Saturday, August 23, 2008

On Olmsted and Autism

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?

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photo by Carey Tilden

9 sent chocolate:

Liz Ditz said...

My children, and I, am more or less neurotypical.

In general, I prefer the locution, [child] has [X=condition] to [child] is [x-ic]

But Olmstead's move to abolish "autistic"?

I don't usually refer to the children I know who have autism as "autistic". But I also don't think it is necessarily a limiting label, unless the person using it defines it so.

Hmmn. I guess I both agree with you and disagree.

Agree: (Because autism is part of who they are. It does not define them.)

Agree: children with autism are more than just their disorder or disability .

Disagree: Dan believes that the word "autistic" is similar in connotation to "retard."--well, not in my neck of the woods, anyway. It may well be true where Olmstead lives, or you live.

Disagree: Autistic is a very limiting word. It defines the person's limitations. I'm not sure that is univerally true.

But I'll keep thinking about it, as the word "autistic" comes to mind.

topsytechie said...

I hate all of the "-ic" words...they are "ic-ky"! My oldest son happens to have Tourette's Syndrome, he isn't "tourettic" (although the "tic" part at the end is kinda ironic). My youngest son happens to have Anxiety/OCD/mild Asperger's. He isn't anxietic, ocd-ic, or aspergeric. So why should any child be labeled "autistic?" Shouldn't really even BE a word, ya know?

Maddy said...

I'm not sure what I think about this one. I certainly refer to them as being autistic but when I say that I don't think of it as being a definition of who they are and certainly not limiting in the way that might imply, which I suppose would be a good reason to say 'has autism' instead.

I know people feel very strongly on both sides of the debate but it's not something I've thought about for a long time.

Maybe I had better think.

Best wishes

Laura said...

I am not offended by it at all. I'm not trying to disrespect at all, but I have a hard time even getting my head around why it's considered offensive. It's almost like, "I have fatness, but I'm not fat." LOL!

I think too much attention is paid to labels and words in general - EVERYWHERE.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

I tend to use autistic, but I don't think of it as limiting or offensive. I sometimes use "with autism" when the mood strikes me or when it seems easier to fit into a sentence grammatically. I have no problem one way or the other. I suppose, like Maddy, I should think about it.

T. said...

liz: This is why I love blogging. I love the discussions that can result. Thanks for the well-thought out comment. I guess my concern about the word isn't what people mean when they say it, but rather what people hear when others say it.

topsy: I know that there are words like dyslexic, and diabetic, and those are "ic" words, too. And my son is dyslexic, so I am not sure why it is ok for me to refer to him that way, vs. autistic. But for me, there is a fine line.

maddy: thanks for taking the time to read. And if I have you thinking, then I have done what I set out to do.

laura: I am certain it is human nature to classify so that we have a better understanding. My concern is when the label gets in the way of the person, and who he is perceived to be.

mary p jones: thanks for thinking about it, mary!

T.

Mrs. Tantrum said...

I don't know what to add except for the fact that it drives me batty that people are still so worked up and DEFINED by words rather than actions. They are just words - and while not smart words to use ever - I just feel like people are getting too worked up over them still.

Not that I want to be defined as an anxiety/laden/manic mom, but I am that, so really is it a bad label?

lonestar818 said...

I don't find either to be offensive, and I use them both interchangeably.

I have to disagree with the comparison to the "r" word, at least I have never heard it used that way.

I agree with you though, that those who have autism / are autistic are so much more than just that. Of course! But couldn't the same be said for any adjective? I really don't understand the idea that somehow by saying someone is autistic it's implied that they can't be anything else, that just doesn't make sense to me. As you said, it's a part of who they are. Not the sum of who they are, but still, a part.

Take the word athletic - would you say someone is athletic or has athleticism? Either way you're describing them. But either way, I don't see how you're limiting them. If you say they are athletic, are you saying that they can't be anything else other than athletic? Of course not. I see the term "autistic" the same way.

If my sons have a preference one way or the other when they get older, I'll go with that :).

Kelley said...

I am glad to hear someone else feeling the same way as me!

Boo has Autism. He is not Autistic. I hate the sound of the word let alone the connotations.

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