Person-first Language Versus Identity-first Language



 Two types of language – person-first  language and identity-first language- are being debated in the autism   community.  Are we autistic adults or adults with autism? Many who prefer one choice often find the other to be offensive.  Madison House sees the values that both approaches are meant to convey and uses the two terms interchangeably. It is a reasoned choice to respect each person’s individual humanity while acknowledging that there is often beauty, wonder, respect, and insight in being defined by autism.  No matter which emerges as popular choice, our focus at Madison House is on moving the conversation forward by accepting and affirming autistic adults (or adults with autism) and ensuring that they are valued members of society.


Madison House’s mission is to address the life issues of those with autism who are over 21. Today, we vote for increasing options and decreasing barriers in housing for adults with autism (or autistic adults) and for leaving the language preferences to others.  After all, like housing options, we believe that language options with respectful intent and validity need to be predicated in choice.  We would like to know your thoughts.






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  1. Sheogorath

    Something I wrote:
    Things I Do Not Do.
    I do not suffer from Autism; my suffering is caused by a lack of acceptance and the malice of others.
    I do not experience Autism; it’s not Alton Towers or anything.
    I do not live with Autism; it is not my longterm partner.
    I do not have Autism; it is not a removable component with its own specially shaped slot.
    Now do you get why the vast majority of Autistic people prefer identity-first language?
    Copyright © 2014 Romersa’s Protégé. Individuals and groups are free to copy and share this work for all purposes except large scale distribution, subject to credit being given and any derivatives being released under the same or a similar licence. All other rights reserved.

  2. Sheogorath

    As somebody who has been diagnosed with Autistic Disorder, I personally prefer to be referred to as an Autistic person by most people, but other Autsitic people are welcome to call me an Autistic or an Autie in addition. I’ve also noticed that the vast majority of Autistic people also prefer identity-first language, and the majority of those who prefer person-first language are family members who shouldn’t really have any say in how an Autistic person (or person with Autism) identifies themselves.

  3. Daniel Obejas
    Daniel Obejas08-31-2014

    This may be debated in the “autism community” consisting mainly of allistic parents and allistic professionals, but not in the Autistic community, the people the issue is actually relevant to. There, it’s settled. Autistic people are autistic first.

  4. Scully

    Person -first, disabled second.

    I have Aspergers, I am not an Autistic person.

    • Sheogorath

      Actually, you are either an autistic person or you are a person with autism (however you choose to say it) because Asperger’s is on the Autistic Spectrum, making you a part of it.

  5. Autistic Luna
    Autistic Luna11-05-2015

    I use identity-first language for myself. It is the standard in the autistic community. So far everyone I have read from uses identity-first.

    Person-first language is used in the general intellectual/developmental disability community. I think one of the reason that so many autistic adults choose identity-first is because hate groups like Autism Speaks love person-first language and the idea that we can (and should) be separated from the way our brains are wired.

    Here are some pieces from the autistic community explaining in greater detail.

  6. Autistic Luna
    Autistic Luna12-13-2015

    Hello, Madison House! I’m autistic and I study Autistic culture.

    Identity-first language is pretty standard in the Autistic community (similar to the Deaf and Blind communities). Many a/Autistic people rebel against person-first language due to various implications about autism being bad or somehow separate from us.

    So, identity-first language would honor the majority preference, and signal to a/Autistic people that you are the sort of organization that listens and cares what we think. (Unfortunately, that isn’t a given. Some autistic-friendly organizations make a footnote to explain the decision, since Autistic culture tends to get swept under the rug, so how would people know?)

    (There are a few people who prefer “person with autism” for themselves, and they have valid reasons. I’ve never actually seen this, but I’m sure that some exist.)

    • Sheogorath

      Maybe because they ‘hate labels’ so much they don’t realise that the phrase ‘person with autism’ is a label. Nouns like ‘autism’ are used on labels, adjectives like ‘autistic’ are used to describe. Simples!

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