Decoding Language Preferences: A Deep Dive into Person-First and Identity-First Language in Neurodiversity

July 14, 2023 Jessica Kidwell Season 2 Episode 9
Decoding Language Preferences: A Deep Dive into Person-First and Identity-First Language in Neurodiversity
Show Notes Transcript

Do you ever find yourself stumbling over the distinction between person-first and identity-first language? I certainly do. That's why the first session of Neuroversity Summer School is about the  nuances of these two linguistic approaches, particularly in the context of neurodiversity.  I revisited an interview I had from Season 1 Episode 5 with political journalist and author, Eric Garcia, who shares his personal perspective on these matters, shedding light on the importance of individual preference in identifying oneself.

While some may argue that all this might sound too technical, let me assure you, it's a compelling conversation that challenges the way we think about autism and neurodiversity. I delve into the complexities of these two forms of language and their influences on how we perceive neurodivergence. The discussion is far from over, though. I encourage you to join in and share your thoughts on these language preferences. Remember, it's not about choosing sides, but understanding and respecting people's choices in how they want to be identified.

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Speaker 1:

I'm Jessica Kidwell and this is Neuroversity Summer School Session. Today I want to talk about language, specifically identity first versus person first language. I have been committed to learning about neurodiversity topics for years now and I still get mixed up on the difference between these two terms. I always have to stop and really think to discern which is which and remember how they differ from each other. So if I'm struggling with this concept, that seems like just the type of subject to revisit during summer school. So, curious minds, let's get this summer school session started. The first time person first versus identity first language was brought up in neuroversity was when I interviewed Eric Garcia. Eric is a political journalist and the author of the book we're Not Broken, changing the Autism Conversation, and we talked a lot about the importance of autistics leading the conversations about autistic people, and he provided me a good overview on the history of person first versus identity first language and how the use has changed over time.

Speaker 2:

I think that for a long time, the preferred language was person with autism or person first language. I think. Especially doctors, social workers, parents a lot of them wanted to, I mean because it was seen as a clinical thing. It was seen as a childhood disease, it was seen as a former schizophrenia, it was seen as it was seen as something that affected the child. There was this push to use person first language to say well, this doesn't define them. I think what's happened since then is that plenty of autistic people, myself included, are saying no, this isn't an extricable part of who we are. This defines how we interact with the world. And even if people are non-speaking or they have higher support needs or they have, you know, that's a no-transcript, inextricable part of who that person is. Jim Sinclair, the great neurodiversity activist, they said you know, when a parent says they wish their child was an autistic, they are essentially saying they wish the child didn't exist Because, for better or for worse, that's your kid. That's who they are, that's the person. That's your kid, that's your brother, that's your sister, that's your sibling, that's your friend, co-worker, whatever. That's your loved one. And to say that they're autistic is to recognize that there is this inextricable part of their identity and you cannot remove it. And to remove it would be to change a fundamental thing about how they interact and move through the world.

Speaker 1:

Let's dive a bit deeper into the two types of language Eric mentions there Person first and identity first. Person first grew out of the original disability movement in the 1970s. That was when the first major self-advocacy disabilities rights movement, called People First, was formed. People First gave individuals with disabilities spaces where they could speak for themselves, share ideas and advocate for their rights. The People First movement focused on individuality, personhood and unique needs and experiences, and the idea that having someone's disability define who they are as a person was very dismissive and limiting of each individual's humanity. Instead of seeing the disability as something that defines the totality of a person, it was much better to see the person before the disability. Person first language. An example of this shift would be moving from saying you are a disabled person to you are a person with a disability, or perhaps you are a wheelchair bound person, you are a person who uses a wheelchair. Both of those is putting the person first and is person first language. Person first language was so faked in as the way that we should talk about disability that it was actually written into law in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the IDEA, which was written in 1997. Most recently, person first language is encouraged. When talking or writing about addiction and substance abuse, instead of saying a drug addict or an alcoholic, the trend is to say a person with a drug addiction or a person with an alcohol addiction. Person first language emphasizes that there is more to a person than this one aspect of who they are, and it is fundamentally difficult for me to see how person first language could ever be a bad thing. And then I read what Shannon Muldridge from the National Institute for Health wrote in her April 12, 2023 article entitled Writing Respectfully Person First and Identity First Language. I'm going to link to this article in the show notes for you to check out. She says specifically that language and societal values are always evolving and person first language is not a one size fits all solution. Some within the disability community oppose person first language. They believe that if language is needed to separate them from a trait of theirs, it suggests that the trait is negative. Therefore, they may prefer to use identity first language because they feel the trait is a core component of their identity. So let's talk about identity first language. Many people in the autistic community prefer identity first language. They see their autism as a central and important part of their identity and they take pride in it as much as others take pride in their cultural, religious, race or sexuality identity. For instance, we don't call a Jewish person a person who practices Jewish religion or a Latino person a person from a Latin country. It is inextricable from who they are and something that they identify with identity first language. Some autistic people feel that identity first language better reflects and respects neurodiversity, that the different forms of neurodivergence are an inextricable part of who they are and therefore they are firmly against person first language. But just like person first, identity first is not one size fits all. Which leads me to the other important takeaway from my conversation with Eric Garcia, and that is in regard to the question of which language should you use. This is where it's not always a binary situation of one type is bad and one type is good. Language is personal and individualistic. What works for you may not work for someone else. I know it's grown controversial to talk about pronouns, but it's a great example, and a big example of how assuming one way is the right way and how that might not be inclusive to everyone's point of view. So my takeaway lesson about person first and identity first language is the importance of asking someone which they prefer to be identified as and not to assume. Asking is respectful and shows that you are willing to learn and to see each individual person how they would like to be seen today, right now. For instance, eric Garcia writes in his bio that he provides to anyone who wants to interview him that he prefers to be called an autistic journalist, which is identity first, as opposed to a journalist who is autistic or a journalist with autism. Both of those would be examples of person first language, and I would say that most of the actually autistic guests that I've had on Neuroversity have said that they prefer identity first language. However, I haven't met every autistic person and so I do not assume to know all preferences. I choose to ask and defer to whichever that individual prefers. I'm not going to correct someone if they choose to describe themselves as a person with autism or an autistic person. I'm just going to respect their individuality and be grateful that I finally have gotten clear on which language is which I think. What about you? What type of language do you use when you talk about anyone with a disability? What about anyone with a form of neurodivergence? Or how do you refer to yourself? Maybe it varies depending on the audience or the descriptor, and I would love to hear from you. So email me at neuroversitypod at gmailcom and let's keep the learning and conversation going. That's all for now, at least until our next session of Neuroversity Summer School. Neuroversity is hosted and produced by Jessica Kidwell. Our audio engineer is Jared Nicolay at Mixtape Studios. Jared also created our theme music. Graphic Design for Neuroversity by Kevin Adkins. Web support is provided by George Fox. For more information about this episode, ways to support the podcast or anything related to Neuroversity, please visit our website at wwwneuroversitypodcom. You can also follow us on your podcast app and social media sites. We are at NeuroversityPod on Instagram, twitter, linkedin and Facebook and if you like what we're doing, please tell others about Neuroversity and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. There's plenty of room for more curious minds to enroll.