My son is autistic. There, I said it.
During the last few years, advocacy groups for the disabled have encouraged the use of “People-First Language”. This concept has become the new and “correct” way of identifying an individual with disabilities. This means that, in my case, it would be incorrect to refer to my son as being autistic. Instead, I would need to say that he has autism. While I do appreciate the effort to not define the person by the disability, I think this is a matter of semantics. And it’s ridiculous.
Think about it. If we were to separate the condition or characteristic from the person, in every instance:
Wrong would be: “I am overweight”. Right would be: “I have extra weight”
Wrong would be: “I am a musician”. Right would be: “I have musicianship” — yeah, that doesn’t even translate.
Wrong would be: “I am talented”. Right would be: “I have talent” — Fine, they both work, but the first one is not really “wrong”
Wrong would be: “I am an American”. Right would be: “I am from America”
So what is the point? Is it to make sure that the autistic individual is not defined by a label? I think the label stands even if we say that someone “has” autism. Being a diabetic and having diabetes are one and the same! Either way, the person is medically defined by the pancreatic decease. Whether the person is or has, he still needs to stay away from sweets, inject insulin, and wear a medical warning on the wrist.
My son has autism, therefore he is autistic. Does it define him? Well, yes. And no. Autism influences the way he perceives the world, the way he processes information, the way he communicates, the way he conducts himself. His extreme talents and equally extreme disabilities and obstacles are because of autism. So yes, autism -not the label- defines him. And yet, autism does not define him. He is my son, autistic or not, he is loved and cared for, autistic or not. He can know God, autistic or not. He has feelings and desires, autistic or not. He loves. He is precious and valuable. So whether he is autistic or has autism, his essence as a person will never change.
My humble opinion is that we should just stop being silly pretending that the use of our verbs will alter the perception of the person. The overweight person can lose the weight, but the autistic person will more than likely never lose his autism. It is what it is. Let’s drop the semantics, people. It’s all good.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.