I recall saying in an interview that I see myself as autistic rather than a person with autism because I see autism as who I am rather than as something I have. I then learned that most autistic people see their identity similarly: most autists prefer identity-first language to person-first language. To say that someone is autistic is to use identity first language. To say a person with autism is to use person first language. Language matters because word choice influences how people are seen and treated. Words influence how people feel about themselves.
Years ago, when I worked as a caregiver for developmentally disabled adults, I used person-first language because the agency I worked for taught its staff that person first language, referring to someone as a person with a disability or a person with autism, is more proper, more polite, than calling them disabled or autistic. Now that I’ve accept my own autism, I experience autism as my identity rather than an accessory of my identity. Autistic people are the first group of people I truly connected with because autists, my neurokin, are the people who make the most sense to me. My neurokin share my culture: they speak my language, behave similar to me, share many of my experiences.
I feel that to say that I am with autism is to suggest many things I don’t feel or believe: that my autism is a problem, a medical condition, something I can rid myself or tamp down through treatments. For similar reasons, I don’t accept ASD acronym because autism isn’t a disorder. Autism is an orderly neurotype. And for many reasons, I don’t identify with the term Asperger’s.
Many nonautistic people have told me that autism doesn’t define a person but is only a small part of them. This is true for some, but for myself, I disagree. For while autism isn’t entirely who I am, autism certainly defines me. I didn’t know myself before I accepted my autism, and after a lifetime of having my experiences denied, I’m still learning who I am.
A person’s neurotype is based on their neurological landscape. I’m autistic because I’m wired this way. Brains and bodies are one, cannot be separated. Some have corrected me, have told me my language is inappropriate, that I shouldn’t use the word autistic, or the word autist. This has, at times, shaken me, made me wonder if I’d misspoken.
Similarly, many people of many races have tried to teach me how to be black. So when I meet an autist who uses language I disagree with, or who holds opposite views, I refuse to correct or reject them. Still, I don’t see how it’s helpful to control someone else’s language, as conformity discourages true self-expression.