How to Write About Autism

Опубликовал Admin
5-07-2018, 01:00
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It can be hard to find information about autism, and that includes information about the language that is best to use. You may have heard different things from different sources, and struggled to wade through the large amount of information. Here is how to write responsibly and insightfully about autism so that autistic people are supported and empowered in your writing.

Using Respectful Language

  1. Write "autistic people" instead of "people with autism." Despite what person-first advocates may insist, not every disability community prefers person-first language. Autistic people, as a group, prefer that "autism" be used as a regular adjective. This acknowledges that autism is part of them, and challenges the assumption that "autistic" is a bad word. The Autistic community largely prefers identity-first language, just like the Blind and Deaf communities.
    • Thus, you would say "Jane Doe, an autistic writer" instead of "Jane Doe, a writer with autism" or "Jane Doe, a writer who suffers from autism."
    • A minority of people on the spectrum prefer to be called "people with autism." If this is an individual's preference, respect it.
  2. Avoid categorizing people as "high-functioning" or "low-functioning." These labels are both inaccurate and unhelpful, since people called "high-functioning" may have their needs minimized and people called "low-functioning" may have their abilities minimized. This also includes similar labels, like distinguishing between "mild" and "severe" autism. Avoiding arbitrary labels helps respect the dignity and complexity of autistic people.
    • Some in the Autistic community use "support labels" as a shorthand, with the three categories "high support," "medium support," and "low support." These make fewer assumptions about a person's abilities. However, they are not universally used.
    • The simplest way to describe a person's needs and abilities is to summarize them, such as "Smith uses a wheelchair, types with a keyboard, and lives with her husband and two daughters."
  3. Recognize that autism is a disability. "Disability" isn't a bad word, and it's the easiest way to describe autism without negative connotations.
    • Avoid overly negative language like "disease," "illness," "epidemic," or "tragedy." Autism isn't a sickness, it doesn't kill people, it's not contagious, and it's not comparable to serious illnesses such as cancer.
    • Avoid cutesy or trendy terms such as "handicapable" or "diffability."
  4. Use neutral or positive language instead of negativity. Autism isn't tragic, and it isn't helpful to paint autistic people or their loved ones as victims of a terrible disease.
    • With lots of people and groups already treating autism like a disaster, you won't be adding anything new to the conversation if you do the same, nor would you be helping autistic people and their loved ones feel better. Use respectful, empowering language instead.
  5. Keep in mind that autism "awareness" and autism "acceptance" are two very different things. "Awareness" campaigns often focus on the negative, and can leave autistic people feeling alienated and unwanted. "Acceptance" campaigns take an inclusive attitude, and are meant to help autistic people feel welcome. Thus, autism awareness and autism acceptance have very different impacts.
  6. Write accurately about non-autistic people. The opposite of autistic is non-autistic. This is the clearest and simplest language, with no negative connotations towards neurodiversity.
    • Avoid using "normal" to describe non-autistic people. This doesn't have great implications.
    • The word "neurotypical" applies to people who are non-autistic, and also without ADHD, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, and other brain-related disabilities. For example, a non-autistic person with Down Syndrome is not neurotypical.
    • Some people use the word "allistic" to describe non-autistic people. However, the meaning of this word isn't as obvious to the uninformed reader, and it's controversial as a term.

Writing Positively

  1. Consult autistic people. This is the simplest way to check how you're doing. Autistic people deserve to have a say in what they are called and how they are treated. The easiest way to ensure that you respect autistic people is to really hear what they have to say.
    • Read through #ActuallyAutistic to see posts made by autistic people, and try the hashtag #AskAnAutistic to see or ask questions.
    • If you know an autistic person who is willing, consider asking them to read your writing before you publish.
  2. Learn about common misconceptions about autism. Autism is deeply misunderstood and many of the things you have heard about it may be wrong. Listening to autistic people can help you better understand the reality. Some facts about autism include:
    • Autism is inborn and lifelong. Scammers may claim that autism is caused by a number of things, such as vaccines, parasites, or "toxins." They will also claim to "cure" autism. However, autism begins in utero and is likely genetic. Someone who is born autistic will stay autistic for the rest of their life. With therapy and support, they can gain skills to help them live better lives.
    • Autistics can be empathetic. Autistic people may experience empathy differently, and many of them struggle with cognitive empathy (mind-reading) but feel deep caring for others.
    • Not all autistics are good at STEM. Some are better at the arts (which you can see if you browse through autistic art online). Different autistic people have unique talents.
    • Not all autistics have savant skills. The majority of autistic people have no savant skills. However, they may still have plenty of strong skills, just like non-autistic people do.
    • Autistics are diverse. Autistic people exist of all genders, races, and backgrounds. They have different needs and abilities. No two autistics are alike.
  3. Cite helpful organizations, not harmful ones. Unfortunately, the world is filled with groups that discuss autism while excluding autistic people at the same time. They may say inaccurate and even harmful things about autism.
    • Autism Speaks is a high-profile example of an autism organization that mostly excludes and disempowers autistics.
    • The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network are very well regarded.
    • Research anti-autism organizations with care. Sometimes, the things you find out may be disturbing, especially if you're a deeply empathetic person. Be mindful of your emotional health.
  4. Recognize the different associations of different symbols. If you're choosing artwork or metaphors for your writing, it helps to know the history behind the symbols you choose.
    • The puzzle piece, and the color blue (for #lightitupblue) are from anti-autism organizations and have negative connotations.
    • The neurodiversity symbol (a rainbow infinity sign), Autisticat, and red for #REDinstead come from autistic people and have neutral to positive connotations.
  5. Acknowledge the diversity of autistic people. No two autistic people are alike. Autistic people vary in terms of abilities, needs, attitudes, and personalities. Thus, it's important to keep in mind that what is true or helpful for one autistic person may not be for another.
  6. Look at autism through the neurodiversity paradigm. This idea holds that developmental disabilities like autism aren't inferior ways of being, just different ones, and that they are part of human diversity. The neurodiversity paradigm includes autism-friendly attitudes like:
    • Being "normal" isn't always a good goal. Sometimes, it's better to just be a happy autistic person than to try to be an unhappy person who doesn't "look autistic."
    • Harmless traits shouldn't be suppressed. It's okay for autistic people to fidget, avoid eye contact, or have quirky body language.
    • A better world for autistic people means that non-autistics should put in effort to being kind and caring, instead of autistic people doing all of the work themselves.
  7. Avoid blaming autistic people for all of their problems. The culture of blame around autism can be harmful to autistic people and their families. It's best to strive for fairness and respect.
    • For example, the sentence "People with autism often face bullying because of their severe social deficits" blames autistic people for others' choice to bully them. The sentence "Autistic people are at higher risk for bullying, and bullies may see them as easy targets because of their social differences" acknowledges that the bullies are the ones who choose to mistreat others.
    • For example, the sentence "Parents of autistics endure extreme stress dealing with their children" blames autistic children for family problems and could make autistic readers feel guilty or worthless. The sentence "Parents of autistic children may struggle to cope with stress, as it can be hard to deal with the stigma while fighting to help their child" acknowledges outside issues and is kinder to autistic people.
  8. Look through the paradigm of the social model of disability. This idea cluster holds that disability is not caused by someone's brain or body being less capable, but by society's lack of accommodations. Under this idea, autistic people aren't broken or deficient—they just have needs that aren't being met. This takes a kinder and more accepting approach to diversity.
    • Consider nearsightedness as an example of an inability that isn't a disability. People with nearsightedness can't see as well. But society accommodates this by offering glasses and contacts, and no employer would doubt someone's competence based on their nearsightedness. If all conditions, such as deafness or paralyzation were accommodated, then disability would cease to exist.
  9. Think about the impact you want to have on the world. Do you want to help make the world a more accepting place? Do you want to help autistic people feel good about themselves, and encourage non-autistic people to be kind to autistic people? What are your goals? How can you achieve them?
  10. Remember that autistics and their loved ones will read what you're writing. Autistics with low self esteem will read your work. Parents who are scared after a recent diagnosis will read your work. Re-read your work, imagining how these people might feel, and how you can support them.
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