I was thrilled with the response to my recent post “Accepting Autistic”. You all were so supportive in comments and social media shares, and I thank you for it. It was a pretty emotional piece for me to write, and having that kind of support when you’re raw like that is overwhelmingly awesome.
And having said that, I did hear some peripheral chat on the topic that made me wish I’d said it a little differently.
Don’t worry–no one trolled me, and I’m not on the defensive now, but you know. That moment…you post something you think is really good, and then you read another essay and go…aw, crap. I left something major out. Like, I left out the whole freaking point.
Of course, I’m still learning. So I will spare you the “oops, I forgot to say…” update, and (better yet) the “I think people are misunderstanding me” update, and I’ll just own it. I straight up didn’t have this part processed yet, so it got left out.
I said in “Accepting Autistic” that the use of language can influence how you think about something, and my insistence on using people-first language was cementing a rigid picture of him in my mind that wasn’t inclusive of his whole person. Here’s the excerpt.
Think about it. What kinds of things do you have?
Pets. A cold. Shoes. Hair. Coffee. Nearsightedness.
They’re not global or pervasive things. They don’t affect your personality; you don’t fundamentally identify with them, and a lot of them come and go. You distinctly want them (you may even love them) or you don’t, but there’s not much of an in-between. These are things that are good, or they’re bad, but most importantly—they’re isolated parts that don’t affect the others. Even nearsightedness is this way—you put glasses on and it just…goes away.
I do stand by this.
But the reason for it is simply for the fact of the language’s influence on my own thinking. I’m not trying to shape “the talk” by telling him this is what he needs to call himself now. That’s going too far the other way, isn’t it?
I need to be in a place, mentally, where I can let him take the lead on the conversation when he’s ready for it.
So, as his mother, if I think of him as “autistic,” it changes how I parent him–it allows me to accept his autism and the possibility that he may grow up to deeply identify with the spectrum and see it as a major part of his humanity. That’s a lot harder for a parent to accept than the reverse.
But all of this is a smaller point leading to the main one, which is this:
In the end, it is his choice.
His. Not mine, not his dad’s, not the rest of the autistic community or their neurotypical parents’.
If he wants to be called an autistic, a guy on the spectrum, a spectrumite, or a purple-haired dude with a nose ring…that’s his to decide, because he is the one who’s autistic. Or the one who has autism. Or the purple-haired dude. Though he doesn’t currently have purple hair. I’m just allowing for that possibility.
I’ll probably use both “has autism” and “autistic” until he is able to tell me which one he prefers. What matters is that I am able to oblige him when he picks one.
That’s the point.