t be calling her autistic…I should say she has autism. I don’t see anything wrong with someone being autistic, so why would I object to people using the word??? She IS autistic! And I’m fine with that! No, it’s not ALL she is, but heck, if you can’t see THAT, using different words isn’t going to fix you!
    Anyway, thank you! I’m glad I’m not alone on this one!

  9. Thanks — I do tend to believe that the biggest thing here is that autism is on the national radar and THAT should be celebrated. Neither I nor a member of my immediate family is autistic/has autism. I really appreciate learning of the linguistic debate from you. My goal generally is to use the language prefered by the group to whom I am referring. I had been trying to us person with autism because I had been told that this was preferred. Now I will listen more closely to how the impacted person/family speaks and take my cue from them regarding their family member.

  10. Yes! THIS: “President Obama wasn’t disrespecting your kid. I believe that he was respecting the self-advocates he talks to. If he were disrespecting your kid, he’d be dismantling Medicaid instead of talking about your family.”

    It’s like the advocates for person-first language would rather throw out the baby with the bath water. *head>>desk*

  11. You don’t hear the deaf community complaining about being termed the deaf community. Hell they are up in arms about people who want to “cure deafness” by implanting cochlear implants into people who are too young to give their own informed consent.

    They OWN “being deaf” the way Nick Giannopoulos “took back” the term Wog in Australia.

    My son has Autism. He is Autistic. At some stage he may be able to speak enough to tell us if he care which term he prefers. When that happens, I’ll be too busy partying to care any more.

  12. Yes, personally, I am ecstatic that the President actually said something about autism.

    Then again, I am ecstatic that my son didn’t fly into a nuclear meltdown when he had difficulty getting on his shoes.

    So, maybe I’m not the best judge here. :)

  13. Didn’t Obama APPOINT the autistic self advocate who urges use of “autistic”? He did, right? That’s why he knows. I’m incapable of discussing person-first without writing War and Peace. . . but I agree with your post.

  14. This: “Or we can bitch about his language enough that he never talks about us again.”
    And this: “If he were disrespecting your kid, he’d be dismantling Medicaid instead of talking about your family.”

    Thank you.

  15. Stimey for President indeed. Then you can make an executive order and read it in the rose garden.

    Ahem.

    I hereby declare from this day forward that all you motherf*ckers will refer to autism as ‘riding shotgun with awesome’. Signed, President Stimey

  16. Autism= ‘riding shotgun with awesome’ made me laugh and laugh and laugh!
    I love this entire piece. A few weeks back, I referred to my son as autistic (as he does) and a friend asked why I don’t say ‘with autism’ in a way that felt judgmental. I tried to explain but was not nearly as eloquent. I wish I could have that conversation again with your words as reference.

  17. Great post. One of the things that bugs me most about presidential debates is how small a proportion of attention actually goes to the CONTENT of what is said, rather than the packaging.

  18. Now you’ve got me thinking about the whole minefield that is labeling. There’s a huge in-group/out-group component to it. If you belong to the category, you’re “allowed” to label it as you like. (“I’m autistic” or “I’m Indian” said by a Native American, and no one complains.) But for anyone OUTSIDE that particular group who uses a label — most likely someone will always object.

    I have generalized appreciation for the idea — how others refer to you is important and can reflect their underlying attitudes. But really, there’s a big difference between using a label that is clearly based in historical bias or intentionally marginalizing (like “Orientals” or “retards”) and having to make a choice between roughly equal alternatives that group members themselves currently use.

    Things like this make me want to stop saying anything, ever.

    • I think you’re right about the in-group/out-group thing for certain terms. I don’t know any autistic people who self-identify that way that wouldn’t accept being called that by someone outside the community. I mean, I’m sure they’re out there, but for the most part, I think you’re safe with this one.

  19. I was watching the debates while running on a treadmill at the gym – and did a little woo-hoo and fist-pump when he made the reference to children/families facing Autism. I didn’t think for a second about Autistic as opposed to “with Autism.” And I still don’t see what the bit deal is.

  20. Ok, I guess I have be on my own little autism island. So there are people out there now saying I can not say my son is autistic. WTF is that!!! What am I supposed to say, he suffers with autism? He is living with autism? He is down with autism…

    WTF, if everyone who is wasting time over what to call a person with autism devoted that time to pushing our government represetatives to fund research, and treatment for autism, just imagine the strides we could be making.

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