“Autistic children” or “children with autism”? How do we talk about ourselves?

IFL vs. PFL Language Incidence in Google Scholar Results (w/ citations)
IFL vs. PFL Language Incidence in Google Scholar Results (w/ citations) A 10-Year Retrospective

More data from my hunting and gathering around the use of person-first language (PFL – e.g., “person with autism”) and identity-first language (IFL – e.g., “autistic person”). This batch is for the words “autistic children” vs. “children with autism”. Again, I’ve found that the latter has been trending up, while the former has been trending down.


Here’s a sample link for the queries I’ve been running, so you can see for yourself:


Once again, I’m not sure what happened in 2014 that caused the downward shift in identity-first references. Again, maybe it’s the “delay” effect from a lot of research that was kicked off several years prior. Also, I have to remember that this query for “children with autism” is included in the overall results for “with autism”. It’s a subset of the larger number, which will also include “adolescents with autism”, “adults with autism”… basically “_____ with autism”.

So, this is part of it.

I’m just not sure what happened in 2014 to change the direction of the language.

Oh wait – I do know!  The DSM-V completely removed Aspergers from its available diagnoses in May, 2013. So a whole lot more people ended up being referred to as “autistic” – even though a lot of us have persisted in calling ourselves “Aspies” or “Aspergians” or something similar, to differentiate ourselves from the other regions of the spectrum — and in a way, maintain our own identities. I think the PFL language surge may reflect a general uneasiness in the population of referring to autistic people as autistic, because of the associations, implications, and ramifications of the term “autistic”. There’s such a visceral reaction to it — for some parents (or so I’ve read online), it’s like using the “r-word”.

My differences with that view are a topic for another post. On another day.

You know, it’s funny — as someone who’s grown more sensitive to language over the past years, I’ve had this feeling that we’re fighting an uphill battle, when it comes to recognizing our autistic identities in how people refer to us — and how they think about us. I’ve had this sense that identity-first people are being “out-shouted” by  person-first adherents. I just never had the numbers to substantiate it.

Now I do. And it seems my sense was not far off.

More to come.


2 thoughts on ““Autistic children” or “children with autism”? How do we talk about ourselves?

What do you think? Share your feedback - and feel free to share this post!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.