I’m not exactly sure how long ago it was that I started actually speaking up in the Autistic Community. I’ve only recently been more vocal here in blog form and on my page, but I’ve been finding my feet in advocacy work for maybe two, maybe three years now.
A little over a year and a half ago I came across this meme (image and description below) on a Facebook page I was following at the time, called Unashamed Voices of Autism. Judging by the name, I thought it was a space where Autistic voices would be heard, so when I noticed the rampant use of person-first language (people with autism) rather than the community preference of identity-first language (Autistic people) naturally I commented.
The meme is a color wheel with text in each section, “10 Myths About Autism” and childish cartoons in the center. Text reads (clockwise from left):
- People with autism can’t be independent and successful.
- People with autism can’t have romantic relationships.
- People with autism don’t want friends.
- Autism is an intellectual disability.
- Autism is a result of bad parenting.
- Children with autism aren’t affectionate.
- Ritualistic behaviour should be stopped.
- There is an autism epidemic.
- Autistics don’t have a sense of humor.
- People with autism can’t feel emotions.
User Vanessa Blevins comments: Look at all of those opportunities for identity first language, wasted.
Now could I have slapped a sugar coating on there with a “pretty please” acknowledge the community’s preference? Maybe. Who knows what my health and energy levels were that day. Maybe that’s all the words I could muster in the moment. Should we even have to beg in the first place?
Could I have linked results of a survey of the community showing my stance? Possibly. Not sure how many had been done at the time but there had to have been at least a few already. I might’ve been able to dig one up. But should that be needed, every single time, in circles where it should be common knowledge?
I might’ve been blunt in a stereotypically Autistic way, but I wasn’t “rude.”
User Vanessa Blevins: Look at all of those opportunities for identity first language, wasted.
(User redacted) replies: Yeah, toss it in the garbage, lol
Unashamed Voices of Autism replies: Vanessa Blevins we didn’t write this & some of our members in our autism community prefer person first language. This page chooses to use both forms of language to accommodate both parties who choose either or. If you do not like this, feel free to disregard this. You have a right to your opinion, and we have a right to ours. We can agree to disagree without being rude to one another.
I might be slightly biased, but the only actual rudeness I’m seeing here is coming from the page. How dismissive. I can tell you I wasn’t the least bit shocked when I found out later that the person behind the page was a former ABA therapist.
Who’s shook? Raise your hand.
(User redacted): Who’s being rude though? This is our right to a different opinion, lol.
(Same user redacted): unless you’re saying you won’t allow us to share that opinion?
Unashamed Voices of Autism: (replying to user redacted) saying something is wasteful & is garbage because you disagree with it is being rude.
Unashamed Voices of Autism: you can say “I don’t like person first language otherwise I like this post” or “I really don’t like person first language. This bothers me.”
So I feel like a brief lesson on Tone Policing might be useful here.
According to dictionary.com, tone policing is “a conversational tactic that dismisses the ideas being communicated when they are perceived to be delivered in an angry, frustrated, sad, fearful, or otherwise emotionally charged manner.” So basically a person will choose to ignore what someone is saying because they don’t like how it’s being said.
It’s a tactic often used against marginalized communities in order to minimize valid criticisms of the way their community is treated and talked about. For the Autistic Community it means we often hear things like, “there’s no need to be rude, people would listen to you more if you were nicer about it,” and other dismissive comments that completely ignore what we were saying in the first place. It’s ableist and it’s frustrating and it needs to stop.
My final reply: I’m not sure how what I said was rude, but ok. (Emoji) The fact that you felt the need to answer in a condescending manner says a lot about this page. “Thanks for the feedback” would’ve been a more constructive reply rather than talking over and trying to silence an Autistic voice.
I was promptly banned and my comments deleted.
I guess they didn’t take too kindly to being tone policed.
Funny how that works.