When is a Word not just a Word?
Have you said it? In a fit of pique? Or frustration? In just normal conversation? Have you referred to your children with the "A Word?" Does it define who they are at that particular moment? Dan Olmsted, over at Age of Autism has been ruffling feathers because he believes we need to abolish the use of the word, "autistic." He is on the right track.
I have two children, as you know. They have autism. They are not autistic. Why do I differentiate it in my head? Because autism is part of who they are. It does not define them. They are more than just their disorder or disability or whatever we are calling it this week. I prefer to just call them my children. Who have autism. Though I am not crazy about the puzzle analogy, it fits here. Not because autism is a puzzle, but because autism is a piece of the puzzle.
Dan believes that the word "autistic" is similar in connotation to "retard." He's not far off. It is akin to talking about the "Short Bus", (a slang term for the bus that transports special education students by those who wish to disparage it). It is a negative term, guffawed over lunch by kids who don't understand differences.
Autistic is a very limiting word. It defines the person's limitations. Sometimes, the reputation of a word is enough...it doesn't matter what the actual definition is. No one wants to be called ignorant. And yet, the definition in itself is not offensive. Autistic simply means "of or pertaining to autism." But the gestalt of the word means so much more. Words can be used to educate, but is that necessary all of the time? Sometimes, is it ok to just be?
I have chosen not to refer to my children as autistic. They may change that at any point. It is completely up to them how they will refer to themselves. I have talked to my son about this, and, with no coaching from me, he laughed and said exactly what I had said,
"Why would I want to be known by only one word? I am so much more than autistic!"(emphasis was his)
I understand there is a movement in the adult world of autism to embrace the word. Take it back, if you will. It seems to me like the N word. Young black men reclaimed the word, and the power that went with it, as their own. But it's a word that is acceptable within the context of their community. (One could argue about whether or not it is an appropriate word for any group to use...) Regardless, it doesn't cross color lines.
That is how I see Autistic. It is a charged word. An in-your-face word. A "we're here, get used to it", word. And I can't make my children part of a political movement. It is time for them to just be children. Without limits.
T, who imagines I've started something
How about you? What do you think about autism vs. autistic?photo by Carey Tilden T. is a writer, wife and mother of three children, two who have high-functioning autism. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the Special Needs Editor at typeamom, a contributing writer at The OC Register and her own site, Send Chocolate reflects her passion for her children and autism.