Since the latter part of the twentieth century, Autism Self-Advocates (ASAs) have been leading a social justice movement—a Neurodiversity movement—in an attempt to dismantle systemic power structures that keep autistic voices silenced. One objective in particular concerns shifting the deficit view of autism, the so-called Medical Model, to that of a difference model, or Social Model of autism. According the the social model, autism is seen as just another human variability trait, such as skin color or hair color. ASAs believe that their autism is an integral part of who they are, and as a result, prefer to refer to themselves in identity-first language (autistic persons) as opposed to person-first language (persons with autism). This practice aligns with other identity-first terminology, such as African-Americans, Lesbian/Gay/Trans/Queer, Gifted, Athletic, Jewish, and Latinx, through which persons claim these characteristics as part of their identities. Without the adoption of identity-first self-references, shifting the current deficit world-view of autism to the social model would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
On a personal level, identity-first language is extremely important to me. I know that my autism is responsible for my gifts, my talents, my deficits, and most of all, my personhood. It is an integral part of who I am, and as part of my autonomy, I claim it as a significant part of my identity.
Dr. Emelyne Bingham
Chair, Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder
Senior Lecturer, Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University
Research Member, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center