For November 2018, I’m exploring different things people have said to me, then the internal thoughts those remarks stirred.
Because person-first language is the answer, right?
I understand the good intentions behind this argument. After all, people of color see first-person language as a sign of, well, putting the person first.
The reasoning is solid: ethnic identity should not define the potential and limitations of an individual as much as it does in our current society; we are a spectrum of One Race, and should respect each other as such.
But autistic people vastly prefer the term “autistic person” over “person with autism.” If you tune your ear to the conversations happening between actually autistic people, you’ll learn this.
Nine times out of ten, when I’m policed by an Internet dweller to use person-first language for autistic people (i.e., person with autism), I find an allistic (a.k.a., neurotypical; not autistic) parent behind the curtain.
And just as people of color decided that was how they’d like to be addressed, it’s us actually autistic people who should determine how we’re addressed.
Whenever a parent of an autistic child polices my rhetoric on autism, it feels like a bunch of men gathering in Congress to decide what happens to women’s bodies. It’s degrading. It isn’t a neurotypical person’s place.
So why would I like you to call me an autistic person, instead of a person with autism?
Because just as history drags ethnicity to the foreground to suppress people of color, history pushes autism into the background to suppress us.
Just as the spotlight’s put on a person’s shade of skin, darkness is cast on autism.
So one suppressed group is creating rhetoric that puts the person first, while another suppressed group is creating rhetoric that makes their differability visible.
If you don’t think autism is shoved into the background, consider ABA therapy. In ABA therapy, the autistic person is taught how to not act autistic. The “remedy” for autism is to force it in a closet. Push those stims down, way down.
We call ourselves an invisible minority because, as society stands now, the goal is to erase or hide us. The structure of early 21st century life is designed so autistic behaviors are shamed, bullied, rejected, and declined.
Yet our autism defines every aspect our lives.
Consider the nature of reality and sensory perception. Descartes struggled with whether sensory perceptions could be manipulated by an external demon to keep us trapped in an illusion. The brain-in-a-jar thought experiment was depicted brilliantly in The Matrix, where sensory information was fed by the ruling machine race into humans trapped in pods.
So if autistic people often experience sensory sensitivity, or a heightened amount of incoming data for our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, temperature, time, and so on, is this not a shift in how we perceive the world?
Of course it is. Autistic people truly think-feel a different experience than allistic people.
The suppression of these differences has a similar effect to gaslighting.
Deny the autistic person their authentic experience of reality by teaching them suppression through ABA therapy, and they will struggle. It may not surface until mid-life, but there are agonizing repercussions to putting our autism second.
Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at Kourtnie.net or Wattpad.com/user/KourtnieNet.