Everyone wants to be respected – this is a human universal. One of the ways we show respect to one another is the language we use to describe people. In the autism community, there is an ongoing debate about the most respectful way to refer to an individual with autism. The debate revolves around the difference between an identity-first description (autistic person) and a person-first description (person with autism). Although there are some who still prefer the identity first language, an increasing number of professionals, family members, and individuals with autism prefer the person first language.
Those that encourage the use of the person-first language believe it is important to honor the person’s humanity first. Any descriptions are secondary. Referring to someone as a “person with autism” shows that we view them as a person first and foremost. They are not defined by their disorder. While many professional journals in the health and special needs space prefer the use of person first language, there are individual contributors that prefer to use identity first language. The language people use is largely a personal choice and when in doubt people should default to the chosen language of the individual or family members. After all, this is all about showing people respect.