A lesson on language
I have been busy with my university studies so posts aren't as frequent, but this seminar really rattled me so felt best I write about it.
I was sat in a seminar, where the topic we were doing was about medicalisation. In both the lecture and the seminar, it mentioned the term ‘Asperger’s’ and how it has been medicalised, and the benefits of this being a diagnostic term. This lesson made me very frustrated as an Autistic person and I am about to tell you why.
Firstly, a bit of background and where we currently stand. In 1994 the diagnosis of Asperger’s was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or shortly known as the DSM. Asperger’s by definition is an autism spectrum disorder, but the difference between Asperger’s and Autism is that Asperger’s means you are better at communication and socialising and education. This was also known as High Functioning Autism (NOTE: I say ‘was’ because these labels are not used anymore) It means you could function better as a neurotypical person in society, and this was the big problem. It meant you could mask your Autism, and no one would know. People and myself included, would be told that we ‘don’t look autistic’ We were not the stereotype of what society thought autism looked like; a white, male maths genius who likes trains (Sheldon Cooper) We didn’t qualify as being autistic because we are high functioning.
Yes, I would be classed as Asperger’s and High functioning, but I am not these things. I am myself, and I am Autistic. That’s all you need to know, not whether or not I am a functioning person in society.
So, in 2013 the diagnosis of Asperger’s was removed from the DSM. But there are people out there who still insist on using this term! No, its outdated. Its harmful and people need to realise that. You either are autistic or you are not. And this myth of 'everyone is a little autistic' is exactly that, a myth. Saying that everyone is a little bit autistic is playing down the actually autistic persons experience, making it out that's its not a big deal because 'everyone does it' that if everyone else can cope then so should them. No, if it matters to them then it matters, if its a big deal to them then its a big deal. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But what is wrong is people saying that everyone is a little bit autistic!
I would also like to touch upon the idea of the Autism Spectrum. It is not like the colour spectrum; it is not linear. You can’t have ‘a little autistic’ on one end and ‘very autistic’ on the other. Because it means that those who are Asperger’s will be told that we can cope with lots of things because we are only ‘a little autistic’ This is simply not the case.
The autism spectrum is diverse, its all neurodiverse for a reason. There is not one type of Autism. There’s a quote that says ‘When you have met one Autistic person, you have only met one Autistic person’ I am part of a community at university and out of everyone there I am similar to one other person, but only a little similar, not huge amounts. Finding autistic people who are exactly like each other is not common because of how diverse we are. Everything is diverse, how we communicate, cope, feel, express ourselves and so on. Its all diverse and that is the wonderful thing about being autistic.
Last thing on language. The majority of the Autistic community prefer identity-first language, but there are some who prefer person-first language. Which means you use either an Autistic person, or a person with Autism. I prefer using identity first language because being autistic makes me who I am. I cannot separate from it.
Language is important to the autistic community because it validates our identity and experience. This is why I got frustrated in my seminar. But everyone has their preferences and I have been educated to be like this and I agree with all this as well.