6/06/2012

Language Police




Miss Wombles,

1. Person first language. Learn about it. This is the first clue that indicates to me that you are not equipped to have this type of discussion. --part of a new comment on a two-year-old post

The post, in itself, and the remainder of the person's comment aren't what's important here. Plenty of folks have tackled this issue of person-first language. Lydia of Autistic Hoya has done so several times. Stuart Duncan has covered it. I'm pretty sure there are few long-term bloggers in autism-land who haven't handled this issue.

As part of my master's in psychology, APA strongly insisted on person-first language, which in a ninety-page thesis can get incredibly tedious. But even the APA has backed away from that insistence in its latest update.
Although you should avoid labeling whenever possible, it is sometimes difficult to accurately account for the identity of your research population or individual participants without using language that can be read as biased. Making adjustments in how you use identifiers and other linguistic categories can improve the clarity of your writing and minimize the likelihood of offending your readers.
In general, you should call people what they prefer to be called, especially when dealing with race and ethnicity. But sometimes the common conventions of language inadvertently contain biases towards certain populations - e.g. using "normal" in contrast to someone identified as "disabled." Therefore, you should be aware of how your choice of terminology may come across to your reader, particularly if they identify with the population in question. (Purdue OWL) --emphasis mine.

It's a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of equality to refer to people by the terms they prefer. It's the height of rudeness and disrespect to force your own preferences on others and to insist, as this anonymous commenter has done, that one is "not equipped to have this type of discussion."  Firstly, it's an ad hom attack and offers no substance to the discussion at hand, which, let me point out, was a two-year-old article.

Language choices should be respected. For example, my son has no desire to be identified as autistic or as a person with autism. He's Bobby. That's who he is. He wants no other label. Lily, on the other hand, gravitated to her Asperger's because she associates it with Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, and she is proud to be like him. Rosie has no preference and doesn't care. How I refer to my kids depends on what the situation is and what the other people in the conversation need to know.

When I write an article on autism, I use autistic individuals and people with autism interchangeably. I have no personal preference. I am not autistic, so I shouldn't. I should respect what the majority seems to prefer, and when I'm dealing with individuals, I should use whatever those persons prefer.

Trolling the internet to play language police on person-first language is nothing more than that: trolling, and it misses the main point of having meaningful discourse that allows for growth and understanding.


3 comments:

autismandoughtisms said...

Fantastic post Kim, really very good, I shall be sharing it around. I particularly loved your examples of respecting the various ways in which your children identify with their autism; a lovely diversity which I think evidences some very open-minded and responsive parenting on your behalf.

laurenrmeyer said...

I so agree. Many people get bullied out of online conversations about autism by the language police. It's a shame their voices are silenced.

K Wombles said...

Thanks--I apologize for the tardiness in my response.