When my son was three years old, we were headed to an autism event and I wanted to create the perfect shirt for him...something fun and catchy! What I came up with was the simple... 'Autistic Kids Rock'.
I loved it and it felt right to me, but at the time I remember thinking, "Is someone going to say something about saying 'Autistic Kid'!?"
You see, we were fairly new to the diagnosis at that point and I had so many parents telling me the proper terminology was 'child WITH autism'. The reasoning was that you wouldn't call someone with cancer and 'cancer child'. They argued that autism was a condition they had, not who they were. This is called person first language, and in other instances, perhaps this is the correct way to go. Still, with autism, something just never quite sat right with me. I often used the term so as not to offend anyone, but it just didn't feel right to me. I couldn't find anything wrong with describing my child as an autistic child... and person with autism? Well, it just didn't roll off the tongue either did it?
As I dived deeper into the autism community, I started reading accounts from autistic adults stating that they didn't view their autism as an affliction. It wasn't something that they HAD, but rather a part of who they were. They didn't want a cure because it would in fact change who they were. I saw this with my son too. Unlike an illness that plays no part in personality or the workings of one's brain, autism very much does. My son may have liked trains without his autism, but would he have the obsession and the dedication he did? He may have liked movies, but would he have the amazing knack for knowing just who made each movie and what year it came out? Would he talk the same? See the world the same? Would he have the same quirks and yes even flaws that made him who HE was? Without autism- the good and the bad- he would be a completely different child. It would have been impossible to separate who he was from his autism.
The more I thought about these things, the more I realized that he was not a child with autism. He was Shaun- an autistic child.
As it turns out, most autistic people feel the same. They don't like being called a person with autism because they too feel like their autism is an important part of what makes them them. They prefer identity first language.
As a mother, I can think of no greater resource on autism than those adults who are living it... so knowing this, I came to the conclusion that in our home, we would use identity first language. Are there still some who cringe when they hear me referring to my child as autistic? Oh, absolutely. Some might even try to correct me, but I know in my heart that autism is part of my son, and if we truly want acceptance, we cannot try and separate that.