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The Slate: "Being autistic is baked into who I am"

April 9, 2024, The Slate: I don’t just “have autism;” I am autistic’

April is known for the blossoming of colorful spring flowers and the end of U.S. tax season. However, this month has also become known as Autism Awareness Month, also known as “Autism Acceptance Month.” 

This time of year, autism research and advocacy organizations amp up their fundraising campaigns. Well-intentioned people wear blue and don the puzzle-piece symbol to participate.

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder, is a condition that impacts how a person perceives the world and interacts with others. Symptoms include developmental delays, repetitive behaviors, difficulties in communicating and sensitivities to touch or sound. . . .

Some people, particularly certain allistic (non-autistic) people, object to the term “autistic person.” They claim that putting the diagnosis first and the person second in the phraseology reduces the individual to their condition. Instead, they prefer the term “person with autism” to focus on the person.

I  am a “person with autism.” I was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder—not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) in 2012 at 9 years old. This was the year before the condition was officially grouped together with Asperger’s Syndrome and other similar conditions into Autism Spectrum Disorder within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 

One of my younger sisters was diagnosed before me due to her more apparent delays in speech. She is still mostly nonverbal today. My father, who works in the mental health field, told me to never feel discouraged because of who I am.

Autism is a part of me. It is the result of the structure of my brain and colors every aspect of my experience. I am a multifaceted person rather than a shallow stereotype, but being autistic is baked into who I am. Every thought I have and everything I do is the result of my autistic neurology, even if whatever I happen to be doing does not “seem” autistic. 

I have been told by some non-autistic people to not refer to myself as an autistic person, but I disagree. To talk about my autism as a separate entity from myself feels wrong. I admire the intention behind using person-first language in regard to autism, but I am one of many people on the autism spectrum who prefer the identity-first phrasing.

This Autism Awareness Month, listen to autistic people and uplift the voices of everyone on the spectrum. Let the autistic community set its own terminology to describe their own identities and experiences. This will create a more accommodating and inclusive world.


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