Rosa’s Law, People First Language and More…

The Senate has passed legislation—Rosa’s Law—to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability”.  This change in terminology would affect health, education and labor policy at the federal level, and bring it into line with the language already adopted by the CDC and other federal agencies.  The House version, called the Elizabeth A. Connelly Act, has been proposed but has not yet been brought to a vote.  I’m pleased to say that North Carolina passed a law last year requiring People First language—go NC!  The words that we use do matter (see my post http://autismsocietyofnc.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/spread-the-word-to-end-the-word%e2%80%a6/ ). 

Being a fan of People First language, I’m happy to hear of this change.  When I was at the Autism Society of America’s Annual Conference, I was pleased to hear almost all of the speakers using People First language (a child with autism, not an autistic child).  Before anyone objects, I’d like to say that I’m speaking as a parent, not as an individual on the spectrum.  Most of the people on the spectrum at the conference (and elsewhere) I’ve heard refer to themselves as “autistic”—which I have no problem with.  I like to hear all people referred to respectfully, however each person prefers.  For my family, we use People First language.

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2 Responses

  1. While I agree that words do matter, I still use autistic in certain phrases. Like I will say “Ben is autistic” instead of “Ben has autism” because to me saying someone “has” something makes it sound contagious, like he caught it. If he had diabetes I might say “ben is diabetic”. That doesn’t seem wrong to me.

    • I guess for me it’s a matter of distinguishing the autism from my child; while he has autism, he is also my son with his own characteristics. When he is being stubborn, it’s impossible for me to separate his autism from his genetic background (having two very “determined” parents!). But, I also don’t see that my opinion is “better” than anyone else’s–it’s just my opinion.

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