My position on Autistic "vs." "has autism/person first" is that it is UP TO THE PERSON who has the disability to name themselves. When a person has a clear preference, other people should respect it. If they don't, they are being disrespectful, whether or not they are also saying how much of an advocate for people with disabilities they are. If a person's preference is not known, then people will use the language they prefer. I will say someone is Autistic if I don't know their preference. I will change for that person if I find out they prefer something different. I will not change my preference because someone else wants me to call them "person with autism." Sometimes I have said "person on the autism spectrum" just to avoid completely derailing a conversation because people get so wound up about what we can or can not call ourselves. See below for examples.
I will note some of the times and places that people, not Autistic (or having autism) people, have gotten completely baffled, upset, sidetracked, etc. about my saying AUTISTIC instead of "have autism."
I gave a keynote presentation at an AUCD-LEND conference in Washington DC. The conferences had the disturbing title of "Combating Autism Act Initiative (CAAI)." The speech was about SYSTEMS CHANGE, including changing the "combating" language, which is entirely problematic. The script I wrote and used is "CAAI Annual Meeting: Opportunities for Systems Change". After my speech was done, the ONLY question anyone asked me was why I did not use "person first language." I spent several minutes explaining that I consider "person first" to be questionable in that it disparages the person's disability and tries to separate out "the person" from "the disability" as though the disability were some disembodied and unwanted part of a person. Disabilities are part of us, not separate. If they were separate, we could (if we wanted to, and I don't) leave them in the house when we go out. We can't. Some of us don't want to. For some of us the idea of us being separate from part of our selves, and usually the part that other people don't like, seems absurd and offensive. At the AUCD meeting, NO other questions were asked, by these presumably competent and interested people. They wanted an elevator speech or something. They did not get one from me. The minute I said "Autistic," their brains seem to have turned off to anything else I said. I think my presentation was pretty good. One person came up to me privately and said that the speech was difficult but that the attendees needed to hear it.
Another time, I watched Ari Ne'eman give a presentation. He used the word Autistic. After the presentation, one parent challenged him about saying "Autistic." Many parents, educators, and other professionals have been trained, as they tell me, to use "person first" or "has autism" and they have been trained to think that "Autistic" is something bad. Guess what. Autism is not bad. So, saying I am Autistic is not bad. If you think saying AUTISTIC is bad, then, really, you think autism is bad. I am using the term "bad" in the sense of undesirable, not immoral- the equating of immorality with autism is best left to Autism Speaks: ("I am autism....I know no color barrier, no religion, no morality, no currency.")
I had a position, for a very short time, at a non-autistic-led disability advocacy organization. We used to give regional conferences. One of the things I was asked to do at almost all of the conferences I attended, was to talk to people who attended about why I say "Autistic." Another person, who says he "has autism" talked about why he says "has autism." See above, where I say the disability is considered problematic. When people say "I am MORE than my disability," they seem to me to be saying that they don't like their disability. This person tried on a couple of occasions to talk with my privately about the differences, rather than just when we were on stage. Each time he tried to talk to me privately, another person would come up and try to disengage him from talking with me. This happened at least twice, and I think more. I stopped trying to talk with him. If I had it to do over again, I would tell the person running interference to back off, but at that time, I was trying to keep the job as I needed the money. After we would give our joint talk, I would finish by saying "We do not have the same point of view about what we call ourselves but we can be friends and do advocacy- he has autism and I am Autistic, and we each have the right to make that choice." Although I found having to give the presentation annoying, sometimes we do have to start with things as simple as a disabled person's right to name themselves and their disability. It's my disability; I get to be the one to make that choice. Period.
Common myths about who calls themselves Autistic: "It's only those "high-functioning" people who say "I am Autistic." Functioning labels are a big problem. I don't use them. In this case, "high functioning" is used to dismiss people's choices about what to call themselves. "People who are nonverbal prefer to say "has autism." Some do, some don't. Some "high functioning" people I know say "has autism." One size does not actually fit all.
Below is an image I made, with a caption that says what the image is. I have this on my refrigerator.It reminds me that in my own house, I will do what I want, including "Autistic behaviors" that I don't always feel comfortable doing in public but which are necessary for my own self care. Note that it does not say "This place is the space of a person with autism."
Other links about "person-first" language, with many links on each of these pages:
https://ollibean.com/2014/01/09/bully-sheeps-clothing/ This is a very good one, documenting a very professional approach on the part of Judy Endow, MSW, who uses identity-based "I am Autistic" language, and a parent with a PhD who does not use it, and who uses indirect and a somewhat attacking approach to attempt to dismiss people's rights to call themselves what they want to call themselves. He ends up trotting out the same old argument about "she's not Autistic" to dismiss anyone and everyone who says they are Autistic. Yawn. But good reading.
Language for Perspectives on Disability
Nothing So Passive
I Don't See You As Autistic.
Who Was That For?
Responding to Person-First Crusaders
Laughing About Language
A Person With
Autism Parents and People With Autism
Seriously Guys? (PFL)
My Take on Person-First Language - See more at: http://yesthattoo.blogspot.com/p/dont-call-me-person-with-autism.html#sthash.nbmnU3C6.dpuf