My Son is Autistic. There, I said it.

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.

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

Gabriel and Juan hanging out in DC

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.

Psalm 139:13-14

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10 thoughts on “My Son is Autistic. There, I said it.

  1. You are right. It’s all semantics, if you want to be so proper – I would say it’s all bullshit. Like you say a person is autistic, or diabetic, or schizophrenic, or any of a myriad of problems that kids are born with and adults acquire. What difference does it make what we have? I think Gabriel is an amazing human being. He lives in a dimension that is his, all his. He is like us in his wants, emotions, physical being, but his brain is unique, even if it throws the parents through a loop! You, Juan and the kids have given him the freedom to be who he is, and love him how he is. He is a unique individual that brings beauty to all who know him. He is one of God’s special people.

  2. I think it’s important to remember, though, that “person-first” language wasn’t pioneered by advocacy organizations…it was originated by developmentally disabled self-advocates, who were in situations…like institutions…where it was actually critical to remind the professionals responsible for their care that they WERE people.

    It was by professionals and advocacy organizations later on that the meaning of that language got twisted and watered down, but it came from a time when it really was necessary to remind people in any way possible that disability doesn’t contradict humanity.

    I’ve been glad to see the autistic community point out the problems with how the language has been taken and twisted to suggest that autism or disability is something that even could or should be separated from us, and that there should be nothing shameful about *being autistic.* But a lot of people with disabilities also still prefer person-first language, and that’s their right of self-definition, too.

    • I agree. If a person with disabilities feels the need to separate the person from the condition, then he/she has full right to do so. I would just like to see that it’s not an imposition of correctness on everyone. Thanks for your comment!

  3. I completely understand your feelings. I was right where you are not long ago. I have since changed my mind and for good reason that I won’t fully try to explain. Let me just suggest that you accept only positive labels. Reject any labels that do not please you or serve a good purpose. For instance you might say I am a musician but you might say my son “has” autism. In stating it this way you hold out the option that he may be healed of this. It is not who he is; it does not identify who he is, but rather what condition he grapples with at this moment. What we say has power. Say what you want. You may have what you say. You are blessed. God loves you and your child. All things are possible with God.

    • Thanks for your comment, Carol Ann! Truth is that I will never stop praying for his healing, so you have a good point.
      I guess my point is more of a response to those who become scandalized when I do call Gabriel autistic. I personally don’t see it as necessarily negative, just real, but that is my prerogative, just like you have yours.
      Again, thanks for your input and God bless!! 🙂

      • Do not accept condemnation from anyone. I felt the same as you do. Only The Lord Himself could have moved me from my position, and it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t expect it to ever happen, yet here I am advising you. I wasn’t at all moved by anyone that advised me to speak only the things I wanted to happen. Now I’m changing the habit of a lifetime. Blessings to you, Silvia…

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