Person-First vs. Identity-First Language

People are often taken back or even insulted by the controversy about whether to refer to someone as an “autistic individual” versus an “individual with autism.” This is not just semantics. The autism community is split on whether to use person-first or identity-first language, and language can play a major role in forming societal attitudes and biases. Along with several others, I was recently interviewed by Felipe Maya for an Autism Speaks podcast on this issue.

The Autism Self-Advocacy Network favors identity-first language because autism in an inherent part of a person’s identity. This is similar to referring to individuals as Muslims, Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Italian, etc. In contrast, many parents of Autistic individuals and professionals prefer “person with autism” or “individual with ASD” because they do not consider autism to be part of an individual’s identity and do not want their children to be identified or referred to as “Autistic.” They prefer “person-first language,” that puts the emphasis on the humanity of their children.

A majority of people in the Blind and Deaf communities, as well as Autism Self Advocates, prefer identity-first language.  They feel they cannot be separated from their blindness, deafness, or autism. They are proud of these aspects of themselves and want their identities to be respected and honored. People on the person-first side of the issue feel that putting a label first in some way diminishes the person. They want people to be considered first, before any label.

All want the same thing—for the innate worth as human beings to be respected and honored. Let’s not divide our community.  Each individual’s preference should be honored and respected for their unique human qualities.

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  1. As a parent of two children with autism, I personally do not like my kids to be referred to as Autistic. Simply put, would others ever refer to children with Cancer as being “cancerous” or “canceristic?” Nope! Just like I do not refer to my children as being “Autistic” but instead refer to them as “children with autism,” society prefers the term ‘children with cancer” over “cancerous children” right?!


    1. Do you refer to bind people as people with blindness? Autism is not a disease, it is a neurological difference. Insulting autism is the same thing as insulting the person. You are teaching your children to hate themselves; which is partly why our suicide rates are so high.


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