Autism versus Autistic

A few months back I (along with our Executive Director, Alanna Hendren), had the pleasure of speaking with Tamara Taggart over lunch. Outside of Tamara’s busy personal life and work life, she is also a strong advocate for people with developmental disabilities and an active member and role model for our community. One of the key messages I remember Tamara sharing over lunch, was the importance of recognizing the appropriate vernacular. “It’s not a ‘Down syndrome child’,” Tamara said, “but a child with Down syndrome. In the same way, children with autism shouldn’t be labelled as an an ‘autistic child’, but a child with autism.” Tamara recognizes as a child first and foremost, and not by their disability. Similarly, people should be recognized as a person first and foremost, and not by their disability. I had honestly never considered the subtle differences between “autistic child” and “child with autism”, but it’s a good point to see the “child” before the syndrome. Children are children, people are people, and labels remain labels. Needless to say, lunch with Tamara and Alanna is always enlightening.

For more readings on this topic, there is a book by Ellen Notbohm that highlights the above, in addition to nine other points. The book is called Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew (click link for an excerpt).

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2 Responses to Autism versus Autistic

  1. As the parent of a 14 year old boy diagnosed with Autistic Disorder and assessed with profound developmental delays, (he is severely autistic), I have bigger issues to occupy my time then whether to put the word child before or after a term referencing autism in my sentence structure.

    Whether I call him my son with autism, or my autistic son, makes no difference at all to me in how much i love him or how hard I fight to give him the best life possible.

    The “child with autism” vs “autistic child” debate is a non issue in the real world.

  2. Hi Harold,

    There are definitely more important issues than vernacular, but making a conscious effort to recognize the importance of both the person and the label is of extreme value, especially for people who may be less educated in developmental disabilities. For example, to some parents “child with autism” vs “autistic child” may mean nothing, to others it may. The same way “Down syndrome baby” and “baby with Down syndrome” can convey the same messages differently. Even Andrea Fay Friedman (an actress with Down syndrome) specifies the sensitivities to her in appropriate vernacular where she says she’s “challenged” with “Down syndrome” versus “disabled” with “Down syndrome”.

    Sentence structure aside, I’m sure we can both agree that a child should be viewed first and foremost as a child and not by a label like “autism”.

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