From a Group Discussion About “Dropping the Disorder”

Image is a black background with "Autism Spectrum Disorder" centered in white text. In the foreground the word disordere is stamped in bold red letters repeated multiple times in several sizes.

I was thinking about the language we use and what people have been saying about either dropping the “disorder”, changing it to something else, or somehow reclaiming/embracing a positive spin on the word.

So for me when I read Autism Spectrum Disorder my brain locks onto “disorder” and goes on repeat. If I’m having a good mental health day that’s just “disorder disorder disorder disorder disorder”. On a not so good day that easily turns into “YOU’RE disordered” over and over again.

Internalized ableism is a very real thing that those of us who are Disabled struggle with long before we’re ever diagnosed with anything. Everyone has internalized ableism, that’s how society gets systemic ableism, because the internalized ableism doesn’t affect abled folks, so it gets built into everything that abled folks build. Which is…. pretty much everything.

So I think that when people get so passionate about the language surrounding how Autistics are being discussed it’s because everyone internalizes that language. It’s just for Autistics it affects us directly.

So what do we want our Autistic children to internalize? A pro-neurodiversity message that puts their neurotype as an essential part of who they are that deserves recognition and accommodation? Or that they’re a disordered version of a child that the world would actually accept without that awful thing they “have” and they should hide it or try to cure it to be “normal” and not disordered anymore?

It’s not a minor thing. Pfl/ifl, functioning labels, tragedy narrative, it’s all at the very core of how society talks and thinks about Autistics. Just the very fact that we say “autism” like it’s some separate entity that could exist without an Autistic person. When you frame it like that “autism epidemic” becomes “too many Autistic people”. The “war on autism” becomes a war on Autistic people. Eradicating autism means eradicating Autistic people, it means a world in which none of us exist.

A parent can spend years finding clothes their child can wear without screaming. You’re finding an accommodation when you cut out tags or buy every size of their favorite shoes, or any number of those tiny and major things we do because we love our kids.

So if I’m a person who feels like language is a tiny issue that’s no big deal, why wouldn’t I just make the effort to change the language I’m using, for my kid(s)? I do so many other things, big and small, and this helps my child’s entire community in the process.

Disability Pride is possible without “embracing” being referred to as disordered. It’s actually a heck of a lot easier for those of us who are Disabled to embrace it if abled folks aren’t calling us a tragedy and disordered every time we turn around.


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